It Mental Health Awareness Month and let me tell you, I’m stoked! I’m not sure if this is a new thing or what but I’m all about it. The reason I’m so happy and excited is because mental health is really getting the acknowledgement it deserves. Back in the day it was considered taboo to talk about mental health. For example, back when my grandma was coming up (she’s in her 80’s), they used to call it being sensitive or being touched. It was something that you didn’t talk about or deal with. Add suicide in the mix and you have a disaster on your hands.
According to NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness), 1 in 5 adults have experienced a mental illness in this country. 1 in 5! That means if you were in a room with 20 people, 4 of them would have dealt with a mental illness.What’s the leading mental illness? Depression. 18.1% pf adults in this country (including me) is diagnosed with anxiety. 90% of those who commit suicide have an underlying mental illness. These numbers are quite alarming if you ask me! You can find more of these figures here.
Since mental illness is so prevalent these days, it’s no surprise that more and more people are talking about their own experiences with mental illness. I love how open we millennials are about our experiences. For example, I have a few friends on facebook who are social workers and counselors who are outspoken about it. I have friends on Facebook who aren’t mental health professionals but have experienced anxiety, depression, or even PTSD themselves who are outspoken about it. On Instagram, I follow a couple of teachers who have a mental illness: one with PTSD and Anxiety and the other with Severe Anxiety. Seeing them be so open about their struggles with it while teaching has really helped me. In fact, Stephanie from Mrs.D’scorner gave me the idea of naming my anxiety so (I’m giving her full credit) I named mine Delores (Delores Umbridge from Harry Potter…such a vile character). BTW that’s her anxiety’s name too. I totally copied but no other name fits the evil and vile voice in my head. I look to teachers like them to help guide me as I make the transition into the classroom as a teacher with anxiety.
Seeing others be so open with their mental illness has encouraged me to share my story. I remember one time (and this was scary for me btw) after Kate Spade killed herself, a childhood friend of mine was angry and disgusted with the fact that she committed suicide and said that her own mom had it rough but managed to get through it easily. She basically brushed it off as her being selfish. So I politely tried to explain that Kate Spade had a mental illness (and eventually others joined in and echoed my sentiments) but this individual still just brushed it off as her being selfish. So I actually ended up telling her that its what your mind is telling you, not necessarily reality. So if your mind is telling you that everyone is better off without you and that you’re a burden to others…you’re probably going to listen to it. So that what I told her. I told her that at one point my mind was telling me these very things and that not only on one occasion but on several others I’ve contemplated and/or attempted sucicide (it was very scary telling her that because I knew others would see it). She didn’t respond after that but others started to rally around me and send me words of encouragement and told me how proud they were of me to share that. I was blown away from their response.
I have been diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder back when I was in high school. My grandparents were very worried that I wasn’t adjusting well to life and suspected that something was wrong so they sent me to a therapist. At the time, I was weirded out by it and didn’t tell a soul, except for my best friend Nkem of the blog For Tha Masses (yeah we go way back). I was so scared about being judged but I knew that I can turn to her about everything going on with me. She was (and still is) someone I trusted. Anyway, I wasn’t open with my family about my feelings and then they expected me to talk to a total stranger about my feelings. You can guess how that ended (spoilers: I didn’t open up much). What info she was able to get out of me led her to diagnose me with anxiety.
Not much happened after that. I stopped seeing her after a while and it was never talked about ever. When I left home for college, that came with a new wave of emotions. I was new to freedom! I was excited to see what the world offered but there was one small issue: I was terrified of people. I only hung around my family mostly and no one else when I went away to school. I felt really awkward around people and where my peers were making strides in school, I was falling behind. For years I allowed others to tell me what was wrong with me. I’ve heard things like you’re depressed, you have social anxiety, its only because you weren’t allowed to do things that you’re like this, you have aspergers, you need medication…the list goes on and on and sadly, I believed it. I believed it was why I couldn’t get a job or why I “had” a disability (for the record, I do not have a disability),why I was “crazy”.
It wasn’t until I read one of Cara Alwill Leyba’s book that I began to see that things weren’t always going to suck for me. I was introduced to a world of self-help books and slowly my mindset began to change. I still had a long way to go but I was off to a great start. I took myself off of my anxiety medication (I wanted a more natural route) and boy was that a BIG MISTAKE. I secretly became suicidal. My mood went way down. I also didn’t really like who I was surrounding myself with. I mainly was around my cousin and her friends and I didn’t really have much in common with them. Also, I hated the way they believed things to be. For example, a lot of them settled for the things they had in their life instead of truly going after what they wanted. Even though I hid in my shell for the most part, I knew what I wanted for my life.
Things really changed for me in 2017. I got into a car accident. I stopped going to my family’s church. People showed me who was there for me and who wasn’t. I was suicidal again. This time: I WENT TO THERAPY. I started therapy and that was one of the best decisions in my life, especially with all of those life changes. I started a new job (I spent the summer in an unhealthy job environment so this was a breath of fresh air). I started grad school. I also had a new crowd to hang out with (people who are understanding of my anxiety). It was as if Jehovah was renewing my spirit. Since then, life has been much better. Does this mean I never have a bad day ever?No. “Delores” pops up every now and then. However, I never spend more than a week depressed or anxious. I reach out to people who will understand and trust me it helps. I’m learning to not listen to “Delores” and the lies she tells me (I try not to listen to it).
Anyone out there who may currently be struggling with a mental illness, know that you are not alone. The are people and places you can go to for help. Do what is best for you. Wether its therapy, medicine, or both. Know that you are not a burden on anyone. Also, be honest and hold accountability with yourself. Just because you have an episode don’t give anyone the right to treat others like trash or go to them every single time something happens. Help yourself by yourself. I saw a quote that mostly related to dating but it can be applied here. It said : I don’t need anyone to fix me. I need someone to hold my hand while I fix myself. Just reflect on that quote and how it applies to you and your situation.
Honestly, everyone should go to therapy even if there’s nothing wrong. There’s nothing wrong with getting help. Below are a few resources that are available to help you: