There is no descriptive language about suicide in this post. I will only speak about mental health in regards to my struggles and those of people I know and love. I am not a mental health professional in any way.
When I was in fourth grade, I was diagnosed with anxiety. Not in a “your child has anxiety” way, but in a “we did an upper GI on your kid and her stomach is literally in knots” kind of way. The doctor’s advice to me was to relax. “Stop worrying about things. You are young. Go play with your friends.” Now, we all know this is the equivalent of saying “I have anxiety” and your well-meaning cousin saying “have you tried going outside?”
I’ve noticed a lot of correlations in my life with anxiety and education, job performance, and even friendships. I have never learned an effective way to deal with anxiety. I’ve always just slowly processed it, drank it away, or had a full meltdown in the privacy of my own home/bedroom/office. These days, I talk to Ben. He understands anxiety as well, and often helps me isolate reasons or triggers.
Anxiety in school was a constant. Being thrust into a gifted and talented program in elementary school was a fine start. When I was in second grade, they put me into a fifth grade reading class. I was fine with that aspect, because it meant I got to read more books. But discussion started about moving me up a grade, and thankfully my mom said “no.” Walking to the fifth grade hall alone was anxiety-inducing. What if someone stopped me? What if it was someone I didn’t know? Hell, Adam Walsh was kidnapped the summer before. Stranger Danger was REAL that year. See how easily it all started? With a simple ability to read above my grade level.
When I was young, my parents taught me a fantastic work ethic. My father worked hard, almost every single day of his career. He was a skilled tradesman, working in HVAC. No matter the season, he was always in demand- living in the south, AC is a god-given right. And in the winter, the snowbirds are the first to complain if their heating system doesn’t warm “these drafty old houses” to 80° when its 65° outside. I don’t ever remember my dad calling in sick. The only time I remember him staying home from work was when he broke his arm. So, in my young mind, work was just a thing you did, because people “need” you, whether it’s their perception or yours.
These days, I have a job where I am the sole person responsible for a multitude of responsibilities. And even so, I don’t call in sick. Feeling shitty? Oh well. You’re the only one who can do it. Get up. This has led to me having more than one panic attack at work, and more than a dozen times when I should have stayed home.
Friendships? That’s a little more difficult. I have always had trouble making “true” friends. I have a tremendous amount of people I love dearly in my life. And I mentally consider them all “close friends”; these are people that I know I could sit with at any cafe table and have a rousing conversation about anything. But the hour leading up to the mutual agreed upon meet time? Anxiety City. About people I love. Who have always shown genuine care and love for me. What the hell?
I have not always been acutely aware of my own mental health. I didn’t see a therapist until I was well into my 40s. Prior to that, there was always beer. And friends. But those aren’t always the best treatment plans, are they? And most of my friends? Well, we have always been a motley crew of people working shifting jobs, in areas with no benefits, and no real health care plans to speak of. So their methods were all eerily similar to mine.
America’s mental health system is broken. There aren’t enough mental health professionals to help, insufficient research on conditions, and PLENTY of snake (essential) oil salesmen preying on the already downtrodden. In fact, the anti-science crowd arguably has poured more money into muddying an already opaque pond than those fighting to clean the system and rebuild. So how is one person supposed to know where to start?
And why do we put it all on the individual to seek help? Why do we rely on people to say “hey, I think I am having some issues, where do I go for help?” Sure, a person has to “want” to change things, but for the love of Pete. Most people with mental health issues can’t see that they have a problem until it is staring back at them in a mirror. Hell, most people don’t have a primary care physician, much less easy access to any sort of counselor.
I don’t have solutions. I don’t even have ideas. I just would love to be able to help wherever I can, and if that starts with talking out my own shit, then maybe this is how I start.
In any case, September is National Suicide Prevention Month. I care about you. My email is always open. I will be honest and tell you I don’t always have the bandwidth to “help”, but I always have a shoulder to lean on, a blanket to wrap you in, a good cup of coffee or a hot tea, and maybe some inappropriate memes to show you on my phone as you sit there unwillingly feeling loved by me. I cannot say I know what it is like to feel like there’s only one option. I will fully admit that. But I do know what it’s like to feel like the train is coming, the sounds are pounding your ears, and you’re tied to the track. And I know the pain of reaching out for any kind of help. I understand the fear, and the embarrassment. I know it feels like admitting you couldn’t handle it in your own. But I am here to tell you that it’s ok to feel those ways. It’s ok to be disappointed in yourself for not being able to “fix” it all on your own. It’s ok to be embarrassed- that is 100% a natural feeling, but guess what? It means that you’re still in there. You still exist, and you still matter. And you absolutely can come back from that precipice. Sometimes help comes in the form of a good weekend crying and being loved on. Sometimes it comes with a hospital stay with shitty food and weird roommates. But either way, you still have chances to make changes.
I love you all.