Sunday, May 08, 2016

Your Mental Health Is up to You

Tom Kelly - Light Painting
"Tom Kelly - Light Painting"

Somebody close to me recently mocked me online. They mocked my book. They mocked my invite to speak at the upcoming Mental Health America conference. They mocked all my recent achievements. They saw all of these achievements as me being bound to a lifestyle that will set me up for mockery. Ironic, I know. This person meant well, but did more harm than good at the time. How fortunate for me that I don’t need other people’s permission to feel good about myself.

People who don’t acknowledge your mental health issues aren’t going to acknowledge your achievements. They aren’t going to acknowledge your progress because they don’t understand it. They are so emotionally invested in the belief that we are weak when we recognize our weaknesses that they refuse to pat you on the back for even the smallest of achievements. They see your achievement as failure.

I know a guy from church a few years back who is so happy see me every time we run into each other. Yet when he asks me what I’ve been up to, he changes the subject the very second I mention my blog. He subscribes to the belief that my labels confine me. I know this because he’s earnestly lectured me about it, but he doesn’t spend a single moment with me to find out what I do to improve my life, nor does he bother to learn what my obstacles are. He cares about me, but my open acceptance of my ADHD & depression doesn’t fit into his world view. We talk about other things.

Does their dismissal of your struggles hurt? Of course, but I’m going to be honest with you. As hard as that type of disapproval can be to live through, their disapproval is meaningless. You are the ultimate authority on your progress. You know where you’ve come from and how close you are to success. This is because you are the one in control of your mental health. The power resides within you, not them.

There are going to be times when your depression will be in control of you instead of the other way around. Maybe you’re overwhelmed by family drama. Maybe overtime and stresses at work get you off your game. Maybe an unexpected illness or accident has occurred. You’re going to find yourself depressed because you forgot to maintain your well being. Your reserves will be depleted. It happens to all of us.

At that time, if you confide in people about your sudden bout of depression, maybe you already have a network established of supportive and understanding people to cheer you on, but more often than not you will hear tons of useless advice. If you find prayer helpful, you’ll get a tirade about the uselessness of prayer. If you find mindfulness helpful, you’ll be told it’s pseudo-religious bunk. Do you rely on meds? Somebody out there will lecture you about Big Pharma. You can’t win. Everybody will have an opinion of how you’re living your life wrong. How many of these people live with you day by day and witness your struggles? How many of these people share your burden? Sometimes even the experts will have useless advice. Everybody has their pet causes and philosophies. You are the only person who is responsible for you.

Last week was a very hard week for me. I had family issues draining my reserves. I was struggling financially. I was ticking quite a bit, too. Yes, I was managing my depression, but the depression felt like an 800 lbs gorilla being held behind a buckling closet door. I threw all my weight and effort at it, but I felt as if it would burst through at any moment. Then somebody close to me attacked me publicly. That closet door was close to giving way.

So how did I handle it? I let the toxic advice flow over me. I made the decision to not let any of the comments stick to me. I took a deep, cleansing breath, and let the irritation and pain go. I also cared for this person, so I replied in a professional and courteous manner. Then I immediately began working on my coping strategies. My chosen one for that moment was distraction. I binge watched a few episodes of “Ghost Whisperer”, and in between episodes, I renewed my determination to not let the attack affect me. It didn’t take long before the incident was behind me. Whatever your gimmick, keep at it. Don’t give other people power over your self-worth.

When you encounter cynical, doubting saboteurs, or pompous proselytizers, remember that only you know what works for you. You also know what doesn’t work. Rely on your own observations, then roll up your sleeves and get back on top of that depression.

Managing depression is always a struggle, but some days are definitely better than others. I know I am not weak because I acknowledge my depression. I am only weak if I give in to the depression. I ignore the naysayers and keep fighting. You can do it, too.

If you thought this was wordy, you should read my book.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

#22pushups a Day for #22KILL – Week One

I was challenged to post a video of myself doing twenty-two push-ups a day for twenty-two days by my friend, Matt Coombs, on Facebook. The “22Kill Challenge” is intended to bring awareness to the estimated twenty-two veterans every day who take their own lives. As somebody who has struggled with suicidism since I was fifteen years old, I know how hard it can be to carry this burden on your own. I believe #22Kill's plan to bring awareness to this veteran plight is a noble one.

I never served in the military, but my brother, Ryan, did. The day he finished infantry training at Camp Pendleton, a drunk driver plowed into the van he and 10 other marines were in, ending their liberty, and for some, their service. My brother died the next day, so I accept this challenge to honor his memory and to help raise awareness for suicidal vets.

To you veterans who served, you served with honor, and we do not forget you. Don't carry this burden alone. Reach out and let people help you. If you don't have family or friends who you can rely on, try Veterans Crisis Support 1–800–273–8255. Many times, suicidism is something you can ride through, like a hard campaign with heavy shelling. You can do this.

For today, I challenge my friend, Nathan. He doesn't bother with social media, so I'll make sure he sees this video.

You can read of other ways to support suicidal loved ones in my book, Saying "No!" to Suicide. Below you'll find the rest of the week. Each video has a short message at the end. Thanks for your support!

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four

Day Five

Day Six

Day Seven

Monday, April 18, 2016

Three Pluses to Learning in a Fishbowl

Journals can be traditional and electronic

I’ll be flying out to the Mental Health America convention this summer to discuss blogging about mental health as a form of therapy. I’m looking forward to the new experience. I’ll get to meet peers and talk about a subject of which I feel passionately. I’ll even get out of my state again, something I don’t do often enough.

Obviously, blogging about your mental health takes a bit of gumption. While you may hope to connect with other individuals who share your experiences, or maybe you dare to inspire, you also open yourself up for criticism from strangers. Sometimes they see your struggle and wonder why you have the nerve to put yourself out there as a shining example. They came looking for guidance and found somebody down in the muck with them instead. Consequently, they feel betrayed. Even worse, they might read only one article and decide to pass judgement on your entire life.

Wow. Why do I do this again?

A reader commented recently that my “Writing in a Fishbowl” series was a train wreck, and she was right. It truly was a nightmare experience. There I was thinking that I could just sit down and finish a small project in a matter of a few days. What a joke, right? Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I was a living embodiment of Murphy’s Law. If you followed along, you may have been embarrassed for me. You may have cringed. You may have even lost respect for me. Those are the very reasons my own family doesn’t often read this blog.

For me, however, the fishbowl was illuminating. How fortuitous that everything that could go wrong did go wrong while I tried to finish a big project! Now I have proof of my obstacles—painful, detailed proof. Since I want to do more streamlined projects in the future, I needed to know just how tall those obstacles were. I needed to know how much rope I’d need to scale them. I needed to know which obstacles I had control over and which were outside of my control. The fishbowl project let me notice the chaos in detail as it happened. It was an exercise in mindfulness.

So why blog here? Why not just buy a journal like people used to do and keep all the awkward blemishes of my life private? What point is there to writing in a fishbowl where everybody can look in and judge?

There are three simple pluses to public journals, but only you can decide if they offset the negatives listed above.

  1. Connecting with Others
    One thing that blogging about your mental health struggles has over journal writing is that it can be very public. Nobody cares about my old journals. Not my daughters. Not my brothers. Not my friends. Maybe one day a grandchild or great grandchild will find them to be a novelty, but honestly, I’ll be long gone before seeing any pay off. Blogging, on the other hand, lets me connect with people now.

    Although obscurity may hide your posts from people at first, eventually, readers that find your writings will reach out to you, whether on the blog or in private.

  2. Helping Others
    Not only will you feel less alone by blogging about your mental health struggle, but there are many people out there who will find inspiration in your accomplishments, as well as comfort in knowing that they aren’t alone in their own struggles.

    Some may put you up on a pedestal and fault you for not being perfect, and there is nothing you can do about that, but most will see you for who you are: a real person sharing your struggles to help others.

  3. Accountability
    One of the best benefits I have received for blogging my mental health journey is the accountability that comes with public posting. Even if readers come and go, or merely lurk quietly in the shadows as many in the mental health community do, when I prepare something for public consumption, I remind myself that means the public will read it! What will people learn by what I write? What can they gain by visiting my blog? What can they take away?

    Private journals can become secret echo chambers where your most negative thoughts find voice. Frankly, blogging can become that way as well. Instead, I try to keep in mind that what I write is read by others, so I make sure that I put my best work out there. Even my fishbowl experiment was written with that in mind. It began roughly, especially during the height of the chaos, but it ended with great insights that I hope others will be able to learn from.

Blogging about mental health can be terrifying when you first start out. You’re pulling the curtains back on your closely guarded feelings. You’ll likely feel exposed and vulnerable at first. However, if you refine your writing craft, and hang in there, you’ll create a connection with readers, and, perhaps, learn from the experience.

I wrote about the importance of journaling in my book

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