For all the headway we’ve made as a society on various issues, it amazes me how far we have to go regarding the stigma around mental health.
People cringe at the idea of seeing a counselor or a psychiatrist. The suggestion of having a mental illness still conjures visions of straightjackets and comments about “going to the funny farm.” A prescription for antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication is a landmark of last resort. Growing up, the state mental hospital in Waterbury, VT., was the source of crude jokes about being crazy, and patients there were to be feared and avoided.
Yet we make annual trips to physicians for physicals and visit emergency rooms without hesitation. Being physically ill illicits sympathy and support without judgment. And there’s little to no hesitation to fill prescriptions for pain relievers, antibiotics, and allergy medication. And I don’t recall any sort of trepidation regarding the patients at Copley Hospital in Morrisville, VT., just a few miles away from Waterbury.
Mental illness, somehow, is seen as different from physical illness.
Therefore, mental health is also seen as different from physical health.
When I sat down to write this, I told myself I wasn’t going to go off on a tirade about this sort of thing, but here I am, already over 200 words in and not writing about what I set out to. So …
What does mental health look like?
I bring this question up because I was struck a little while ago by something I was doing that wouldn’t be happening if I had not directly confronted by own mental illness.
I’ve got a stack of manuscripts next to me. They’re copies of my first novel, ready to send out to beta readers for input. The last year and a half have been spent actively writing this book, but I also spent around 20 years prior to that trying to write it. Generalized anxiety disorder and depression prevented me from getting anywhere, though. Counseling, medication, and consistent mindfulness and self-care practices changed all that.
Two years ago I literally could not write anything because I would talk myself out of my ideas being of any value.
“They won’t like it.” “This is stupid.” “You’re wasting your time.”
Treating my mental illness and working on my mental health led me to the realization that none of this was true. How could it be? Nothing was written yet. How could other people not like it or think it was stupid? How could it be a waste of my time if I wasn’t doing anything? The only person making that sort of judgment about my work was me.
That was a life-changing revelation.
And this afternoon, mental health looks like a stack of freshly printed manuscripts.
I don’t know what mental health will look like for me tomorrow. It could look like putting those manuscripts in the mail to send off to my readers. Or if I’m struggling, it’ll look like a simple smile in the middle of a tough time. Maybe my mental health will just be the victory of getting out of bed.
Every day is different, but every day is worth it. Without the treatment I’ve received and given myself, I wouldn’t be able to see it.
What does mental health look like for you?