“None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, yet still we go forward. Because we trust. Because we have Faith.” ― Paulo Coelho
A few days ago, a friend had confided in me that she was struggling with a mental illness. She didn’t know what it was, or how to diagnose it, but she knew, very clearly, she wasn’t the same person she had been a few months ago. Old passions seemed irrelevant, hobbies she would enjoy turned into sitting on the couch feeling abandoned, and every memory turned melancholic. She confided in me, she said, because she knew that I, quite openly, discussed these subjects and wouldn’t judge her. The latter part of that, she would tell me through tears. That’s when I realized my next piece had to be about how to combat destigmatizing mental health and properly start a conversation in which people feel safe talking about it.
It can start with something as small as a bad day, then, a bad week, and soon after, a bad year. A series of events can bring you down to such a point where you’re not quite sure why, you’re not sure how, but you’re sure that something isn’t right. And even worse than that, you aren’t even aware of the changes taking place until it’s far too late. And that is why, when my friend turned to me, with something even as small as feeling blue on a rainy Sunday, I knew she had to turn to a professional for help, before it could get worse. It was Ruth Barnhouse, psychiatrist to Sylvia Plath, who was once quoted as saying, “that it would have been absolutely possible for Sylvia to ‘get well’—whatever we mean by that—but because of geographical circumstances she never had two or three years of twice-a-week therapy which is what she should have had. If I had had her for two to three solid years twice a week, I’m sure she had it in her to get over this.”
As of late, discussing therapy and mental illness, and prioritizing your well-being has become something of a trend, which is, of course, a good thing. But you see more of this in bigger cities as opposed to smaller towns, where it’s still quite taboo to be thought of as ‘crazy’. I’ve been in settings where I’ve heard people describe their significant others as ‘insane’, ‘psychotic’, ‘crazy’, and it has always bothered me. Not least because gossiping in general is unkind, but because those terms have the ability to be incredibly offensive, and harmful, especially if the person in question really is suffering some internal trauma. Look, everyone has their own history, and their own demons, but to vilify somebody for those faults doesn’t further their road to recovery, it stifles their growth. It strengthens their belief that there is, in fact, something wrong with them.
The time is now to start being conscious of what we say and how we say it. I’m still learning how to let go of being somebody who is misinformed, judgmental, and callous with her words, to somebody who makes an ardent effort to hear every person out, be sensitive to their strife, and see what my part could be in their recovery. Whether that means just lending a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, or an actual recommendation to a professional, my duty, I’ve recently discovered, is to be of service to those in need. I, of all people, know all too well the acute panging deep in the pit of your stomach that trails your days, growing stronger only to haunt your nights, and the loneliness that accompanies it. And I’ve learned, and continually so, that it is a lot easier to put your circumstance in perspective when being there for somebody else. As cliché as it sounds, I’ve found the burden of a friend to trouble me more than my own.
It’s not an easy task, the task of asking for help, or confiding in someone. It takes trust, and security, and the knowledge that what you say won’t be used against you. Which, of course, isn’t always the case. I have found, with deep sorrow, that when I’ve trusted someone with a secret of my own, something that pertains to my mental health, I’ve had that same secret used against me in a form of modern warfare; all’s fair in love and war, I suppose? It’s a horrifying truth, that can lead to an even more gruesome conclusion, and without getting too morbid, the point here is, start being aware. Be aware of what you say, of what you do. Awareness can be the first step of righting a wrong. I have, for far too long, been living life with a laissez-faire attitude that can be best described as joie-de-vivre unless it concerns me, and it took a few harrowing moments that left me completely isolated to understand that my lack of involvement does not negate my need to have courage on another’s behalf.
It was with MyTherapistHelps, and MyTherapistSays, that I had this revelation: that I could be to somebody what nobody was for me. A constant source of support; a sounding board; a voice of reason. Any, and all, of those things we should strive to be. Nobody is perfect, and we’ll make mistakes down the line, but it’s the effort we make to be there and be present when it matters most that counts. The few hours I spent with my friend listening to her, turning her to finally seek help. The two seconds it would take for you to ask a stranger who seems upset if they’re okay. The phone call you make to your parents checking in on them. Every moment you make the conscious effort to be a pillar to lean on. And no, I don’t mean become a person with no identity whose sole purpose is to be there for others whilst completely ignoring your own well-being, but the person who, upon hearing a cry for help, the quiet whisper that tells you not all is okay, will rise to the occasion and embolden others to also do so.
Take the first step, and others will follow to seek to do better; to be better. You never know how your one, small, act of bravery could encourage someone to harness their own strength and courage, and seek the help they need. It all starts with one voice, not much louder than a whisper, to begin a revolution. Revolt in the name of good.
“We’re paying the highest tribute you can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It’s that simple.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird