There Is Nothing Wrong With Having Mental Health Issues

This past weekend brought up the conversation of mental health issues in a number of ways for me; from hearing about Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna speaking publicly about struggling with anxiety, and not feeling himself, to conversations I’ve had with family and friends. I feel like it needs to be said again, and again, that there is nothing wrong with having mental health issues. I’m going to be repeating this often throughout this post, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH HAVING MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES.

I think Roberto Osuna’s decision for opening up about what he is struggling with, which is no doubt much more common in baseball, and sports in general, than is reported, was exceptionally brave. It isn’t easy to open up about something so personal and something that can be subject to judgement, criticism, and misinterpretation.

Mental health is absolutely vital to our well-being. Without it, we are open to literally falling apart. Mental health is just as important to our being able to function and cope as physical health is. In fact, there are a number of situations where mental health may be even more important than physical health.

The dozens of disorders and diagnosis that encompass mental health are never something to be taken lightly, no matter how, where, when, or why, a person finds themselves struggling with them. Whether it’s a disorder that has been a part of your life since childhood, or whether it’s something that pops into your life in later years, it is always, repeat always, something to be taken seriously. And at no time is it ever a reflection on what kind of person you are, nor does it ever mean that something is wrong with you.

Admittedly, you may need treatment, you may even need medication, but that does not mean you are broken, or flawed, or weak, or a bad person. It doesn’t mean you should be treated differently nor does it mean you should be shunned, judged, ostracized, or criticized. It means that you need help and support, encouragement and compassion, and understanding and patience for a difficult situation or period in your life. That’s really all it means, that you need help. And there is nothing, NOTHING, wrong with that.

I can understand that there are people who have not struggled with mental health issues and may not be able to fully grasp what it means but that is no excuse to treat someone with mental health issues any differently than had they been struggling with something physical that can be seen or quantified. People struggling with mental health issues are still people.

You don’t have to have mental health issues to be compassionate.

I think it’s great that the conversation of mental health is fast becoming more mainstream, and less a “closeted” discussion, saved only for professionals. With places like CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health), here in Canada, CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association), also here in Canada, the annual Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and several sports and television personalities opening up about their own mental health struggles has made a HUGE impact in people starting to realize and understand that mental health is something that can affect anyone, in any capacity, or social standing, and that it is NOT something to be ashamed of.

I firmly believe that places like CAMH and CMHA are leading the fight in bringing awareness to mental health, bringing the discussion to the masses, and especially with bringing help to those in need. Addressing mental health openly has come a long way in starting to lose the stigma that has been attached to it for so long. But there is still more work to do. And it starts with us, talking to someone when we need help, and not feeling ashamed about what we are going through.

I’m not saying that you need to speak about what you might be struggling with to everyone you know and everyone you meet. It may mean only sharing it with one person, it may mean sharing it with a group of strangers at a support group, it may mean sharing it only with a professional. It isn’t about who you choose to share it with, it’s about owning that you are struggling right now with mental health issues, and that is nothing to hide or be ashamed of. I’m going to repeat that, “struggling with mental health issues is NOTHING to be ashamed of.

Life is hard. Very hard. This is not new information for anyone. Sometimes trying to handle all that life throws at us, and coping with difficult situations, emotions, and difficult people can be more than just a challenge at times. It can be something that permeates your whole being, and for some, it may also mean using more destructive than constructive methods to cope. It can be something that filters down into your relationships, your work, your interests, your family and friends, and even your ability to function at a basic level. Mental illness can grip you like a vise and twist itself around you so that you feel like you can’t breathe. It doesn’t care if you have the time, or the space, or whether you’re ready or not, it can come on without warning and take you over, or take you down. Regardless of who you are, where you’re from, what you do, where you work etc, you could be someone who finds themselves struggling with mental health issues just as easily as anyone else.

Mental health isn’t selective in who it affects. No exemptions or discrimination here. Mental health is an equal opportunity assailant.

