I judge people, I do.
I mean, I try not to and when I catch myself I whisper “Father forgive me,” but I definitely judge.
The woman who had her walking, talking child in the store with no shoes on…
The lady who was riding my bumper yesterday morning, swerving in and out of lanes, just to be met with a red light..
The dude with a mouth full of gold who swerved his car and parked it in front of me so that I couldn’t walk across the parking lot because he wanted to “talk.”
I try to remember the words from that ever-so popular meme that tells us that we’re all fighting a battle that no one else knows about.
When someone dies by suicide, though, I stop and pause. I don’t judge. I pause and thank God that I have people in my corner, my team, my squad, who help to keep me whole.
Two in one week seems unfathomable, but the CDC tells us differently. In 2016 45,000 people ages 10 or older died from suicide in the United States1 and those numbers continue to increase in every state.
One common narrative that I read yesterday was regarding money and happiness. I think we all know and will continue to know that money doesn’t equate to happiness. Money allows us to buy things and have experiences, but happiness comes from the things that you can’t buy, see, or touch- for me, it comes from the moments in between all of that. Happiness is a feeling. You can’t buy feelings.
Knowing this, it seems irrelevant to mention how much money they had. As a society, we tend to place public figures on a pedestal; a higher level than we are- when really, they’re just like us in so many ways. When we place them on the pedestal, we almost immortalize them and don’t allow room for them to have feelings, make mistakes, do dumb things, do regular things (“oh look! It’s Ellen Pompeo! She’s grocery shopping oooooo)… and when a public figure dies by suicide, we tend to say- but they always looked so happy!
You know who else always looks happy? Me. And countless other people suffering from mental illness around the world. Various illnesses don’t always present themselves in the manner that we believe they will.
For example, people with Tourette Syndrome don’t walk around cursing people out all of the time as movies would have us believe. People with depression aren’t always walking around moping, crying, and unable to do anything because they’re so sad.
I am not saying that we don’t have those moments, because we may but some people- myself included- are high functioning able to go about our daily lives working, picking our kids up from practice, and doing everyday tasks.
Maybe that’s where Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain lived. In a highly functioning place… or maybe not.
My point is that nothing is ever really what it seems, is it? I have become so skilled at putting on a mask in order to engage and be an active member of society, that I’m not sure anyone would know that I suffer from major depressive disorder unless I told them. No one would know that I have panic attacks and my anxiety gets so bad sometimes that it affects my ability to eat because it causes bile to build up in my throat. That there are times when I can’t sleep for an entire week because my nightmares are so bad, so real, or because I have too many thoughts swirling around my mind and my brain can’t rest enough to allow me to sleep.
Here is what I know about me:
I know that I actively work to break the stigma surrounding mental illness by speaking about my struggles out loud.
I donate to organizations that I know are also working to end the stigma and are actively working to find out more about these diseases through research and maybe… maybe finding a cure.
I go to therapy when I need to.
I found a psychiatrist who listens to me and doesn’t try to pump me up with meds, but instead hears me and works with me to find the right balance for me.
I take my meds. Every single day. I have an alarm on my phone that says: “Take your meds, girl” so I don’t forget.
Here’s what I know from talking to other people:
Not everyone wants to share their mental illness with others… and that’s okay. I fully believe that our society hasn’t created a safe space for individuals with mental illness. For those who don’t have an illness or have never been affected by mental illness in their lives personally whether it be a family member or friend, mental illness can be hard to fathom.
Not everyone has a squad. People need people, mentally ill or not. We live in a world now where it is so easy to be egocentric and not be willing to make actual connections with other people.
Not everyone knows how to reach out for help. It can be easy to share the number to the suicide hotline, which I believe is very important, and think you’ve done your part… but not everyone has the power to pick up the phone and dial. Let’s make a habit of checking in on people- strong, weak, or otherwise. Check on all of your people. If they’re on your mind, send them a text or pick up and call. If things don’t sound right, dig deeper… make sure they’re really okay and see what you can do to help.
Some people haven’t sought out help because they are embarrassed or think no one will understand or think they can do things to help themselves get better like exercise or, or, or…
While I do believe that every case is different. And I believe that exercise can be an important piece to self-care. I also believe that there is no shame in taking meds because sometimes we just. can’t. do it with therapy and exercise alone.
SOMETIMES, the chemical imbalance in our brains is so overwhelming that we need the medication to help stabilize it.
Ask me how I know.
There was a few months where my doctor and I were playing around with meds trying to find the right combination. One that wouldn’t let me gain weight because the weight gain, in turn made me feel depressed. One that wouldn’t cause more anxiety. One that didn’t leave me feeling like a zombie who had no emotions. And we slowly weaned off of the medication, starting with a clean slate to move forward.
I. Felt. Like. Crap.
You would have thought that someone pulled the rug from underneath me. With no meds I sobbed. Daily and often. My whole body felt heavy, weighted down from all of the pain that I was feeling. My brain was moving faster than I could actually process the negative thoughts that I was having and every bad thing that ever happened to me was drumming up and taking a toll on me. Depression is something that I feel in my core, in my soul. It paralyzes me. I need my meds. Anyone who knows me knows that I am active, I exercise, I try to eat well… but it’s not enough for me.
Guys. This could have easily been me or your neighbor or your pastor or the guy behind the deli counter at your grocery store who always gives you a sample of the meat before he cuts it for you.
More than anything else, I think we need to be good to one another. We need to check up on one another. We need to lend a helping hand when we can. We need to make sure our people are all good. Don’t be afraid to make a new friend. Be the light for someone in that dark tunnel. Allow people to share their flaws with you, no judgement, don’t try to fix them, just be there to listen.
The New York Times published an article with some great tips on what to do if someone that you know is depressed. (https://goo.gl/kM58Lr)
That’s all it took for me. A friend noticed that something was wrong, recommended that I go talk to someone. Made sure that I went to the appointment and here I am now.
Helping someone with mental illness is not one size fits all, I’m just sharing my story with hopes that maybe, just maybe those who don’t understand have a bit more of an understanding and can be there for someone who needs them.
And to those struggling, hold on. One more day. And another. Please.