May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I almost let the month pass me by without mentioning it. Maybe, because I try so hard to act as though there are no struggles, so if I ignore it, it might just go away. I have found this not to be the case, and the reason why we need a whole month to bring awareness to Mental Health.
As a child I grew up with two mentally ill parents, and spent my whole life trying to prove I was not like them. I knew that mental illness carries a stigma, and we had to be quiet about what was really going on.
My dad was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He never believed this diagnosis, and never sought treatment. My mom, on the other hand never let me forget about his condition, and made sure I knew it could be inherited. Every time my dad did something evil, she blamed it on his illness. She would warn me, that if I misbehaved, I would be like him too. I didn’t really understand what it all meant, only that I knew I did not want to be like him…or her.
My mom was diagnosed with depression and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). At times, she was meaner than my dad ever was. She was vacant for many of my memories, sleeping, under her covers for days at a time. Her body was there, but her mind was not. I never saw her as sick, until many years later. I assumed depression was a normal part of life. And PTSD, I thought it couldn’t be that bad…I mean, that was from events that had already happened. (I know this belief was false now, and understand how real, and debilitating it really can be.)
The downplaying is what gives mental health the stigma. I didn’t intentionally do it, and I knew others don’t either. It is the lack of understanding and compassion that adds to the pain and misconceptions. The not knowing is what made me afraid. I lived in a home, surrounded by different diagnoses, but I did not understand any of it. I just knew I didn’t want to be like them.
I didn’t want to be mean. I didn’t want to sleep my life away. I didn’t want to weigh so much, that I couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t want to think people were after me or out to get me. I didn’t want to call my kids names, or beat them. I didn’t want to be evil or crazy. I didn’t want to blame my problems on everyone else. I didn’t want to live off the system. I didn’t want an addiction. I didn’t want to be so angry, or so sad. I didn’t want to die.
All of my fears came from not understanding. That is where a lot of the fear comes from. People are so quick to judge without the facts, without information, without seeing people as…people. I wanted information. I wanted to understand.
I took all the classes I could in high school and college to help me understand. I even went back to get my Masters in Mental Health Counseling (more so to understand myself). Information is power, and key to ending the stigma.
Since my childhood, I have found my way to more people, with more diagnoses, and I learned that people are more than the label given to them by an illness or disease. Under the layers of labels, and challenges they bring, people bring stories, and gifts. When you look past all the other stuff, there is so much to gain.
I learned that I also have PTSD, and at times have struggled with depression. When I was able to accept what was happening inside of me, I was able to understand it, and learn from it.
We all have our struggles, and challenges. We have stories, and lessons. We have the potential to shine. Life’s greatest lesson I have found: Don’t be afraid to be who you really are. Our stories matter. Don’t let shame or fear keep you silent.
Through my love for Tom Petty, I met a creative couple, who have a story of their own. They make beautiful jewelry out of recycled guitar strings, and help raise awareness for mental health by sharing their story. Please, check them out, and take time to read about their journey. ReThrive Guitar String Jewelry.