Monday mornings are extremely difficult in our house. Having a 13-year-old daughter with anxiety disorder and depression can be overwhelming, especially when these issues started because of being bullied at her school. On Monday mornings she is coming off of a weekend without any of the anxiety triggers around her and her mind is not steady knowing she has to head to school. The bullying has improved, but the damage is done. So on these mornings I am the motivator. It is like being a coach, but my team only has one player and she is my focus. This beautiful young lady is one of the reasons I speak openly about my past journey with mental health issues. Speaking about mental health issues can provide knowledge and understanding that may assist in helping to end the stigma that surrounds them. My perspective on these issues is one that has viewed both sides of the journey. I have been the person struggling to stay afloat and the family member living in constant worry.
Silence no longer is allowed in my spirit. My journey began as a teen when someone took something from me that I did not want taken, which led to my diagnosis of PTSD and major depression. It was a long and tough battle. My daughter’s circumstances although different are also similar in that she had something taken from her too, her voice. So now I speak not only for me, but for her too. I know there are many out there waking up each day not knowing whether they can get out of bed or whether their mind will be settled enough to fully embrace what may come. Mental health illnesses do not discriminate. You cannot walk down the street and tell if someone is tackling a mental health illness. There is no specific race, economic level, or age that it picks to take on. Mental health illnesses are no different than other diseases. As a registered nurse of 17 years I have worked with many patients who had a mental health diagnosis, but had I not looked at their chart I would have never known. I cannot even count on my two hands how many patients I have cared for whom were struggling. The fact of the matter is they are out there and by being silent we close a door that needs to be open.
As a mother who now helps my daughter get through each day I can see how lack of understanding and fear could lead to issues. My daughter is blessed in that I understand parts of her battle and can share my own stories with her. She has been trying to push us away a lot lately. So I shared with her how there were many people I hurt when I was battling my dark friend. I hated myself back then and I felt like everyone else should hate me too. My ability to push people away was undeniably a talent. The only problem was that a few times I know I really hurt people. If they would not be pushed away by my daily rants then I would go to extremes and let them catch me in a lie knowing it would hurt them and they would walk away. I hated that I was covered in clouds and did not want anyone to join me on the journey. Simply put I was trapped in my own body. Internally I screamed to get out, but the other half of me insisted on making my travels a solo deal. The only problem was not everyone left my side and that meant the cloud coverage was not always thick. Sometimes for brief moments the sun would come out and I would remember whom I was, but I would also remember the pain I brought to others and then the clouds would gradually appear again.
These were some of the most difficult experiences to share with my daughter. After these conversations I thought about those who do not have my personal experience with a mental health illness and how they must look at those who are struggling. Perhaps they think it is like a light switch and it can be easily turned off. Or maybe they think the person fighting the battle should just be able to suck it up. I am sure they have many days of frustration simply because they do not understand. They have not personally had to live with a mental illness within their spirit and need voices to educate them. I often like to throw on different shoes and try to understand others perspectives. My shoes do not always fit right. That is why silence is not allowed here. Stigma does not end by being silent. It ends by being one large voice filled with many stories. Knowledge and our voices are the greatest gifts we can give.