You know, it’s funny. I’m sitting here, trying to write a post about how important it is to talk about mental health… but I have complete and total writer’s block. I think it might be ironic that I’m struggling to talk about talking about mental health (that was a mouthful), but then again I’m of the Alanis generation, so who knows whether it actually qualifies.
I think instead of putting so much pressure on myself to write something good, I’m just going to write something honest. And the most honest thing I can say is that regardless of whether you’re someone who’s struggling with mental illness yourself or you’re supporting someone who is, it’s hard, it’s shitty, and it’s scary.
But the first step is to start talking.
I get it. It’s a scary subject to broach, particularly if you’re the one who’s struggling. The thought of talking about your mental health is like peeling back your flesh, exposing your vital organs, leaving them vulnerable. Sometimes you might rather expose your organs than your thoughts because it feels less riskk.
I think that the reason it feels so scary is that when we’re struggling like that, our brains keep telling us that we’re alone, that we’re different, that we’re fucked up… when really, nothing could be further from the truth. Each year, 1 in 5 of us will suffer from mental illness. That means that a ton of people around you could be having the same thoughts and worries that you are… we’re just not talking about it, so we don’t know.
Since I first started speaking out about my experiences with mental illness, I’ve been stunned to discover how many other people have faced similar challenges. When I was in the worst stages of my illness, I thought that I was totally alone, and that these problems were some sort of personal failing. The more I’ve talked to people, the more I’ve realized that a lot of this is actually really, well, normal. Once the weight of that shame was lifted, managing my mental health was a little easier. Instead of focusing on blaming myself for how I was feeling, I could focus on the work of getting better.
(Side note about “getting better”: I think all too often we see recovery as a straight line, like an earnings chart that would make investors faint with glee. While that would be nice, it’s not reality. Recovery is a jagged line, that’s slowly but surely trending upward. There will be shit days and setbacks and the reemergence of symptoms, but every day that you persevere–every day that you survive–is a win. Stick with it, friend. You’re awesome, you’re worth it, you got this.)
Speaking of getting better, guess how that started? Talking. First it was talking to my parents, who encouraged me to make an appointment. Then, it was talking to that therapist, who referred me to CAMH. Both of those conversations were scary at the time, but I’m so glad I had them. They saved my life.
And it’s not just those of us who suffer from mental illness who need to be talking. If a loved one is struggling, reach out to them. Yeah, it can be hard to figure out what to say, but why not start with a simple and sincere, “How have you been doing?” If they choose to confide in you, listen and try not to offer too much advice. (We know you mean well, but there’s only so many times that we can hear about the benefits of exercise and sunlight.) Instead, try saying something like this: “I’m really sorry to hear that. I’m here for you. How can I help support you?”
Again, I know that none of this is easy. But it’s so worthwhile. It’s so important. We can break the stigma simply by talking about our experiences. And by breaking the stigma, we can make it easier for the people who need help to seek it.
If you’re struggling with mental illness or having thoughts of suicide, call 911 or contact a crisis centre in your area.