Break the Stigma about Mental Health
Imagine that you have a job as a house painter. You and your coworkers climb ladders every day. Every time you climb a ladder there is a chance of falling, and the more often you climb the ladder the higher the chances are that one day you will have a fall. Your coworker, Jennifer, falls but escapes unscathed. Another day another coworker, Alex, falls; he sprains his ankle and breaks his arm. He will suffer for a time but will heal and return to work. Another day, on a different job site, Carl falls and suffers a neck injury, and his life is forever changed.
When you stand back and look at your coworkers and their falls, there is no clear reason why Carl’s fall was worse than Jennifer’s. Certainly, when we talk as we get our rollers and brushes ready in the morning, we don’t say, “Carl was just weak, that’s why he won’t walk again.” Nor do we think that Alex just wants some time off of work, so he pretended to hurt his ankle and is probably wearing a fake cast. Instead, we take up a collection to help Carl’s family install a ramp so he can get in and out of his home more easily. Maybe we offer to help Alex mow his yard for a while, since he can’t do it until he gets his cast off.
When someone has difficulty with their physical health, we respond with care and compassion. Shouldn’t it be the same when someone struggles with their mental health? I suspect the difference is that with a physical injury we can see what happened. We see the results, and we know that the person who fell is blameless. With mental illness, it is almost always harder to know what happened to create this difficulty, and there are a lot of different reasons someone might develop a mental illness.
One possibility is a genetic component. Scientists are working to find the genes that make one person more susceptible to mental health challenges than another. Perhaps the genes dictate the way chemicals or the structures of our brains work. Amazingly, we have learned that the expression of our genes is influenced by things in our lives. Maybe Alex had similar genes, ones that affect how his body processes calcium, so his arm was more likely to break. We still have compassion for Alex. What if, instead, we have a friend, John, who has been mistreated throughout his life. He has a gene that makes him more susceptible to depression. Can we have the same compassion for his suffering? Can we understand that for him it takes a lot more effort to do some of the things we may find relatively effortless?
Another possibility is that even falls that look the same can be different. Carl, Alex, and Jennifer all fell from the same height. The accident reports all look about the same. It had rained the night before Jennifer’s fall, though, so the ground was soft and spongy. Alex fell on harder ground, and there was a rock under Carl’s ladder. With mental health problems, we sometimes hear that something happened to somebody and that contributed to their struggles, and we think, “I’ve been through worse than that and I’m okay.” But we can’t take into account hidden factors and details we don’t know. With a physical injury, people aren’t likely to think much about why things are worse for Carl and Alex than they were for Jennifer. We chalk it up to luck and do our best to care for Carl and Alex. How do we respond to Martha, who developed PTSD after being in a wreck? She is overwhelmed with fear and struggles to leave her home or engage in many social or work activities. Can we care for her as easily as we can care for Carl and Alex?
Yet another thing to consider is the support available to a person. In a different scenario, someone else saw Jennifer’s ladder about to fall. They grabbed it, which slowed her fall, and allowed her to get her bearings so she landed on her feet. Carl and Alex weren’t as fortunate. Do we blame them for that? Do we get angry at them because no one saw they needed help in time? Of course not; they are blameless. In the same way, when Martin starts acting strangely, calling 911 for reasons that no one understands, and talking to people that no one else can see, can we get angry? No one noticed that Martin had started isolating himself, staying away from everybody, and hiding in his room. No one noticed until he became a “problem.”
In all mental health struggle scenarios, just as for Alex and Carl, there is help available. Too often, people fear that no one will understand. Too often, people avoid seeking help because they believe needing help means they are weak or flawed. We as a community and as individuals have to look within ourselves and ask if there is any good reason why Martin, Martha, and John should be looked upon with any more scorn than Carl, Alex, or Jennifer? Ultimately, we will all have struggles in our lives—physical, mental, or both. When those times come, we all deserve to be looked upon with compassion and to receive the treatment that will help us to live the fullest possible lives.
L. Jeff Davis, LPC
514 West Bankhead Hwy Suite 100
Villa Rica, GA. 30180
“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
Many situations in life cause pain. Scorching, excruciating, soul-searing pain. It can come out of nowhere, your lover leaves, you lose your baby, cancer. All destined to turn your world on its ear and to leave you with deep, abiding pain. Alice Cooper described it as feeling like “the man with no skin.” Sleep is evasive, being awake is intolerable, and it feels there is no escape. The only thing that is for sure is that it feels like it will never end.
