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.