October 10, 2018, edited on Oct. 11, 2018
by CS Sherin
Twitter is trending today with #MentalHealthAwarenessDay and #WorldMentalHealth day. NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) designates this week as “Mental Illness Awareness Week,” with a goal to promote “CureStigma”, which illuminates the stigma those with mental health issues face in our culture/society.
Mental Health and Mental Illness are important and huge issues/topics in our world. There are so many aspects we need to address, I cannot begin to elaborate on it all here and now. All in all, we need to create systems that are healing and healthy for people, communities, and nature — and dismantle the corrupt, abusive systems, which contribute to trauma and mental health disruptions.
From a personal perspective, mental illness shaped my early life, as my father was mentally ill. In fact, he was a sociopath and/or narcissist. You can be sure there is a stigma to those words. And this is the first time I have said it in public. The repercussions of his mental illness and the actions he took while mentally ill still are felt in my life and family of origin to this day, and it has always been hard to deal with, whether he was present or not. In short, he was a product of institutionalized childhood and institutionalized systems. And those systems create narcissists and sociopaths.
Beyond that, I faced my own mental health issues as a young adult. I had a traumatic childhood, and faced unfriendly peers and teachers in elementary and middle school. As a young mother (in 2001) I experienced a trauma that caused me to have PTSD, which I saw a therapist to treat. I still do have PTSD, but it is much less of an intrusion than it used to be. That one was the trauma that was the tipping point of traumas, a culmination that started in childhood. I became severely ill from Lyme’s disease a couple of years later. It was not diagnosed right away, and I ended up not being able to work, on the couch for three months!
This caused what the doctors diagnosed as mild depression that was joined with IBS, anxiety, and panic attacks. After recovering from this illness, and having taken the meds and therapy I could from western medicine, I sought out deeper and more empowering methods to heal my inner wounds and traumas. That started me on the path of spiritual work like Reiki, and holistic wellness in general, which I applied to myself/my life before charging out to help others. I can tell you some key things that really helped and made a difference for me. Just know that we are each unique and we each find our way to health and wellness in our own ways. Still, here are five things that helped me the most as I climbed out of the dark abyss of a mental health crises back in the early 2000s:
- I asked for help. I knew my brain chemistry had literally changed from the trauma and illness, and that I couldn’t help myself this time, no matter how independent and private I love to be. I asked for help, and I needed it. I went to my doctor, I went to a therapist, I took an antidepressant, and I dedicated myself to the desire to finding myself and climbing out of the dark abyss of panic attacks. The most important/helpful thing that the therapist told me is that my reactions and mental health crisis had to do with things happening to and around me that weren’t normal or healthy. I was told that my reaction was healthy and normal, and that my mental health crisis was a part of that health. That was a big relief, and goes a long way to removing the stigma.
- I read a book that helped me to see that the terrifying panic attacks that made me feel like I was dying a horrific death were an opportunity to connect with a deeper and truer part of myself, and to face the fear in order to rise up stronger. That book is called, Riding The Dragon by Robert J. Wicks. Books, dancing, and music have always been lifelines for me. That was one of them.
- I found life-giving support from people who know, love, and support me — people I trust and feel safe with. For me, that was my husband, sister, mother, and a close friend. The faces of the people may change at different stages in life, the important thing is to find one or two people, at least, who you feel safe with, who are healthy, loving, supportive, kind, and honest.
- I used the free tools that I had been taught as a teen and young adult. I had an unusual childhood, and not all of it was bad. I had some unusual and radical/rebellious in a good way-mentors who taught me skills and tools that serve anyone well: breath work exercises, exercise/walking daily, meditation, yoga, art/creativity, retreat, positive visualizations, prayer, healthy diet, avoiding toxins and chemicals, and spending quality time with loved ones, animal companions, and in nature.
- The truth is, mental health issues affect everyone. We are all on a spectrum of mental health to mental illness, and it fluctuates according to our experiences, environment, and many other factors. There are few if any people I know who don’t experience some kind of mental health issue in some way, at some points in life. Grief, genetics, disasters, violence, war, abuse, corrupt and broken systems, institutions all play a part in our brain chemistry balance and our ability to manage in insane conditions. What helps me to speak up now is knowing that I was lucky to have the mentors and the tools. I was lucky to find a way through it. I was lucky to know I needed to ask for help. What helps me now is in sharing those tools, skills, and gifts to help others.
Right now, like too many other Americans, I don’t have and can’t afford mental health or medical care on a regular basis. I may not need it now, but that doesn’t mean I can count on that always being true. I am proactive, and use the holistic tools that have served me well.
But that isn’t always enough.
Not only that, some mental illness needs ongoing treatment and care from doctors and therapists. Our healthcare system is broken, and people who need help aren’t able to receive it. We cannot remain silent. Not only do we need to dispel the stigma of mental illness, we need healthcare and insurance that serves a higher purpose of wellness with ethics and transparency.
If you struggle with mental health issues, the stigma of it, with needing help but not being able to afford it, you are not alone. Together, with each story and action to make a change, we will make a difference.
Thank you for listening to my story. Please pass this on, and tell your story, so we can work together to #CureStigma
All my best,