Friday, May 12, 2017

The Only Reason Why

I've had a lot of thoughts brewing lately, and I was going to just do a little post on Instagram, but so many things kept rolling around in my head, so I thought I'd spend some time and put them here.

So. May is mental health awareness month. As I hope you've gathered by now, I'm a huge advocate for normalizing the conversation surrounding mental health and suicide prevention. It is extremely important.

Sam and I recently watched "13 Reasons Why" on Netflix. I don't want this post to be about the show, but since its release was so timely and because it's so popular at the moment, I can't go without mentioning it. There's more to the post than just the show, so please read on.

I did love some things about the show: it dropped subtle and not-so-subtle hints about being responsible under age drinkers (Drink water! Eat something! Don't drink and drive!), the effects of bullying and all the myriad ways bullying can happen, being responsible when it comes to sex (...ish... I mean they emphasized always making sure you have consent from both parties but didn't mention protection or anything), etc.

But there were some things I really didn't like. Namely the gratuitous language, especially since so many teens are watching this show right now. Maybe I'm just a prude though. Sam tells me it's an accurate representation of how kids talk. I also hated how the parents were so irresponsible-- leaving town without having a legal adult stay with their kid(s), letting their kids go for walks in the middle of the night by themselves, saying "you can talk to me you know" when things got rough instead of establishing a good relationship with their kids so that broaching the subject on difficult topics wasn't so hard when it came down to it, not apologizing after having an argument with their children, etc etc.

But the biggest problem I had was with how they addressed the suicide. In the book (so I hear), Hannah dies by a very unglamorous method, but in the show they changed it, and I specifically remember my initial reaction: "Wow, that looks really easy." I'm prone to suicidal ideation, and when I told Sam my reaction, it made him nervous. But I am not a teenager whose frontal lobe isn't fully developed. And because so many teens are watching the show, it was incredibly irresponsible to portray suicide this way. To the producers' credit, they had a special episode discussing all the things they hoped to convey, but I honestly wonder how many teens watched that part. I hope it was all of them.

There is also a lot of talk that the show portrayed suicide as a method of revenge, but I don't see it so much that way. Sure, about half the show was pointing fingers at people who had bullied or taken advantage of her, but after that point it became clear that though those incidents led her down the path, it was, in the end, her mental state that led her to commit suicide. It's unfair to blame others for someone's suicide since it is ultimately their own decision alone.  I hope that people realize the show was over dramatized and not good in that way.

But the best thing about the show is that it is finally bringing into the light the conversation of a lot of difficult topics that need to be talked about.

And here's the rest of what I want to talk about: we truly, truly need to normalize the conversation. People should be no more embarrassed, ashamed, and closeted about mental health issues and suicidal thoughts than they are about having any other illness. There is STILL such a stigma surrounding mental health that I, in trying to be open about it, have had people tell me that perhaps it is inappropriate to admit that I have had suicidal ideation in a public platform. It is still such a misunderstood topic that I still have people tell me I'm not trying hard enough to be normal. People have looked at me strange, judged me, and pushed me away so they didn't have to deal with it. We can't keep talking about these things in hushed voices and behind closed doors. I'm not going to pretend I don't feel extremely vulnerable sharing these things, but they need to be said.  We need to break down the walls of whatever it is that makes us feel uncomfortable talking about it.

Everyone experiences mental health problems differently, but all of them are valid in the depth someone experiences them.

In observance of mental health month and in memory of those who haven't made it, here is what I have to say to open the conversation:

My first depressive thoughts started when I was ten. In a week I'll be turning 28. These 18 years have been a difficult journey. I've done things I'm not proud of. Risky behaviors, harmful behaviors. I've run away. I've given myself scars that now I wish would fade. I've allowed myself to be in situations I should not have been in. I've seen a dozen different therapists, I've been in group therapy (and met some amazingly strong people, by the way), taken who knows how many different kinds of medications and supplements. I've sat in a private room in the ER talking to a social worker. I've had to leave school. I have so many other experiences I don't have room to share here.

I have a problem. I have for 18 years and probably will til the day I die (hopefully when I'm old and crotchety).

My problem has had many names: Dysthymia. Major depressive disorder. Obsessive compulsive disorder. Anxiety. Prone to addictive behavior. Suicidal ideation. Hypomania. Bipolar disorder. Abuse victim. Self harm. Disordered eating. Prenatal and post-partum depression and anxiety. Stress-induced hallucinations. Paranoid behavior. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Borderline personality disorder.

This laundry list of labels is mine. The reason I am able to tell you all this is because every time I got to my lowest low, I either said something, someone asked, or in a couple of miraculous instances, someone reached out without knowing it and stopped me. Talked to me. Talked with me. Influenced me. Listened. Took me seriously.

I am here to tell you that it is OKAY to talk. We need to stop stigmatizing. We should teach our children to be confident and look out for others, to look out for themselves. No one should feel so completely alone, demoralized, and useless that they feel no one cares. Someone ALWAYS cares. No one can read minds. We all need to do our part for others, but to you who are struggling: please, please say something to someone.

Don't be ashamed. Don't be afraid. Don't feel guilty. Just say something. Say something.

And you: listen.

Want to help?  Or want help?
Here are some resources:

Suicide Prevention Lifeline - their number lives in my phone contacts, just in case.  Add it to yours.  The website also includes a chat option if you are too afraid to call.  There are also options to help others

Mental Health America - find out what you can do to help

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - they sponsor Out of the Darkness walks in cities across the nation every year (remember when we did one in Salt Lake?)

National Alliance on Mental Illness - learn more, find support

Too impersonal?  You can talk to me.  Send me an email.  Shawkaroo at guh-mail.