I don’t want to compare mental health to physical health because I don’t think they really can be compared. The each have their own struggles, symptoms, treatments, and perspectives. But I will say that with as many differences that lie between physical/medical issues and mental health issues, there are also a number of similarities between them too. There a lot of physical illnesses or disorders that can often strike at will to whomever, whenever, without warning or cause, and mental health issues can be just as arbitrary and random in who becomes affected too. There are a number of physical/medical issues that cannot be seen just by looking at someone, and that cannot be measured with a blood test or x-ray, just like not being able to tell just by looking that someone is struggling with mental health issues.

Someone struggling with a physical/medical issue is as important to address as someone struggling with a mental health issue. One issue is not necessarily any more urgent to address than the other. Of course I understand that there are some serious medical issues that can be life-threatening and are important to treat as soon as possible, and that there are some mental health issues that are not as urgent in the moment to treat, but they are still important enough to treat, regardless.

Someone struggling with mental health issues may be able to wait a few more days for help than someone requiring urgent medical assistance, but it doesn’t mean that the person struggling with mental health issues should be dismissed or indefinitely delayed in getting treatment.

All issues that can befall us, whether physical, emotional, or mental, each have their own urgencies or not, in how and when they are addressed, but the important thing to remember is that they ALL deserve addressing.

Repeat: THEY ALL DESERVE TO BE ADDRESSED.

I would like to close this by saying to all those struggling with mental health issues, please seek help if you need it, don’t wait. And please don’t be ashamed or feel less than because you need help. Talk to someone. Share with those you trust in your own time. You don’t have anything to be ashamed of, nor do you owe anyone an explanation. You are struggling and you need help. Please remember that. You are struggling and you need help.

For those who have a loved one struggling with mental health issues I would encourage and hope that you give as much time and space to your loved one as you can for them to deal with things as they need. Be compassionate and patient. You don’t need to understand someone to be kind to them. You don’t need to have experienced it to have patience for it.

Your loved one may be struggling to live at some point, and this is NOT a weakness, nor is this something to be taken lightly. Anyone feeling like life isn’t worth living anymore should ALWAYS be taken seriously and at their word. They need help. Please do what you can to help them get help.

Most importantly, for all, please remember that there is nothing wrong with having mental health issues.

 

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Do I Want to Get Better?

The last couple of months have been very hard for me. In part because I’ve struggled to find and use the DBT skills that would help me through this, but mostly because I’ve just been plain old struggling.

I’m not sure what’s wrong exactly. I’ve tried to think on it but admittedly I haven’t stayed on the thoughts for long because they scare me. The feelings have been overwhelming; in no particular order: fear, shame, disgust, anger, and guilt; have all popped up and in to take me over.

For the most part fear is the big one. Although I can’t say exactly what is scaring me because so far I have avoided looking at it. I have suppressed looking at the fear so well that several times over the last couple of weeks or so I didn’t even give myself a chance to recognize that I was feeling afraid I put the emotion down so fast.

I don’t want to think about what scares me. Hello? It scares me. The reason is right there in the sentence. Why would I purposely look at something that scares me? That seems counter-productive and counter-intuitive. To me at least. When the professionals claim that exposure works to minimize it, logically I agree with them but emotionally I think hell no.

I don’t know how to handle the emotions and I feel very helpless. What should I do? How do I get through this? What skills do I apply? I feel lost and hopeless. I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. I do want to get better, I think. I’m sure I do. I mean the choice of staying in this misery is not all that appealing although it is familiar. And it sometimes feels like better the devil you know right? But as my mood spirals lower and lower I know that this is where bad things can happen.

In the moment the bad things feel good, and like a super-great idea, or at least that’s what I tell myself. And the bad things successfully squash whatever I’m feeling or thinking, so they also feel successful. In the moment, anyway. They feel like they help me cope but my Wise Mind knows better, my Wise Mind knows that they may help me ride out the emotion and squash it down enough not to feel it or think it longer than I have to, but they don’t actually help me. My Wise Mind knows that it’s at best a band aid and at worst an excuse to numb myself to all feelings and thoughts.

And where has doing the bad things gotten me so far? Well, nowhere good. So I sit and think, on one hand wanting to do the bad stuff and move away from my thoughts and emotions, but on the other hand, I know I will regret it. I know deep down this really wasn’t what I wanted. I don’t like how it feels to be laying on the bottom of life looking up and hoping things would get better.

