Saturday, January 6, 2018

On Ending the Stigma

I spend quite a bit of time driving back and forth from the village that I live in to the town that the boys' dad lives. Today, while taking the youngest into work, I got to thinking about a post that I saw on Facebook the other day. I guess that in some ways, it inspired me to sit down and write this post.

The post included an article where a woman talked about what depression was to her. Honestly, I read it and I didn't feel as if I connected to the article so I'm not going to link it here. What did stand out to me was my friend's response to it. I'm doing this from memory, but essentially, she said that she wished more people would post about their struggles with depression.

I read her comment and I sighed. Yep, sitting on my couch, I sighed loud enough that my kids looked up and wondered what was wrong. You see, I know multiple people, myself included, who tried to publicly share their struggles with depression and it didn't really go so well. For me, I had people unfriend me and others that I know stopped following me. It felt as if nobody wanted to see it and nobody cared. I stopped sharing and so did others that I know. I commented essentially saying that.

Here's the part though that truly got me thinking... both on that post and in a private conversation, two people commented saying that it's not that people don't care, it's that they don't know what to say. Okay, I get that but to leave or to say nothing can be far more harmful than you accidentally saying the wrong supportive thing. I understand that reading about someone's #BadBrainDay (the hashtag I use on social media) and what that might entail can make people uncomfortable, but here's the thing.. Mental illness and depression are uncomfortable. They're not just uncomfortable for people to read about on social media, but they're incredibly uncomfortable for the people who are having to live with them and for the people who love them. Maybe I should say.. those who are trying to live with them because not everyone is successful. Suicide is a very real and very terrifying possibility for a lot of us who are dealing with these things.

Mental illness and depression are uncomfortable for everyone. How do we end that? For those living with these diseases, there's no real way to truly end it. We'd have to find a miracle cure that would take these things away. That's not realistic. How do we make them more comfortable for everyone else? We talk about it. We educate. We teach people what they can do to help. We keep talking even though it feels as if we're yelling at the wind and that nobody cares.

Everyone's experiences with mental illness differ. As they say, your mileage may vary. There are some things in common, but I can't speak for what helps everyone else. I can only tell you what helps me and know that most likely it applies to others as well. That being said, here are 5 things that you can do to help someone who is struggling:

1. Listen - The words that come out of my mouth (or fingers) may sound like total gibberish and nonsense to you, but they're very real to me. Depression lies and it's good at it. Sometimes those thoughts just keep building up in a person's head and they need someone that they can vent it out to. In my case, I'm not asking or even wanting you to fix anything. I just need to have someone safe that I can vent it all out to.

2. Ask what the person needs - Sometimes what helps the most is knowing that someone wants to help. Ask what you can do to help. For me, sometimes it's something as simple as, "Hey, could you send me a text around 10pm to remind me to take my medicine?"  When things get bad, things like my memory get bad and it's easy to forget to do the very things that could help the most.

3. Encourage - When things get bad, self-care goes out the window. Showering, brushing your teeth, taking medication..the basics that a lot of people take for granted get shoved aside in the desire to just curl up and hide. Encourage...don't bully or do one small self-care task. Heck, disguise it if you have to... "I need to wrap up this email to my boss, why don't you go grab a snack and we'll meet back up in a little bit?"  Sometimes that tiny nudge reminds me that hey, I haven't eaten today and I should.

4. Don't shame - Depression makes the world dark and gloomy. It's the very pit of negativity. Please do not chastise people for being negative or feeling that way. Shaming people who are already feeling as if the entire world is against them only shoves them further down what can be a very slippery slope. I've had people with the best of intentions say to me, "You're stronger than this." I know that they mean well and that they're trying to be encouraging but that isn't what I hear. I hear, "You should be stronger than this but you're failing at even that."

5. Reach out - This is a great one, even if someone isn't caught up in a depressive episode. We all need to feel loved and wanted and there's no greater way to have that happen than to have people reach out to us. If you're local, suggest that you get together. It doesn't have to be something about asking if they'd like to get together and go for a walk? Exercise and fresh air are great for depression. How about asking if you can get together and have a movie marathon? Nobody has to talk, nobody has to do anything. You're just there and they're not alone.  Not local? Send them a message or a text and just say hey, I was thinking about you and wanted to say hi. That leaves the door open for them to initiate conversation. Even if they don't, it's a great reminder that they're not alone.

6. Bonus comes in the form of this graphic that just came across my feed:

I know that it's hard to watch someone that you care about deal with this. It can be hard to know what to say or what to do. I also know that watching my friend count drop as I deal with depression and feeling as if nobody cares can send me further into a spiral. It's the last thing that anyone needs. If you're on social media and you see those posts, don't run away simply because it's uncomfortable for you or because you don't know what to say. Something as small as a comment that says *hugs* or I love you or I'm thinking about you can make a world of difference. You don't have to engage any more than that if it's too hard for you.

Depression and mental illness are uncomfortable. Talking about it when you're afraid people will reject you is uncomfortable. If you truly want to end the stigma, sometimes you have to do things that make you uncomfortable. I sometimes use the hashtag #DoItAfraid ...I invite anyone who is struggling to use any of my hashtags and also the ones that we're familiar with. (#DoItAfraid, #BadBrainDay, #DepressionLies, #EndTheStigma)

As for me, I have this blog as my place to talk about these things and I plan on continuing to.



So many thoughts....

Uhm I guess I'll start with, having lived with someone with depression for over two decades and part of that before it was diagnosed or being treated in any way gives me some insight. I do the thing of trying to make sure someone eats. With someone long distance from me it doesn't always go as well. One friend is particularly resistant and I usually get an "I'll try" which I know means she's not willing to lie to commit to it but she's not got much faith it will happen. But when I am with someone my trick is usually to make food for myself and just well...not feel so much like eating it anymore, and usually them taking it over just so it isn't wasted is a good trick.

As far as the discomfort you talk about throughout the post, there's a thing I've heard of about and my brain isn't recalling it's exact wording but it's about making space. It's doing exactly what you are saying just being there, allowing someone to vent without offering a way to fix it. Not trying to make you "feel better" because it's uncomfortable to be around someone that is being a downer. I am quite empathetic and sometimes I think I seem empathic if it were a real thing.

I don't have mental illnesses but I do have several "invisible" illnesses and they affect my ability to function and can even give me a bad brain day. I just had to think for two minutes to remember the word empathetic in fact. It's near the end of the day. I've started wearing glasses and forget to and by the end of the day my eyes are strained and it's frustrating.

I try very hard to tell people I'm proud of them for doing the things that they CAN do when they are in bad places. I also try to give encouragement that I have faith that they will get to a better place I just can't tell them how. I hope that comes across differently than feeling like they failed something.

I honestly think that the holding space to allow someone to make you uncomfortable is a practice that should be done widely. Most people could benefit from it whether they have a mental illness or not. It's a very difficult skill to master but a lot of people would feel better support from their friends and family if they were allowed to go through the feelings be uncomfortable through to the end of feeling it. Then they can resolve things and have less baggage and possibly reduce stress, and anxiety overall.

Anyway, I hope you know I'm always in your corner, I hope everything works out as you need them to, in your time and schedule so you don't have to rush along and be more upsetting to you.

Basically I have hope that each new day brings you a new fresh start towards whatever your goals are whether it's taking a shower, your medications on schedule, cleaning a space, helping your boys, or writing. And I'll give you a hells yeah for any day when you conquer the goals that make you feel badass. *hugs*

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