It is weird to say, but I think mental health is becoming … trendy? A couple of weeks ago, BuzzFeed took initiative and created their own “Mental Health Week.” I loved this. My hope is that it is something they continue with moving forward. However, I am not so sure that NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) received quite the same recognition when they announced the annual Mental Illness Awareness Week in October. I posted something during this time to Instagram to help get the word out:
Either way, I think it’s really wonderful that we are fighting the stigma of mental health by talking about it. Whether we realize it or not, we are engaging each other on a deeper level than ever. Those considered famous are even talking about their own mental health. It is encouraging to see people coming in and around conversations regarding depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. I think the deeper we go,the more we will come to understand even more mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder.
In honor of mental health week, I also wanted to share something. I thought I would wait until the end of the year to write one of those reflective essays on the year 2015. Instead, I think I will opt to take that moment now.
This year was inconceivably intense, with its many highs and many lows. By any other account, my social media presence shows the highlights and all the fun that was being had. I guess that is the beauty of social media: you may give any version your life. There were times where I would dive deeper, but I was hesitant to share more. In retrospect, I think that is still OK, even appropriate; the natural progression of disappointment and breakdown was still unfolding.
By May of 2015, I had a falling out with a central figure in my family. In some sense, it always felt like one of those foreseeable moments in the future. I walked around with a low-grade depression for a long time, feeling deeply inadequate in my job, relationships, and as a person. There was a constant internal voice of degradation that was louder in the moments of distrust and sadness.
All-in-all, along the path of life, I came to the conclusion I had to be perfect in order to receive love.
After a long time of processing in and through counseling, I knew something had to change. I was tired of feeling shame, second-guessing myself and my decisions, and feeling the weight of a thousand unspoken expectations. So, I expressed my needs as an adult to this figure … and subsequently spent the next few weeks in therapy, scraping myself off the ground. What followed was a lot of shaming silence from this person.
But, I still have not regretted standing up for myself.
As spring turned into summer, I felt a resurgence of emotional strength again. The Chicago Summer brings everything life in the summer. However, that would soon change, too.
I think it was their 9th grade year of high school that I knew something was wrong with someone I love. They were talking about sadness and feeling lonely on a level that is not normal for a 14-year-old. A lot of transition had happened in their world. Some of the most pivotal moments in an adolescents life are the ones in school. Because they moved states mid-year, there was not an easy way to prepare for the cliques that had already been made. There were irritable days, but one could write those off as the hormonal changes that every teenager goes through. This, in fact, was not the case.
In July, I took this sweet, loving, kind, funny human to the hospital for an emergency psychological evaluation. It was six hours later that we finally got them a room and a diagnosis. All of these roller coaster-like emotions my bud was feeling is none other than bipolar disorder or manic-depressive disorder. If you have ever known someone to have manic-depressive, it can be a frightening thing to see an episode (or psychosis) rear its head. But I really and truly do not believe I could have loved this person more than I did in the moments of watching them in a hospital bed, so ready to talk to anyone that would listen.
For what felt like the remainder of the summer, B and/or I were visiting them in the hospital. They taught us how to play chess, because they learned in the time spent there. They taught me so much about compassion for others; about meeting other people and meeting them on a human level rather than a diagnosed level. I would call twice a day on the days I could not come in, and that taught me the meaning of checking-in. If I was late to call, they got worried and tried to call me. I would leave or hang up and feel sadness, but I knew they were getting the help they needed to.
In the midst of this, I was as sensitive as had ever been. I had all at once felt alone, exposed, and tender, but tried to carry on. In all honesty, I was not taking care of myself during this time. I found myself bottling emotions, trying to just get through. My therapist would help me as much as she could, but I still wasn’t being 100% with myself. No one can help when I’m not being honest with myself.
As my loved one wrapped up their stay at the hospital, totaling to a month stay, I saw them return back to life in society. That is when my world slowed and I had to face what was going on.
Emotionally, I was drained and disappointed.
Spiritually, I was drained and disappointed.
I had not taken the time to nurture myself through the intensity. What it boiled down to was that I was furious at the family members that knew and did nothing — no check-in’s, no asking how I was taking care of our loved one or myself. I was disappointed at friends who knew and did not ask. I was mad that God did not feel near. This is different than knowing I could literally not make it without Him. This was me trusting that He would do it with me. I was clinging, but was He clinging back?
I kept repeating to myself what I told my loved one in the hospital: “No matter what, it’s going to be OK.” I really did want it to be OK for them, and I really did want to be OK for me.
In the time that I have taken to talk this through with God, my therapist, close friends and B, I have come to life-changing conclusions:
- Supporting someone in a healthy way means that I need to also know my limits and what I am capable of. I have to take care of my mental health and my spiritual health in order to support well.
- As frustrating as it may seem, if someone asks what is going on, I am now, moving forward, going to request that they check-in if they want the scoop. I found this to be helpful with one friend. I felt like I had shared out of vulnerability, but also for prayer support. When she asked more, I told her I would only tell her on the condition that she be intentional about checking-in. And this was one of my closest friends, but she did check-in.
- My relationship with God was in a place of intense exposure. I knew I needed Him, but I questioned Him. I was angry and frustrated and had no qualm about voicing that. In retrospect, I can see just how much His hand was over the situation. What is clear is how he was steps ahead of where I was. He was preparing me for what was ahead. He was giving me shade beneath a tree, but I was not tending to the roots of this tree.
- On New Years 2014, my word for the year 2015 was Freedom. As I have unfolded this year through words, I do have a sense of freedom. I have come into who I am with a bravery I had always hoped to have. I don’t necessarily feel a completion to this, but I do feel that I am allowed to be me and not feel ashamed.
This year was full of so, so, so many amazing moments — B and I getting engaged, trips to Florida, Washington DC, Oregon, making new friends, and growing deeper with friends — but to peel back the layers, I spent a lot of time taking care of my mental health.
Through trial(s) and error(s), I found better ways to cope and stand up again. I still have moments of anger and grief as I mourn relationships that crumbled, but at least I now know that standing up again is possible. Here’s to you, 2015. Thank you for helping me find my footing in freedom. Maybe I’ll keep you around as I learn how to walk in it.