If I had someone in my life who talked to me the way that I talk to me most days I would probably punch them in the face. That sounds crass, I know, but it’s true.
I wouldn’t put up with someone telling me every day that I was worthless, stupid, and didn’t deserve to live. I wouldn’t put up with anyone telling me to kill myself because the world and I would both be better off. Yet these are some of the things that I say to myself every…stinking…day.
So why do I put up with it? Why do I let myself entertain those thoughts? If I am the one who is doing it, then why don’t I just stop?
The reason is because I have mental health issues that bring about these kinds of thoughts. I don’t stop, because I can’t. This can be hard to understand if you don’t have a mental health issue.
“It’s your own thoughts for crying out loud, just change the way you think. You need to strengthen your mind.”
This is a phrase I have actually had said to me. To my face!
I try not to get angry with this kind of comment anymore. If someone has never had the experience of a mental health issue like mine they can never understand. And honestly to some extent I am glad they don’t understand. They have been spared the experience and I wouldn’t wish my thoughts on anyone.
There is one instance I have a hard time letting go in particular. It’s when I have been told that I am a bad Christian. The Bible is used against me. People take verses like 2 Corinthians 10:5 “…take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” Or Romans 12:2 “…, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Both of these verses are incomplete and taken out of context. And neither of them have anything to do with a mental health issue! In the same way that a person with diabetes cannot willpower their insulin levels to stay in check. A person with a mental health issue cannot willpower the hormone levels in their brain to stay in check.
Yes, when possible, positive thinking is great, but when it comes to dealing with the effects of a mental health issue, willpower will only get a person so far. I cannot just tell myself to get over it. I cannot pretend that it isn’t happening. I cannot just change my mind or stop thinking about the things I think about. I cannot just be more positive or make more sense.
So what do we do with this?
For my part, I don’t get to use my diagnosis as a crutch. I won’t say, “Well this is just who I am and I can’t do anything about it so I might as well just accept it and wait to die so it will be over.” In the same way that the person with diabetes is not defined by their diabetes, I need to remember that I am not defined by my diagnosis. I am impacted by my diagnosis, absolutely, but I am not defined by it. So just like the symptoms of diabetes are treated with insulin, diet, etc. My mental health symptoms are something I treat to the best of my ability. I take my medications. I try to eat a healthy diet. I try to get an appropriate amount of sleep. I talk to the appropriate people about my struggles. I take the steps I have available to me to get the help that I need. And I have let other people in on my struggles that help me in this process. If I tried to do this on my own I would fail, plain and simple. So I have asked my wife to keep tabs on my behavior. I have friends who hold me accountable to living a lifestyle of recovery. And I invite God to be at the center of it all. Not so that God will come in and fix everything, but to meet me where I am and hold me tight in my circumstance.
For those of us who are on the outside looking in on someone we care about who is struggling, I offer this perspective.
It is not your responsibility to fix me. Don’t try.
If you have suggestions then ask me if I want to hear it. I don’t want you to tell me what to do.
If you want to help, ask me how you can help. Don’t just assume that you know what I need.
Let me know that you have empathy for my situation, not sympathy. I don’t want you to feel bad for me. I want you to understand that I am struggling.
Remember I didn’t choose this. If I saw a way to fix it I would. But know that even the idea of choosing to fix this scares me.
My mind is a place full of contradictions and paradox that don’t make sense to me, so please don’t try to put me in a box I will never fit into.
Know that I will frustrate you. I don’t want to, but I will have a hard time not frustrating you when I can’t even keep from frustrating myself.
Have patience with me.
Celebrate the little things with me. Getting groceries or brushing my teeth some days are major accomplishments. So when I say “I got out of bed today”, and I seem happy about that, be happy for me.
When you ask how I am doing. Mean it. And then stick around to find out the answer.
Don’t give up on me. I do that enough on my own.
If you ask me what is wrong and I say that I don’t know. I don’t. Ask if I could use a hug. I do.
Understand that I feel alone. Even in the most crowded of rooms. This is not a reflection of you.
Remind me that I am not alone. I need to hear it.
If I take things out on you, I am sorry. My actions are not your fault.
While you may not see it, I’m trying. I swear I am.
Love me. Sometimes I can’t do it for myself.
Never give up hope.
Never give up hope.
National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery