When “I” is replaced with “We” even “illness” becomes “wellness.”
(a source from the internet; accredited to a million different people)
“Check on your strong friends.” This meme has been circulating on social media. It struck a nerve with me because I have seen the strong ones suffer, and dare I say even been the strong friend hoping to be checked on. The strong ones who appear to always have it figured out tend to be overlooked. Their true selves are not seen behind the facade of togetherness. But then a famous designer and a witty travel journalist cut their lives short and we take note. Success and/or fame does not equate to mental wellness. Neither does a glowing online presence.
I would like to have a large scale conversation about mental illness. As a college writing instructor and health/wellness coach, I feel that we are really missing the boat on this one. There is writing on the wall. It’s time we read it.
I was struck this week by an article explaining mental illness as the ultimate conundrum. We must use our mind to heal our mind. The example given was that if we broke our leg we would not be expected to walk on that leg to get to the hospital for treatment. The patient would be advised to stay off his/her leg. Yet, when the illness is in our mind, the only way to find healing is to use our mind. It is tricky. And too often the outcome is sad or devastating.
I have heard so many discussions regarding suicide that literally turn my stomach. I am baffled by an absence of empathy. All humans contain a will to live and survive, but I choke back tears when I read essays or have conversations with people who have literally drowned in darkness. Hope becomes lost. The pain they experience that leads them to such a drastic measure— leaving behind loved ones and young children— is beyond my comprehension, yet I certainly will not deny them their pain or struggle.
In a world that favors logic and rationality, emotions and feelings are regarded as weakness. Denial and failure to acknowledge emotional, spiritual and mental anguish literally become a kick to someone who is already down. Judgement comes in many potent forms.
“We all have problems.”
“There is help out there, just find it.”
“You have so much to be thankful for!”
Guilt piles up in mountains that tears cannot wash away. Self compassion disappears like the morning mist. I read that we will never listen to anyone else as much as we listen to ourselves, so we should be mindful of the way we are talking to ourselves. Are we being tougher on ourselves than we would be on other people?
“I should be strong enough to handle this.”
“Everyone is special and nobody is special.”
“What is wrong with me?”
Yes, many of us are terrible coaches of self. And the strong ones often suffer this pain in silence.
When I was in what I call the drowning phase of my grief, a friend of mine vividly explained the scenario. “You are out there flailing for your life, but since everyone knows you are a diver and strong swimmer, they just float on by waving from the pontoon. They think you are out for a swim, not drowning!” Gulp. Check on your strong friends.
My past year has taught me a lot about the reality of grief and the different manifestations that can come with experiencing tragedy and great loss. I have only felt a tiny taste of the pain that many live with on a daily basis. The crippling kudzu of depression and mental illness can tighten and strangle the life out of our neighbors of every age, race, gender and socioeconomic class. And since we opt not to talk about the sickness behind so much of the violence and devastation sweeping our current national landscape, we perpetuate the lie of “I.”
People suffering from mental illness in this country think they are alone and become desperate to hide and mask their suffering. Drugs, pills, food, drinks, gambling, addiction— hurt people hurt people, including themselves.
So, what if we could take down the “I” and replace it with “we”? This is our problem, not just theirs. Pointing fingers and creating fronts are not viable options. Our very life could depend on it. We need to address the issue and have real discussions about caring for the whole person.
What are we eating? Are we starving our bodies and minds of the proper nutrients needed to make sound, healthy choices?
Are we staying active? How do we care for our physical bodies?
Where are we spending our lives? Do we stare at screens all day or do we seek opportunities to reconnect with nature as our bodies were intended?
Are we resting and recovering? Stress kills; we know this statement to be true. Are we sleeping?
Do we seek help? Are we willing to open up and connect with the “we”? The lone wolf rarely makes it. Are we pulling away or seeking human connection and support?
Lastly, are we willing to seek professional help? This point is very important. I am a crunchy, holistic hippie at heart. I pride myself in finding natural remedies and waging my own personal war on Big Pharma, but...and this is a BIG BUT...we have to know when to say when. A few years ago I broke my arm in four places. I can criticize modern medicine all I want for various reasons, but when it came time to rebuild my arm with titanium plates and screws, my surgeon was exactly who I needed for the job. I was not going to go out tying myself up with bamboo and twine for the sake of my tree hugging spirit. Likewise, when we have exhausted our resources to no avail, we should stomp that stigma into the ground and make an appointment with our doctor or a therapist.
If you are experiencing hard times, know that it is not simply an “I” problem. You are not alone. We do not have to be constant performers. And you know what? Check on all your friends. Look in their eyes. My closest friends and loved ones tell me everything I need to know when I look in their eyes. I see and feel it. I call them out on the spot. We can all do it. Pay attention and speak up.
And if you don’t have anyone in your life to check on you, then pick up the phone and make an appointment. Sometimes we have to be our own divers. It’s tough and scary, and I would certainly rather have a rescue crew, but you can initiate that S.O.S. Your self will thank you for it.