I know it’s not a weakness or the person’s fault, yet it still has a stigma and a sting when I learn someone has a mental health condition. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that makes me feel that way. Ironically I have spent countless days and nights with crippling anxiety. Spent many days in bed with depression. Slept in the tub shaking and vomiting and thinking I was dying from panic attacks. I don’t like to admit it to myself, much less out loud, but I struggle with my mental health. A lot. I am sure, given the opportunity with a decent therapist, I would have a label on myself, too. I tell myself I’m crazy, but I’m a normal crazy, so it’s ok. I worry if I full-blown embrace my crazy side, it somehow invalidates the rest of me. And yet there are days when the crazy takes over and suffocates all sense of normal. The reality is we’re all a little crazy, and all a little normal. The presence of a diagnosis or struggle doesn’t change that.
I have been on the brink of my sanity many times. I have reached out for help more times then I care to admit. And while sometimes my friends and family are there to catch me, that isn’t always the case. There are many times when I have reached out to someone and it has only made matters worse. Struggling with mental health issues is chronic, and exhausting. And at the same time being close to someone who has those continuous struggles is also exhausting. When I am in the depths of my darkness there is no bath bomb strong enough to pull me out. Despite what social media portrays I can’t simply paint my nails and have a glass of rosé in the name of self-love and magically feel better. Sure, having tasks to focus my energy on helps, and passes the time quicker, but mental health is chronic and it doesn’t just go away because you were nice to yourself.
I believe it is well intended, but if you have someone in your life who has a tendency to spiral, suggesting they get help isn’t helpful. Not all moms are lucky enough to have someone to ask for help. And telling a mom who feels isolated to ask for help is a quick way to make her sink deeper.
And on the other hand, seeking professional help is often more far fetched. Health care costs are astronomical, this is no secret. And mental health is at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to healthcare in our society, even though it can be just as debilitating as a broken leg. Families who are struggling financially often have crappy insurance or none at all, and therapy is far from cheap. Even moms who are fortunate enough to have a good health insurance plan are still often up a creek when it comes to mental health services. Add in the fact that a mental health therapist isn’t just a one size fits all doctor and you fast realize what a losing game it is. They can’t swab your throat and send it off to see if you have strep. They have to get to know your soul. That’s not an easy task, because just like not all people jive well in the real world, not all therapist/ patients jive on the couch. I have personally reached out to many therapists and received radio silence, or an email saying they don’t have room for new patients. It blows my mind but confirms how painfully broken our mental health system is in this country.
I understand the impulse to want to take away the pain. I know that seeing a loved one suffer feels helpless. But passing the puck doesn’t help. What does help is talking. Being allowed and not scared to speak my truth. And when I don’t have anyone to talk to, or am too afraid to speak, writing helps. I don’t want to talk to someone who wants to fix me because I make them uncomfortable. I want to talk to someone who will truly listen to me. Who can sit with my ugly and my broken and not squirm or problem solve. Who can sit with me as a shake, as I sob, and assure me that they have ugly and broken parts too. So please, stop telling us to get help, and just be there. I am far more likely to take advice from someone who can prove that they get it anyway.