It’s World Mental Health Awareness Day and I know there are so many millions like me who are all too aware. We are so constantly aware that it’s impossible to ignore. It’s something we live with 24/7, 365. We don’t need a day, but the rest of you do.
You need a day to acknowledge that not everyone’s brain works in partnership with the rest of the body. Oftentimes, my brain works against my body. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder 20 years ago and while those diagnoses sound vague and rather benign, their effects were not.
I am fortunate enough to be able to look back over 20 years of struggling and recovering from a place of health but I can remember the fight to get out of bed in the morning. The kind of fight that won’t listen to motivational quotes. The kind of fight that turns into shame and guilt after friends and colleagues call to ask where you are because you didn’t show up to class or work.
I’ve gone through rounds of cognitive behavioural therapy and have been on varying doses of anti-depressant for two decades. I have read more books and listened to more podcasts than I can count. I have attended workshops and conferences and I have taken an active role in my growth. And I acknowledge that not everyone can do what I did.
For me, today is about showing love and compassion for those who don’t yet understand what they’re facing. Empathy for those who, deep down inside their very soul, wish they could fix everything and go back to the way things were, but struggle against that invisible force keeping them locked in that dark place.
Being told to “shake it off” is easier said than done. I am at a place where I can tell myself to do just that and it works, and that’s because I’ve spent half of my life working to get to this point. I know that my brain is working in partnership with my body 90% of the time now and that’s a victory many will not achieve.
I feel a responsibility to be brutally honest about my experience because I made it through when so many haven’t. There are times when I wish I didn’t feel so much because I cry every time I read about a suicide and it hurts to feel helpless. It hurts to see those left behind lose themselves in grief because they don’t know that choosing to end one’s life didn’t feel like a choice at all.
Today is for you to be aware of the distance we put between ourselves and others. We have stopped seeing fellow humans as fellow humans. We see them as case numbers or obstacles to avoid or headlines. The police officer arrested for domestic violence isn’t a heartless criminal. The mother who abuses her child is herself an abused child. The drug addict overdosing in the bathroom so desperately wants to live a pain-free life.
Mental Health Awareness Day is for you. Be aware that you don’t understand. Be aware that because your brain doesn’t tell you lies, you can’t feel what we feel. Be aware that we know we are hard to love sometimes.
It’s for you to remember that just like cancer cells ravage a healthy body, mental illness attacks someone from the inside out. There is no switch that instantly sheds light on the darkness. Your carefully chosen quote won’t fix things. Your text message won’t stop the pain. Your invitation to the movies won’t quiet the screaming voice of shame. But please don’t stop.
Please don’t stop seeing the person you love. Don’t stop seeing the human soul behind those lost eyes. Please don’t look away. See us and remind us that you see the “us” inside.
I felt seen by special souls along the way who guided me back to myself. Maybe that’s the difference between me and those who stay lost. I have people who keep me moving when I falter, so I choose to pay it forward.
To those of you lost in the shadows right now, I see you.
I will never stop seeing you.