This past year for me has been pretty rough. I’ve been working full time, going to school full time, and doing CR as well for the past 2 years. Last September I found myself checking into an intensive outpatient treatment program because my mental health had deteriorated to the point that I could no longer manage it, and I needed help. I was attending 3-hour group counseling sessions 3 times a week. I had to take a break from work on short-term leave for a month. I became so overwhelmed that I had to decrease my responsibilities in CR. I had to step down from small group leadership. I remember I was so ashamed and so full of guilt that I did not tell anyone what I was doing, or that I was attending an intensive outpatient treatment program. I did not even tell my family, talk to my husband about it, nor did I openly admit my struggles to my CR accountability team. I was afraid that if people knew what I was going through, that I would be kicked out of my CR leadership position. That I would be replaced as mental health champion. I was afraid of how people would look at me, what they would think of me, and how they would treat me. If I told them, I was afraid that I would be rejected, ridiculed, laughed at, whispered about, and pushed aside.
The reason I felt this way? Because of how I’ve been treated in the past. Because of how I’ve seen other people treated. We read in the news about how people with mental health issues engage in violent acts, how they can’t lead. We see memes and jokes about people being insane, how crazy people need to be institutionalized, and that people with mental illnesses need to be locked up in a mental institution. I still find myself in conversations with people who argue that depression and anxiety are acts of sin against God and who believe that medications for mental health issues are ways of playing God.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have really great days. A year ago in June I gave my testimony for the first time on my birthday, with my mother and father in attendance, where I picked up my one-year coin for choosing to stay here after my suicide attempt. That was a really great day. I was also asked to assist Nate on the Mental Health Team. That was also a really great day. It is these really great days that I try to hold onto. You see, I’m still struggling. I’m still grieving the loss of my Mom. I’m still struggling to find a combination of medications that work for me. I still have suicidal thoughts pretty much every day. (As a disclaimer, I am safe and not at risk for harm to myself. I have a safety plan in place and I do use it.)
Speaking from my point of view, let me tell you what has worked for me in the midst of my mental health struggle. I have a person in my life who has accepted me unconditionally, who has been there and seen me deeply struggle. This person cannot fix me. This person cannot wave a magic wand and make it better, and I know and understand this. The best thing that this person has done is given me empathy. This person has given me an ear to listen, has encouraged me, and supported me through my mental health journey. The times which have been my darkest times, I was never asked why I felt like I did. I was never told that I shouldn’t feel that way. I was never made to feel as if I was unloved, unworthy, and incapable of recovery. I was never told to just pray more or read the Bible more. Instead, this person responded with patience, with kindness, and just allowed me to be open and honest, to feel without judgment or condemnation. It’s amazing how much just being allowed to talk and write has helped me get through the darkness and through the pain. This is the epitome of empathy. This is what it looks like to be an accountability partner and/or sponsor. This is what helps someone with a mental health issue.
You see, we don’t have to know how to fix them, or be experts on their mental health issue, or know exactly what to do. All we must do is to love them unconditionally, to not judge, to listen with an open heart. This is what it means to be a mental health champion.
Thank you for being awesome. You know who you are.
April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor