Today is the day to talk about mental health issues.
So, let’s talk about one of the things that makes living with mental health issues so much tougher than it needs to be: shame.
We all know we’re supposed to be productive. We’re supposed to be cheerful, contributing members of our families and our communities. We’re supposed to have our acts together, to behave like civilized grownups, to be capable of holding down a job, caring for our kids, and keeping the sidewalks shovelled and the grass mown.
When your mind keeps betraying you, though, when you don’t sleep at night so you drag your butt through the day in an exhausted fog, when your chest aches constantly and your head feels like it’s going to explode from the pressure and your memories keep escaping your grasp no matter how many times you try to make lists and set alarms and you are so freakin’ tired you just want to sit down and cry …
… when your day goes like that, it’s hard to be the cheerful, contributing member of your family and community that you want to be.
But we don’t want to tell anyone how we feel, either, because we are ashamed. It seems so weak, so silly, so … inexplicable. Do I confess that I don’t remember the conversation you’re referring to, or do I just smile and nod and fake my way through? Do I stop halfway through the short list of things I want to do today to sit in the chair because I’m just too weary to go on, or do I push through so that I don’t have to explain why we’re having frozen pizza for dinner again tonight? Do I dig deep to find the words (and the courage) to ask you for help, or do I just swallow my fears yet again and try to talk myself out of the gut reactions I can’t actually control?
Just managing my inner world takes more energy and resources than you can possibly imagine. It takes more energy and resources than I want to give it, but if I don’t do all the things that I know I need to do to stay on top of things, the Darkness overtakes me, and then I am undone.
But the things I have to do take time out of my day, time I want to spend on productive things. Time I don’t want to have to justify or explain to anyone else, because it is hard to wrap the words around it all. I can’t adequately explain it … all I can tell you is that believe it or not, this is the best I can do. And I know my best is no great shakes, believe me, but this is all I’ve got. If I had more, I’d give it, please believe me. This is as good as it gets right now.
And I am ashamed that this is all I can do. I want to be so much more.
I realize that shame thrives on three things: secrecy, silence, and judgment.
We need to tell our stories – to deny shame the power to control our lives any more. Yes, it’s scary to shine the light into the darkness, but when I told my secrets, when I refused to stay silent anymore, instead of being met with the harsh judgment I expected, I was met with loving kindness and support.
I still want to run back into the darkness and hide sometimes. I don’t have that choice anymore – I’ve outed myself quite thoroughly now and I can’t go back. This is good: the accountability keeps me moving forward, and keeps me from slipping back into the darkness that still calls to me, promising that everything will be okay if I just hide everything once more, shut my mouth, and behave.
It’s a lie. I know it’s a lie. But I need the help of those who have heard my story. I need people I can lean on while the emotional bones that I shattered in that long, brutal fall are given time to heal. I need supportive voices who encourage me to be gentle with myself, to allow the healing to progress at it’s own pace, to help me drown out the judgmental, punishing voices that still plague me.
I need to hear
You are doing a big job even though nobody else can see it, and we know you’re working hard. We understand that you need to rest, and that you hate having to do it. It’s okay. We’re proud of you just for hanging on. You’re getting better, we can see it, even if you can’t. And when you have bad days, we are here for you. It’s okay if every day isn’t a good one. We love you anyway.
I need to hear this. We all need to hear this. Those of us struggling with the invisible demons of our mental illnesses and injuries, we need more support than we let on.
Be extra kind to everyone you meet this week. You never know what inner battles people are fighting … that surly clerk at the store, the grumpy spouse, the distracted teacher … maybe this is all they’ve got to give today. We’re hard enough on ourselves, really, we don’t need one more voice saying “come on, is that the best you can do?”
A voice that says, “It’s tough, eh? Anything I can do to help?” … now that would be welcome.