On Mental Health Awareness Month

One thing I always wonder about is what people think of me once they friend me on Facebook. I meet them in person, and we get along well enough to at least want to stalk each other on the internet, and then they come on Facebook and there I am–not hiding my struggles in the slightest.

That’s another reason I haven’t been posting as much–I’ve been meeting people, and for a time I was worried about how they would react. But it’s almost the end of Mental Health Awareness month, and I haven’t done a goddamn thing, and that’s not okay with me.

You see it all the time–those posts that say “The brain is an organ, and gets sick just like every other organ!” And this is true. The false part is though, that its not just an organ–it’s ourselves, in a squishy mass of gray matter. And this makes it more personal.

I saw a statistic today that I disagree with in a big way–“1 in 4 people are affected by mental illness.”

Everyone is affected by mental illness. Maybe not to the same extent as others, or for the same duration of time, but everyone is affected.

You’re affected when you hear about suicide rates, and wonder how anyone “could be so selfish.” You’re affected when you judge people as selfish, or not, for their actions. You’re affected by mental illness because you’re in contact with other people, and have a brain. You’re affected by mental illness more than other illnesses because of its nature–because it’s not just a gene mutation, or a virus (though they may certainly play a role in risk and cause). Mental illness is a fleeting thought turned pervasive and detrimental. It’s good intentions turned bad, and the belief in falsities.

Mental illness exists because people exist, its potential exists in all of us because we all have thoughts, and we all have beliefs and we all try to do what we think will get us where we want to go. We are all at risk for mental illness, and this terrifies people.

But instead of being terrified of the mentally ill, and trying to distance yourself from the notion of being so, do your best to be aware, and supportive. Don’t judge, but recognize that someone who can’t get out of bed truly feels certain that they can’t get out of bed in the same way that you feel certain that you can’t climb Mount Everest: it may be possible, but it isn’t happening anytime soon. Use the commonalities between people as a source of understanding, rather than a source of fear of comparison.

The thing about Mental Health Awareness is that it (like all the other months of awareness) needs to be more than a month of good intentions. It needs to be an accepted practice.

And to all you who may read this who didn’t know about my mental illness before this, I’ll say this again: while I hope your opinion of me isn’t affected by my openness, or by my mental illness, and my past, if it is remember that before you read about it explicitly I was in your mind no different from you–no less normal.

Mental illness affects us all, and is all around us, and it’s time for the stigma surrounding it to drop.

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Day, after day, after day, it’s the same shit.

I went to Saratoga to write this.

I don’t particularly know why. I was on my way home from treatment, and then I saw a sign for Saratoga, and thought to myself, “I could go there.”

There was no reason to go to Saratoga to write this. I’m in a nice coffee shop sure, with some pretty kickass hot chocolate, but there are nice coffee shops in Schenectady, and it isn’t almost an hour away.

I’m sitting in Saratoga, with no reason to be here. It’s a weird feeling. At least I didn’t see the sign for Montreal first.

There’s a couple that sat down in front of me, facing me, at the next table over. There are literally six empty tables near me that they could’ve sat in without disturbing anyone.

Do you ever feel like people do things for the sole reason of showing you how lonely a person you really are?

Ew, they’re feeding each other.

Anyway.

The only reason I can think of that makes sense for going to Saratoga tonight is that there was no reason not to go to Saratoga. I feel so settled sometimes in my routine that it drives me crazy.

This especially gets to you when you’re in treatment. Every week repeats, and is endlessly predictable–its almost a joke between the patients. And as one of the therapists tells us, every time we mention this predictability,

“If you know all the groups, and know what I’m going to say, then why are you still here?”

It’s a fair question, but as everyone there says, including that therapist,

“If recovering was as simple as knowing what to do, none of you would be here.”

I’m feeling my “IOP age” tonight–how long I’ve been at IOP. A collage that all of the patients made out of their hands was finally hung up tonight, and out of the many hands on there I was one of three or four people still around. And yet I’m still struggling, and still unwilling to do exactly what I know I need to do to recover.

I’m willing to admit that by the way–that I’m not willing to be recovered yet. I’m willing to try to recover–to try to change [some of]my ways, and see if I could become willing to be a recovered person, but I’m definitely not ready to be recovered just yet.

And as ready as I am to say that I’ll try, a mantra floats into my head…

“Do or do not, there is no try.” (I may be slightly off with the direct quote)

But that’s a question for later.

I think that often people in programs like mine, or inpatient, or in PHP, or any kind of treatment, get caught up with how long they’ve been there.

To an extent, this is reasonable. Is there any benefit to your being there? Do you have more to learn? Do you need that level of care?

But while its important not to overtreat yourself, for fear of becoming a chronic patient and losing track of your actual self, its just as bad to undertreat yourself.

Flexibility is the key–being able to recognize the signs in yourself that you need more or less treatment, and being honest about this with those around you. To use myself as an example, I’ve had a pretty tough week, and so I’ll be attending IOP three times this week instead of once. And as much as this feels like a setback, if it keeps me in my life, and away from the hospital, I’ll do as much outpatient as I need, though hopefully no more than that. I was definitely guilty of overtreating myself at one point, and hopefully I’ll be able to keep away from that this time around.

So keep on keeping on everyone, and be aware of yourself and your needs. That’s what’s important–what you need, not what you feel you should need.

Love you all, thanks for reading, and as always I’m always here.