My blog is mainly for me. I feel good when I write. I reflect when I write. I see my own growth when I write. That being said, I'm okay that this is a low-traffic blog. This post, however, is for me, and you, and the community of strong and courageous individuals who suffer with mental or emotional disorders.
Jonathan Gottschall said, "If you want a message to burrow into a human mind, work it into a story." Well... here I am, and this is my story.
Four years ago, my best friend said, "I wonder what it's like to have your brain. Do you ever get tired of it?" To answer briefly, and bluntly, and emphatically, YES!!! Anxiety, depression, fits of hysteria and irrationality? I've felt it. It started early, too.
In fifth grade, our class was learning about fractions. After the first lesson, I felt like the numbers and fractions committed every deplorable assault upon my brain. I sat in the corner of the classroom, and then I sobbed and shook, almost convulsively. My teacher, a gentle man, probably broke every rule in the book. He kneeled in front of me and held me firmly so that my classmates could not see my panic attack.
During my fourth year of Girls Camp, I had a panic attack at midnight. I thought I was dying. I screamed, and shook, and cried, and scared my poor friends out of their wits. They probably thought a bear was gnawing on my arm. In the morning, before my parents took me home, I lied to my friends about what happened. I told them that I was feeling sick. I wanted to spare myself from shame and embarrassment.
In my last semester of college, I felt intensely depressed, and I experienced hypomanic episodes where all rationality was tossed out the window with a bag of cats. Call it bipolar II, a mood disorder, whatever. The bottom line is that those episodes were scary — I felt destructive, and alone, and scared. I often drove in my car in an attempt to clear my mind, but I sincerely wished that a reckless driver would kill me. I spent hours upon hours in bed. It hurt to move. I counted to three to coax my limbs into moving out of bed. I showed up to church and school with scars on my arms. People asked, "Whoa! What happened?" My responses got more and more creative. "Oh, you know I hate cats!" or "I'm terrible at long-boarding!" or "I've taken up juggling with knives!" or "The Wolverine came trick-or-treating this year!" What would people really say if I told them that I went kamikaze-style on my arms with a shard of glass?
That last experience was quite recent, and it seemed like such a terribly long ordeal. While it still deeply frightens me, it has opened my eyes to a world where friends, family, and acquaintances don't quite understand mental health. I'm not angry with them. Their reactions are understandable. My story is one of those stories that make people feel uncomfortable. People might have already quit their browser and Googled adorable puppy pictures. If I've made you uncomfortable, I'm sorry.... but I'm also not sorry.
Here's why. Lousy mental health is real and everywhere. I'll bet you have a family member or a friend who struggles mentally or emotionally — they just hide it. And their instinct to hide their struggles makes sense to me. Some people's responses to these afflictions can be foolish, ignorant, and offensive. A friend emailed me recently, and her message saddened me. She struggles with depression, and when she opened up to a friend, he replied, "Just be happy. You're sad because you want to be sad, and you need to snap out of this dramatic behavior."
What's hard is that some wounding comments come from loved ones, people who are well meaning but fail to see the harm in their words. "Just pray a little harder!" or "It could be worse...at least you're not like [think of a poor child in Africa who is starving]!" or "You're probably just PMS-ing!" or "Life is hard. Tough it out like the rest of us!" or "Get out! Be happy! Go for a walk!" or "Be grateful you don't have a real illness." That last one is a particular favorite of mine.
And the list goes on.
So here is my invitation to you. I didn't write this post to garner sympathy. That's just not me. I've kept this post saved as a draft for months because I felt too ashamed to disclose my problems, I feared the reception that I would receive, and I didn't want to ruin the image of a girl who people say shines and spreads joy. Now, I've grown, and I am including my story because I'll bet that some of you had no idea that I dealt and continue to deal with this. If you think I'm being too presumptuous, then fine. But just know this: I have a mood disorder, I am anxious, I feel depressed, but I can still radiate, shine, and spread joy. I'm still Bekki. But now, I'm the Bekki that would be really interesting to talk to if you were stuck in a broken elevator with me for an hour.
There are others like me, who appear happy, but they live in the shadows. The world has become, in a way, inhospitable to them because they don't know where to turn for comfort. I ask you to be kind, be sensitive, and be a listener. Words are so powerful. They can heal or hurt, so think about what you say. If you don't know how to respond when someone seeks your help, that's okay. All you need to say is, "I don't understand what you're feeling, but it must be so hard. I love you. I am here for you. I am praying for you."
It's time for change. I believe it with all my heart. I want to improve the attitudes of people everywhere towards individuals with mental or emotional problems. I want to reduce the stigma. I want to encourage others to be open about their mental health problems — don't be ashamed, my friends! I know that is a hard request. I'm living proof! But it's like what Jeffrey R. Holland said in Like a Broken Vessel. Show no shame in acknowledging your problems. It's no different than admitting that you have high blood pressure, or diabetes, or a funny looking mole on your rear. Yes... while our stories vary, they are personal, and personal stories make people squirm. But this is something we need to be open about, to spread understanding, compassion, and love.
I'm passionate about this. I want people to see my passion, understand my passion, and hopefully, accept my passion. I feel slightly embarrassed in this request, but if you could share this post with someone you love, someone who might need this, do so thoughtfully, appropriately, and lovingly! Mental and emotional turmoil is real — it's time that people START NOW to accept it, understand it, and feel comfortable to talk about it. It only took me over a decade, but here I am, and this is me.