I have lived with mental health issues my entire life.
I came in with anxiety, developed depression and I have post traumatic stress symptoms.
My life has been a great journey so far and through all of it’s highs and lows, I have had to meet every experience in relationship with mental illness.
Early in my life, when my anxiety and depression threatened to destroy me through and through, I started self medicating.
By the age of twelve I was drinking, high school brought other drugs into my life and at 20, I was looking at prison time on drug related charges. I was a lost cause. I thought so and so did others, our society included.
At the ripe age of 20, my life lay in ruins. That would prove to be a dramatic turning point. That pit of despair and hopelessness would be my salvation. It got me into treatment and intensive counseling.
I began to heal.
Over the past two decades, I have done so much work. I have made great strides but I will never be “cured,” at least not given where we stand now in the treatment of mental disorders.
I survive and I do thrive. I have periods of ease and cycles of suffering. My anxiety and depression can flare up on any given day and stay for an indeterminate amount of time. I have learned how to cope, how to function and how to care for myself.
By any measure, my life is very good and I am a successful and productive person. I am a college graduate. I have been married for twenty years. I am mother to four beautiful children. I am a yoga teacher, dancer, artist and writer. I am engaged with my community and the world.
Unfortunately, I have often found it necessary to learn how to mask and hide my mental illness so I can be in and participate in said “normal” society.
I know there are many people like me. I can almost guarantee you know at least one person who suffers from some form of mental health issue or brain difference, and you very well might have no idea.
Many of us smile through our agonizing mind storms, because we know we won’t be understood, and judgment on top of the already heavy burden we carry is just too much to risk.
It hurts too much.
We, the fortunate, who have found a way to relative stability and are making our way in life, do so with our struggles often times held in secret. People who have mental health issues are stigmatized and there is so much shame attached to our illness, as if it is something we chose.
We are often shunned and vilified. We learn to keep it under wraps. Don’t ask. Don’t tell.
I have learned though, that there are people who understand, people who have met me with compassion and support. I have learned to pick my friends carefully and have found safe shoulders to lean on.
I have had key helpers show up for me at the right times. I have been blessed to find a spiritual practice and community that embraces me exactly as I am. I have had good therapists, coaches, and teachers, many helping hands.
I have also had the courage to say yes to these helpers. In a way, saying yes to the help is scary because what if it doesn’t work? Then what? I said yes and it has helped.
I still have bad days, but I have resources and tools to help me get through. Things can get really dark and hopeless when the storm is moving through, but I know now that I can ride it out and I have people who will hold my hand and wait with me. It didn’t always feel that way.
There were those years when the darkness seemed endless and all consuming. A ray of light was, at times, a fiction to me. I felt alone.
There are people around us who feel that way right now. What we can do for each other is simple, be there. Show the people around us that we do care, and we aren’t going anywhere.
We can be good friends and neighbors. We can live from our hearts and be that ray of light for those around us. We can pay attention and learn how to really listen. If we learn to really listen to people, we are more likely to notice when they might be feeling down or not quite themselves, and then we can offer to help.
If we don’t feel equipped to help, we can offer to assist in getting our friends the help they need. We can stand up and advocate for better education about and programs for mental health issues.
We can, together, end the stigmatization and silencing of people who suffer.
You don’t need to understand what mental health issues feel like exactly. Unless you are suffering yourself, it can’t totally be known, but you can have open ears, an open mind, an open heart, and often, what we need most is a pair of open arms.
If you are reading this and you are struggling with mental illness, if you feel in the dark and all alone, you are not alone.
Reach out, and keep reaching until you find a hand, there will be one, and no matter how lost or in ruins you may think you are, no matter how desperate or hopeless your situation may seem, I guarantee there is a way to rise up and find your feet under you once again and step forward.
Darkness can seem endless, but a new day always dawns and our capacity to heal is great.
I have found creative expression that includes dance, art and writing, to be highly therapeutic. I like to write poetry as a means to get my feelings out and to process and integrate different aspects of myself.
I wrote the following poem to try to convey in words what I experience on an intense day of anxiety and depression. It is jarring, emotional and raw. As painful as the experience is that it illustrates, it does end with a ray of light.
Indeed, I know one thing for certain about light, it does return.
some days come heavy
thick with storm
wrapping around me
a straight jacket
a vice grip
on my chest
i crawl through moments
among the living
cracked edge of a smile
over my coffee
a master of disguise
i cloak my complete unhinging
in a friendly hello
hope you are well
oh let’s do
give me a call
i am a wounded animal
itching to retreat
claw my way out or
tunnel into the deep hole
of my heart
dissolved into dark
i wait trembling
choked and heaving
riding out the storm
of who i am
until by grace
the world leaves me to
the sweet night
my body a question mark
asking into the days end
what will become of me?
i recall a prayer
do not fight the dark
just turn on the light
i know one thing about light
Author: Jean Jyotika
Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Katarina Tavčar