(Note: I first wrote this on my facebook page.)
I've never watched Anthony Bourdain.
Until last week, I'd never heard of Kate Spade.
But I learned I have at least one thing in common with them. I have known the dark night of the soul where voices in my head have been speaking the mantra that I'm a failure and my life isn't worth continuing. There have been times my depression and anxiety were so overwhelming that stepping into nothingness has sounded like a relief.
I thank God that in those moments I heard another voice. I thank God that I found a therapist, a psychiatrist, and a medication that have stabilized my condition so that I'm fine 99% of the time and no longer have suicidal thoughts. And today I grieve with God that Anthony and Kate and roughly 100 Americans per day did not.
Since I found a way to manage my mental health condition, I've made one of my life's goals to #endthestigma around mental health issues so that more people might find the help they need and those who don't have mental health issues can better ally with loved ones who do.
As this article suggests, the first step is recognizing this is a disease. Just as a diabetic can't will their body to create insulin or a cancer patient can't focus on the positive to heal their cancer, I cannot will my brain into balancing my serotonin levels.
When I get the flu, people don't tell me to "get over it." They wisely suggest I sleep, see a doctor, drink fluids, etc. When I have an episode of depression or anxiety, I have a "mental flu" and I need to care for the "infection" just as I would the flu.
So, if you want to help someone who lives with a mental health issue, here's what I find helpful:
-Listen without judging or trying to fix things. Unless you're a doctor, you can't fix cancer and you can't fix depression, so don't try. Just listen, empathize, and assure the person you love that you care and they aren't alone. Words like, "That sounds really tough" can feel inadequate, but go a long way to building a healthy connection.
-Tell the person it's okay to care for themselves. It isn't selfish to go to the ER when you have a broken arm and it isn't selfish to treat a mental health episode...but it sure feels that way when you're having one. Letting someone know the world won't fall apart and they will still be loved if they take time to care for themselves is important.
-Ask for guidance in helping. What you think may be helpful might not be to someone in crisis, so ask what is and don't minimize it if it seems small. Something like emptying the dishwasher for me can be a release valve that makes bigger things manageable.
-Check in regularly. When appropriate for the individual relationship, ask how they're doing and don't be afraid to name the disease. I have one friend who's very good at asking, "How's your anxiety been doing?" It helps because I know he cares and it makes it feel normal.
If you live with depression, anxiety, bi-polar, or other mental health issues, YOU ARE NOT ALONE and YOU HAVE NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. There are millions of us who live with, struggle with, and manage a mental health issue. If you don't already, please take steps to care for yourself.
That may include a therapist or a medication and there's no shame or weakness it that.
It should definitely include some loving friends who know your struggle and can support you in ways that are helpful to you. I'm happy to be one of them.
And if you ever find yourself listening to the voices that say life isn't worth continuing, then find another voice. Remember MY voice telling you this: "That other voice is lying to you!" If you are religious, remember God's voice saying, "You are my beloved child. I want to create life where things seem dead." Find a voice on the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255. But find help. Now.
Your life matters to me and to more people than you realize.
From the Gray,
“Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through hell with you.” -Rachel Platten, “Stand By You”