As many of you know by now, I am in a constant battle with the wounds and inner demons I have suffered throughout my lifetime. I have been making progress on the war front and I am learning new strategies, but my fight is far from over.
The thing with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and most other mental illnesses, is that it’s hard to overcome the stigma. When you think about the term “mental illness”, what comes to mind? A crazed lunatic? A homeless dude yelling at the air? A straight jacket? Or do you think about your friendly neighbor, your favorite teacher, your awesome child, or yourself?
There is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to mental illness and who suffers from it, and how it affects people. It comes in all forms and levels of severity, and you would be surprised by how many people in your life deal with it on a daily basis.
I recently returned from a week-long intensive course for my graduate program. The course was on group facilitation and it was a hands-on course. When I say hands-on, I mean we were the clients in the group. We hashed out our REAL issues in group and got to some raw stuff. It was intense, real, and healing. I learned so much about myself, my colleagues, and about mental illness.
I want to share some of what I learned so that you may understand someone who has a mental illness a little better. If you are someone who battles with any mental illness, I hope this brings you some peace in knowing that you are not alone.
Everyone is Broken
I don’t care who you are, we all have a wound from our past that affects our lives in some way. Maybe it’s major, like some sort of abuse, neglect, or trauma. Maybe it’s something small you experienced indirectly but still hurts when you think about it. Some of us are great at hiding it, while others have let it get the best of them. The point is, no one is ever free from this pain. Being broken doesn’t mean you don’t have your life together or that you are a complete mess. That’s not what I’m saying. Any person you meet can tell you how their life has been shaped by something painful. If you tell me you can’t, I’d love to hear your life story and your secret to success. 😉
Mental Illness Has a Root
Think about a weed growing out of the ground. In order to pluck it out and keep it from regrowing, you need to grab it by its roots. If you only pull on the surface, the roots will keep pushing out new growth. The same can be said for mental illness. You can treat the symptoms on the surface, but unless you get to the root of the pain, you won’t ever really heal.
I know this firsthand. I tried treating my symptoms with medication, alcohol, and food, but I only temporarily alleviated the pain. It was only until I sat down with a therapist that I was able to face my demons and get to the source of my wounds. It was difficult, painful, and frustrating, but so worth it. I never imagined the level of healing I ended up experiencing and I suggest to all of you to get to the root of your pain.
I will say that some mental illness is purely a result of chemical imbalance or other factors, and not necessarily the result of some sort of traumatic event or abuse. I know people who have always struggled with depression and other issues from early childhood. These friends may have to take medications their entire lives. These dear people deserve our fervent prayers, love, and support.
Healing is Possible for Everyone
I can say without a doubt that healing is possible for everyone who has their mental and physical capacities. I have seen the most hardened, apathetic, and denial-ridden people open their hearts and sob like little babies (*raises hand*). It is hard to put down the armor you spent years building in your quest to fight off the pain. In the right environment with the right people, however, you will learn to slowly let your guard down. Once you get a little sense of healing, you will end up going full force into doing the work towards complete healing.
There are people in my life who are still resist healing, but I am hopeful that they will come around before it’s too late.
Therapy is Not a Bad Thing
In my journey through healing, including my graduate work, I have encountered countless people who either have gone or are still going to therapy for various reasons. These people are from all walks of life: first responders, active military, teachers, athletes, parents, wealthy, poor…you name it. Many people still imagine scenes from the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when thinking about therapy. But this is far from the truth. There is still a stigma that goes with therapy and mental illness, but it is getting better. People are coming to realize that pretending everything is fine is not working, and that emotional/mental pain is far more common than we think. The stigma is still rampant in the military, but once service members leave they are realizing the need for mental health resources. First responders such as law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics/EMTs, medical staff, and other public servants are finding that years of witnessing traumatic events equates to increased cases of PTSD. Unfortunately, this is also linked to a high rate of suicide in this same population. The good news is that the government and public agencies are making resources more readily available, and people who need help are actually seeking it.
No one should feel ashamed to say that they have some stuff to work through and that they are seeing a professional for help. When your body is hurting, you go to a doctor. When your car needs a repair, you take it to a mechanic. When your mind is in pain, you go to a therapist or other mental health professional. I think one of the bravest things you can do is admit you aren’t perfect and that you need help. I consider myself to be a manly-man, and I find no shame in saying that my heart and spirit have been broken and that I need help healing them both. After all, my body is God’s temple and I should do everything in my power to keep it in good shape!