An Open Letter on Mental Health

This isn’t an easy post to write. I struggle to even think of how to begin this. But, sadly, more lives are lost each day and I feel that with my own experiences it’s my duty to help spread awareness––even if it’s just to a few people.

Depression.

Anxiety.

Mood disorders.

Mental illness.

Emphasis: mental illness.

So often the “illness” part of the terminology is forgotten and the emphasis is placed on “mental.” Describing someone as mental is a bad thing. It’s a sick thing. Something is wrong with that person. Movies vilify individuals with mental disorders as twisted and disturbed.

As a society, we’re scared of mental illness. Why? Perhaps it’s because it’s neurological and we can’t simply scan it and see it on a photo like a growth. Perhaps it’s because it can appear suddenly. Perhaps it’s because we’ve encountered someone with a mental disorder and their personality or behavior scared us. We, ourselves, react to the idea that we might have a mood disorder with shock and assurance that “of course there’s nothing wrong with me. I don’t need help.”

Mostly, in my experience, it’s because it’s not relatable. There is an ignorance of mood disorders because of a lack of communication and understanding of what they are and how they affect the individual.

Depression runs in my family. In all honesty, there are individuals in my family that I’m certain to have (or have had) depression that is undiagnosed. And in reflecting, I’ve had depression for longer than just the past few years. I’ve had anxiety for years.

You might look at me and see me smiling. You see me laughing and joking. I say I have depression and it’s understandable to think that means that I’m somehow dying inside or that I’m actually extremely sad and simply covering it up with my grin.

Fortunately, I’m not. When I’m smiling, I’m really smiling. When I’m laughing, I’m really laughing (unless it really wasn’t funny and then I’m just being kind). I’ve sought help and that’s why my feelings and reactions are honest. But, help took a lot of encouragement.

Depression and anxiety, in my experience, are an inability to come out of a low-low when a trigger happens. It comes in the form of an uncontrollable sadness and emotions that cannot be corraled––to not be able to look past the moment. When the moments happen, I feel hopeless or a failure. I feel anxious about what could be or what could come. It quite literally is “seeing red” to the point that I’m sobbing on the floor and don’t even know how I got there or how to make it stop until suddenly it just does. At that point, the damage is done.

It is scary. It’s scary for me and for those around me.

I had tried for years to “cure it” myself because lord knows I didn’t want to admit that maybe what was happening was more than just an “in the moment reaction.” I, too, didn’t want to think that perhaps something was wrong with my mind.

I did everything I could think of to try to “just relax” or “calm down.” I exercised. I did breathing exercises. I (briefly) tried counseling. I tried going into a closed room and screaming until the frustration was out. While certain tactics would work for a bit, they never solved the real problem––a neurological imbalance that resulted in a mood disorder.

And this is where my great frustration with the stigma around mental illness comes in: just like so many others who suffer from depression or anxiety or mental disorders, don’t you think if I could “just stop it” I would?

Society tells us through behaviors and attitudes that mental illness means our minds are broken. Our inability to openly talk about what actually causes mental illness has caused so many to hush their experiences with it or to turn to more fatal methods to conceal it. Our ignorance of what is behind a mood disorder encourages individuals to downplay behaviors as controllable. But would you tell someone who suffers from epilepsy (a neurological disorder) that they shouldn’t talk about their illness? That they need to hide it because there’s something wrong inside their brain? That they just need to relax, take a deep breath and it’ll go away?

After learning of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide* today, I told C.D. that as a parent it’s my responsibility to be open and honest about my mental health. It’s my job to teach my girls that while the imbalance may not be scientifically and physically “right,” there are safe, healthy ways to treat it. I want them to know that I’m not too proud to ask for help and to find the ways to treat my mood disorder(s). I want to encourage them to find the strength to ask for help should they someday find they, too, have feelings of depression. I want them to know that by being open, transparent and seeking help, I’m living my best life.

If you have felt that you may have a mental health disorder, please, PLEASE seek help. Be it from a friend, a doctor or a counselor. You are important. You are loved and you deserve to live your best life. There is help––know that there are so many like us who want you to find the courage to seek it!

*No confirmations have been made at this time that Anthony suffered from mental illness. But with mental health as a major contributor to suicide rates, I felt compelled to draft this post. 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.