Raise your hand if you’re exhausted. Raise your hand if you’re feeling STRESSED OUT. Raise your hand if you’re just really overwhelmed with life right now. Are you sitting there with your hand up? Me too.
Our day to day is so often dictated by how we feel. Sometimes it’s just a mood and other times it’s more. Maybe you suffer from a clinical diagnosis that includes depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, or another mental illness. Or perhaps you’re simply a victim of the current reality that 2020 has presented to all of us. Whatever state of mind you’re currently in, it likely includes feeling the weight of the world right now. And boy, is it heavy. All the feelings, all the thoughts, and ALL THE THINGS. As women, we carry a lot of emotional weight. For our kids, for our partners, our families, our friends, and lastly, ourselves. Then we often feel like we need to carry it all without crumbling. It’s tiresome. It’s stressful. And yep, incredibly overwhelming. So, even if you don’t suffer from a mental illness, I bet you’ve struggled with mental wellness.
For a very long time, mental health care has been largely separated from traditional health care. As if it’s not deserving of the same kind of assessment, attention, or treatment. It’s a component of an individual’s well-being that has not only been hugely misrepresented in the media, but has produced unforgiving stereotypes. Thus, enabling a fierce stigma that has resulted in explosive suicide rates, debilitation, isolation, and humiliation for those who suffer in secrecy.
When I was young, I struggled with a mental illness that went untreated for many years. It was dark. It was lonely. It was embarrassing. And, it was hard. So very hard. By the time my parents recognized what was going on, I had spent years acting out in ways that left them feeling frustrated, angry, exhausted, and helpless. By the time I was in high school, I found myself hospitalized on multiple occasions, usually against my will and often under suicide watch. I felt isolated, unwanted, and fearful. But, outside the four walls of my home, I was happy. I got really good grades. I was involved in athletics, band, theater, student council, church youth group, 4-H, and worked a part-time job. You name it, I was always doing something. I couldn’t stand to be alone. Probably because I knew I couldn’t handle my own thoughts. My mental health was unsettling and unstable, and the only way I felt I could balance it out was to be around others and to stay busy. I needed people to see me like I thought I needed to be seen. It was a tiresome facade. But, it was how I coped. Very few people knew and I never understood why no one else seemed to struggle like I did.
Maybe you’ve been there before. Maybe you’ve already been used to wearing a “mask.” Hiding behind an exterior that seems put together, but is actually unraveling inside. Maybe you understand what life is like with a mental illness. How some days are amazing and other days are awful. Yes, that basically sounds like a standard map of motherhood. But, in this case the pendulum can swing with or without your kids wreaking havoc. It’s an imbalance that many of us have to typically try to master amidst the mess. I get it. Even if you feel like no one else does, I do. And, I’m a ripened age where I’m okay admitting that I understand because I’ve been there. I mean, I’m there. But, you’re a mother. I’m a mother. We’re born to live a life where our needs take the backseat and we spend countless years focusing on the needs of our children and our family. Which usually means any of our own personal wellness doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. So, we suffer. Quietly. Until the weight of the world knocks us over and we lose our minds and our manners.
My early experiences with mental illness occurred back in the 90’s when losing your mind was an expression of craziness. Well, it’s 2020 and that expression of craziness seems a lot more legitimate right now. The global pandemic has shifted our state of normalcy to anything but. The election year is full of daggers and drama. The overt racial injustices that exist are untenable. And, the inability to be able to spend time with people in close proximity is difficult. It’s no wonder our mental health has taken a toll. The emotional, psychological, and social well-being of so many of us right now is teetering between broken and straight up shattered. So, how do we pick up the pieces? How do we continue to walk without shame?
How about if we start by looking at our mental health from a different perspective; one that doesn’t feel so taboo. Maybe if as a community, we collectively started viewing it as mental wellness over mental illness. Taking the ‘we’ from wellness instead of the ‘I’ in illness. Allowing an open opportunity for healing and strength through a supportive community of people. Eliminating the thought that just because you might not suffer, remembering that others do. People need people. We need our efforts encouraged. We need others to lift us up. And, we need someone to empower us to walk through the broken glass or help us pick up the pieces along the way. So, I encourage you to find your “we” to help you with the “I”. And if you can’t, I’ll be here to help initiate the we in wellness, so that maybe someday it won’t be the I in illness.