Last month was Suicide Awareness Month and I intended to post then, but – alas – my whole month got away from me! Does anyone else have that problem lately?
Better late than never!
Why is it that mental health problems are treated with such negative and distancing perspectives – be them life-long struggles or temporary traumas? Why do we distance ourselves from those with mental illness in ways we would think abhorrent with regard to physical ailments?
People may not understand diabetes, but they don’t shy from someone who is struggling with this disease. We don’t treat someone who had a stroke with a sideways glance and a question of why they weren’t strong enough to assure it didn’t happen.
Things ring very differently for those that struggle with mental health issues. It is a sad and all-too-true fact.
I have been guilty of shying away from someone who suffered from bipolar depression and schizophrenia. When I knew she was battling these forms of disease, I soon looked upon her and saw only the diagnosis. I watched for the moments when she was not herself, not acting ‘normal’, not able to function in her daily life. I saw the whole of her as sick.
“She”… she was my mom.
Mom was sick. Mom needed help and companionship. Mom needed empathy and understanding.
When Mom moved all her electronics out of our house and put them on the porch because the electronic waves were hurting her brain, I thought to myself, “Why can’t she see this is insane?” When she would enter the depression swing of her bi-polar disorder and leave the dirty dishes on the counter for days, I would wonder why she couldn’t just get up and do such a simple chore. “It can’t be that hard to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and care for yourself and your children.” When she was committed to the state hospital for help, I concentrated on getting her better and measuring her progress towards ‘normal’. I wanted her to return to being herself. I wanted my mom back as I once knew her.
I was not her companion through all of this. I did not have the empathy she needed, nor the understanding. I was 19 and had little knowledge of this world, the way mental health issues impact a person, and I was SCARED! If only I had a foundation of experience and resources with which to navigate this awful experience.
If she had cancer, I would visit the hospital every day I could. I would bring her flowers and her favorite things to comfort her. I would be as supportive as I possibly could to help her stay positive and build happiness in even these days of trial. If she was feeling frail and afraid, I would wrap empathy and my entire heart around her like her burgundy shawl – the delicate, flowing, buttery shawl that brought her comfort any time she wrapped it around her shoulders at home. I would let the doctors try to heal her cancer, to keep her body alive. I would try to keep her spirit alive.
I didn’t have a foundation of experience and resources with which to navigate this experience. I did all I could. I put forth all the energy and efforts I had within my power and understanding. I took over power of attorney, her bills, and meetings with the doctors at the mental hospital. I tried to care for my little brother in her absence. I tried to keep her alive with my actions. I neglected her spirit altogether.
I neglected the whole of her, for the sickness. She needed someone to hold her heart, cup it in tender, familiar palms and keep it safe and secure. She struggled to recognize herself. She needed to see herself reflected in the liquid brown pools of her daughter’s eyes, to have visual proof she was not lost forever. Her spirit needed help and I didn’t know how to give it, I didn’t understand.
Mom lost her battle with these debilitating diseases. She succumbed to her illness the day she took her own life.
I am not here today because I am presumptuous enough to think I could have saved her. I am not here to share with you the ways things could have turned out differently. The facts of the matter are straight forward – my mom was sick, and her sickness took her life in the end. There was no ‘thing’ I could have done to change the result. It has taken me nearly 20 years to realize that I could not have loved away her sadness any more than I could have loved away cancer.
But, I could have poured my love into her spirit and made her limited time on this earth a little less painful.
Today I want to leave you with this request; reach out to those around you who may be struggling with depression, mental trauma, or life-long mental illness, instead of shying away because you don’t understand the disease.
Truly see their hearts, that of which they are made, the fiber of their being and reflect it back to them so they can again witness their value. LOVE THEM! You may not be able to fix them, but you can care for them.
Encourage them to get professional help to heal their bodies and let them know you will hold their spirit in the cusps of your tender hands until they are again strong and healthy. Ask of yourself what you would do for the same person if he or she was battling cancer and DO THOSE THINGS! Bring her meals, don’t leave her to fight this alone, brighten her days when you can. BE THERE!
I know it is scary. I know you may not be able to change the result. I also know that you can make a difference in the lives of those who are struggling today. And, sometimes, that is all it takes to save a life.