One of my favourite sayings is “don’t judge a man before you have walked a mile in his shoes”.
It is one of those idioms that I wish more people would take to heart.
Earlier this week a certain celebrity decided to call suicide ‘stupid’ and described people who choose to end their lives as ‘selfish’. Having lost two friends to suicide and having counselled people weighed down by feelings of hopelessness and despair I can tell you referring to suicide as ‘stupid’ bothers me.
(It bothered me enough to make me sit down and write this less than fluffy and charming post)
We all know someone with mental illness or addiction issues – diagnosed or otherwise. Mental illness runs in my family.
My grandfather for example suffered from PTSD and was regarded until the end of his life by extended family and friends as ‘a weirdo’.
My sister and I thought he was wonderful and eccentric. We had no idea he was ‘disturbed’ by memories of the war.
Another close relative who lived with manic depression attempted to take her own life three times (that we know of). Many of my friends had or continue to wrestle with depression and anxiety or live with someone who does. I have mentioned before that I have learned to control my own anxiety. At one point in my life it was so debilitating I didn’t leave the house for six months.
If we hope to be better human beings we should open ourselves up to learning more about mental illness. When you do, you will come face to face in the office, in the community and at various social gatherings with a variety of disorders; anything from mood disorders to eating disorders.
Earlier this month Gillian Bennett took her own life because she had dementia and could not bear the thought of losing herself completely. You can read her last blog post here.
We are tainted by our own experiences and perspective forgetting perhaps a little too conveniently that we’re not the ones hearing voices or wading through a sticky darkness 24/7. We are also quick to assume that everyone shares in equal measure: opportunity, good fortune and privilege. Not so. Not everyone has access to social and medical infrastructure or the support of a loving parent or friend and many cannot afford the medication.
Treating mental illness is not the same as treating something like the flu. There are a myriad complex and often intangible factors to consider. So while some people do go on to live fulfilling lives many people have relapses.
Words and opinions count only if they enlighten, educate and address the issue. We need action not tweets. Action is far more powerful. As is imagination. Commit to wellness if you live with a mental illness. Reach out. Seek help. Often the most difficult thing is acknowledging we need the help and the second most difficult thing is reaching out to others. Be brave. Take those first steps.
Commit to act if you don’t live with mental illness but know someone who does or reach out to help those in your community.
I credit not only therapy but imagination with my healing. I chose to imagine myself as whole, safe and powerful. You can too. It won’t necessarily end the pain but it lets in a shard of light long enough for you to start believing in possibility.
We save lives when we act. Let’s stop thinking of depression for example as something ‘he/she should snap out of’ and see it as a real illness like we do cancer and let’s offer to do the things we do for others like picking up groceries or the kids from school. Let’s practice compassion.