Wednesday, 28 January 2015

When a Smile is Just Something You Do with Your Mouth

With today being Bell Let’s Talk day, I have allowed myself to indulge in a little self-reflection. As a rule, I try not to spend too much time any more obsessing about my own mental illness mainly because I think I have done that enough over the years. My quest, of late, has been to accept what is and manage what I can’t change. It’s been a decent policy.

From earlier posts, you have likely gathered that humour is my management tool of choice. I do get such a kick out of myself and it’s helped me weather some pretty major emotional storms. I look back over the years and I think about how lucky I am to be living in the time I am living. I’m thinking about all those who have come before me who have struggled with their own mental illnesses. Those who were brave enough to speak up in a time of more open misunderstanding and lack of support and those who couldn’t bring themselves to ask for help and buried their demons so deep, they were eaten up inside.

It’s terrifying to think about. My own father suffered severe clinical depression from the time he was 17 years old up until his passing from cancer in 2005. Imagine being that kid in 1957 who can’t get out of bed or cries continuously and doesn’t know why? Who did he talk to? How did he manage? Thankfully, even in those early days, he already had my mother. She was 16 and decided at that time, this was it for her and she loved and supported him for nearly 50 years. With her support and understanding, he was able to seek treatments, as scarce or as narrow as they were at the time. He tried all kinds of medications and even had to resort to shock treatments in the 80s to help stabilize his moods.

All through it, he managed to be a dad my brother and I could be proud of and someone we could count on even when he felt like he wasn’t doing a very good job by us. We never felt that way. He and my mom can be credited for that. Still, with what I know now with my own experiences, how scared he must have been at times when he felt at his lowest and most vulnerable. I know those feelings. I know how lonely it is to be depressed and anxious and unable to lift yourself up to be the person you know that you are underneath the layers of sadness, confusion and exhaustion. I know how it feels to wonder constantly if your child(ren) will know this kind of sadness and how guilt can stop you in your tracks. I know what it feels like and how tiring it is to keep yourself “up” when you know that you are not really smiling. A smile is just something you do with your mouth to make everyone else feel better.

It is these shared experiences that I believe that it is more important than ever to crush the stigma that is attached to mental illness and to better understand what people go through when they are simply trying to live their lives as fully and richly as anyone deserves.

I look at my son and see all of his amazing qualities that are right there in front of us and the fact that he has a diagnosis, does not alter what we or anyone else sees. I hope that he will live in a world that will see him as the whole person that he is, creative, sensitive, hilarious and annoying as hell!

Crush stigma. Don’t be afraid to start the conversation. You never know what you’ll be missing out on if you don’t.

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