The more we struggle against this psychic pain, the more difficult it is on us. Like having our wrists bound with barbed wire, the struggle drives the barbs deeper and deeper. The saying goes “what we resist, persists.” There is relief to be had from the pain, but the remedy sounds too radical to be real, too dangerous to risk trying. Believe it or not, love is the cure, because only love heals pain.
There is a point, when you have fought all you can fight, resisted with all your might, and finally have come to the end of your strength, where something amazing can occur. You see, at the end of you lies a miracle, where only the brave dare to tread. It is a place so terrifying, so beautiful, so radical, that I hesitate to direct you there, lest you fear I have lost my mind.
When you’re finished being pissed off, finished fighting, finished trying to create a different outcome by manipulating the world like a Rubik’s Cube, a phenomenon occurs that feels much like what J.M. Barrie describes in his book Peter Pan. “When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.” When you let go of attachment to “what should have been”, and you roll over in acceptance, you will find that your ego shatters into a million tiny little pieces, and that an ocean of bright, beautiful love comes from your soul, radiating out in a tsunami so violent that it threatens to flood the world. Then you can love your pain.
Yes, I am suggesting loving cancer, and loving loss and loving grief. You see, as terrible as they are, they are your tutors that bring you to this beautiful land of love. They are the signposts on the path to a love so satisfying that it feels like you have transcended this world and have been transported to the next. This journey is not for the feint of heart, but if you want to weep with joy at the beauty of a sunset, or be brought to your knees by the sound of a bird singing, this is the path for you. It’s only a simple shift. Just roll over from the fighting, the anger, the fear, and decide to love.
By giving up, you save yourself. As Antoine St. Exupery said, “A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. To live is to be slowly born.” The journey is not pleasant, few would choose to begin, knowing the cost on the road, but the destination is surely splendid.
Written by: Carolyn Tucker LPC firstname.lastname@example.org
When you suffer the symptoms of anxiety or depression nothing seems quite right. It is like the picture on the wall is slightly crooked, and your perceptions of everything are slightly skewed. Thoughts and feelings can feel muted. It may have been a very long time since you remember feeling good or being happy. To get back to that happy place requires a bit of discipline.
When I ask my clients with anxiety or depression what they do to take care of themselves, inevitably they answer “nothing.” The first step to building a quality of life despite anxiety or depression is radical self care. Taking time to do the things that make you feel pampered is so important to helping you feel better. Some clients like a bubble bath and a candle with some lovely music playing in the background, eating at the table on good china with cloth napkins, or some may prefer a massage or going for a run. Each person experiences the feeling of nurture differently, so it is important that you choose activities that speak self love to you.
Gratitude is a quick way to tune in to life and to turn around negative feelings. Studies show that focusing on gratitude develops new neural pathways in the brain. Develop gratitude for finding a parking space, or for soft tissues to blow your nose on or for a fluffy comforter on a cool evening. Be grateful for the little things and be vocal about them. I personally note three things that I am grateful for every day on Facebook. It keeps me accountable for noticing the blessings in my life. Since I started the discipline I have many friends that share in the practice. Develop a community of gratitude and it will be difficult to dwell on negativity.
People suffering with anxiety and depression may have lost touch with a sense of joy. Actively searching for things that make your soul sing is a wonderful step towards creating that life you want. I am not talking big things, but little ones, like noticing cloud shapes or the color of the changing leaves or the feel of the fall breeze on your skin. Put a hard candy in your mouth and be carried away by the taste and the sensation on your tongue. If you are constantly scanning your environment for things that bring you joy you will eventually find quality of life strung together like beads on a thread.
Using these simple interventions I have seen clients literally turn their lives around. People who came into my office only a few weeks before looking morose are almost unrecognizable after instituting these practices. Sometimes it is almost difficult to convince people to try them, but the dramatic impact that I see after a few short weeks is well worth the effort. If you need guidance instituting these practices or dealing with the symptoms of anxiety or depression feel free to call me at 770-789-0847, email me at email@example.com or see my website at www.inmindcollaborative.com to set up an appointment.