It’s an internal, eternal, tug of war. Do the bad things and have instant relief from myself? Or do the skills and maybe feel better in the moment? But I still have to come back and deal with my emotions. It was a tough call. And for the past couple of months I’ve chosen the bad stuff.

Things are getting out of hand and I want to at least try. I know once I slip down this slope, the wanting to get better may not be there. It may be sedated and suppressed by then to the point of silence, and all the bad things will take me over and take me down until I feel that I am better off dead. And maybe, maybe, I’ll get help before I do anything I can’t take back and I will, again, start the slow process to get back to where things weren’t this bad. I’d at least like to try and get to the vicinity of a better place because right now I’m just barely functioning, and compared to a couple of months ago, it’s A LOT lower than where I was before.

You know that point where you feel like you’re drowning, and you’ve got a life preserver, or a branch or something, and it’s holding your head above water but only barely. It’s on the brink of breaking down and you going under and you know it’s only a matter of time. That’s how I feel right now. I’m holding on, but barely.

I know I hate how this feels. I know that I hate the ways I do cope and what they do to me, emotionally, mentally, and physically. I hate myself when I’m in this place. I hate how I feel. I hate who I am. I hate what I do. And yet…

I just continue to keep a sliver of hope that it will work out.

 

Waiting For My Head to Fall Off

When I’m feeling anxiety and it starts to permeate into physical symptoms like lightheadedness, heart palpitations, and a sense of numbness or tingling throughout my body, I panic. I realize that panicking is the fastest way to have a panic attack and does nothing to make me feel better but I panic nonetheless. 

I panic because I’m genuinely worried that I am going to die. I’m sure this is familiar to anyone who has struggled with anxiety and panic attacks. It’s a hard feeling to explain. Especially since the physical symptoms can be so fluid where one minute it’s my heart racing and I hold my breath and then in the next minute I don’t feel palpitations or that I’m holding my breath but now I feel sweaty yet cold and my body is tingling. 

The fluidity of symptoms can vary widely over the course of seconds, minutes, or even hours, as my body struggles to cope and regulate itself. 

The perceived threat I am feeling is pervasive that my mind goes to worst-case scenario. And that is death. Or rather dying. My mind has gone to place where any twinge or tickle throughout my body suddenly becomes the ominous sign that the end is near. 

It’s a paralyzingly feeling. And scary as hell. The odds of it being anything fatal are extremely low and, if present, most likely totally unrelated to my anxiety. It would be a coincidence that something truly tragic happens and due to an unrelated medical issue. 

But it takes me over regardless. I know logically that it’s anxiety-related but try telling my emotional mind that. My emotional mind has gone from trying to cope with anxiety and possibly an impending panic attack to absolute terror that that twinge I just felt means I am moments from a heart attack or stroke or aneurysm. That is, if I’m not already having it. 

As I await my tragic fate I try to hold it together but the anxiety is so crippling that I actually feel in my body like my head is going to fall off. I don’t know if it’s just the way my body responds to the anxiety, and I hope it’s not just me, but I actually become super-aware of my neck and shoulders and I wonder if they will be able to continue supporting my head. It’s an odd feeling to just think of your neck and wonder “is my head going to roll off?”  Believe it or not this is a genuine fear for me when I’m feeling this anxiety. “Will my head just roll off my neck and into the ground?” Will this be how I die? So on top of my anxiety I now have to watch that my head doesn’t fall off. 

One issue feeds the other until I am totally convinced that today I will die. It grips me so tight that sometimes I’m afraid to move or even breathe for fear I will push it over the threshold and into death myself. 

I absolutely HATE this feeling and all the fear it causes. I try to talk myself down and do some tips to calm myself down, and sometimes it works. But sometimes I can’t seem to get a hold of my logical mind to be able to realize that I’m okay. Sometimes my logical mind is nowhere to be found and I am left in the unforgiving grip of my emotional mind who is currently freaking out. 

For anyone who has gone through this and felt this I sympathize with you how tough and scary it is. I’m hoping that it’s not just me because that would really freak me out. 

For now I just do my best to get through it and hope like hell I’m not dying.