“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”
– Ernest Hemingway
This is one of my favorite quotes. It is one that I try to live by. It is one that I believe can be therapeutic when followed. It is one that I now see I need to follow more closely.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health is something that is close to my heart. Contributing to ending the stigma in some way is one of the greatest goals of my life. And because of that, I think there are some things that I need to say.
I have been dealing with depression and anxiety for about three years now. When I was first diagnosed, I was considered to be affected by what is known as “adjustment disorder” – which is essentially what occurs when something happens in your life that leads to mental health challenges. My adjustment disorder is thought to have come from my chronic physical health problems.
This is something that I do not talk about. Some of my family members and close friends do not know about this. But I think it’s something I need to talk about now. I often feel that staying silent is doing nothing but contributing to the stigma surrounding mental health. So who am I to not speak up?
If you have never experienced any mental health issues, let me do my best to explain this to you. Depression is not sadness. It is a deep hole of despair. It causes you to cry for no reason, to not want to leave the house, and to basically feel like doing nothing but sitting there staring into space. Anxiety is, in my opinion, just as bad. At its worst, it can be a constant feeling of panic. It causes you to second guess everything you say and do. You find yourself worrying to an irrational level about everything from final exams to what you are going to have for dinner. It causes panic attacks that can come out of nowhere. Although everyone experiences panic attacks differently, some common symptoms include shortness of breath, a racing heart rate, shaking, and an inability to think clearly.
I am not exaggerating. And I am not checking Google for definitions and symptoms. I am speaking from personal experience. This is all real. This is not in my head, or your head, or anyone’s head.
Over the past three years, I have come to better understand and cope with my mental illness to a certain degree. But I have not been “cured.” Every day is a battle, and a giant question mark. But I have come to know the ebb and flow of my brain’s strange impulses and deficiencies.
Perhaps that is why I am sitting here writing this. To tell you that there is hope, but it does not come if you don’t seek help. Without help, there is not hope. “Help” looks different for everyone who needs it. Maybe you need medicine. Maybe you need counseling. Maybe you need holistic treatment. But whatever it may be, please, please seek it and get it. This is nothing to be ashamed of. There is no shame in going to the doctor when you break your arm or have the flu. This is no different.
“Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed.”
– Jeffrey R. Holland
The brain is an organ, and a very complex one at that. Just as one may experience a problem with their heart, or lungs, or liver, so can one experience problems with their brain. One of the biggest problems with that is that the brain controls a lot. So if there is a problem with your brain, you may feel fatigued, and achy, and even have some problems with those other organs of yours. But this is a medical problem. You must understand that, whether you are going through this or not.
“Depression is a flaw in chemistry, not character.”
So, now that you know that having a problem with your brain is perfectly normal and that you should always seek help for it, please understand one more thing: A problem with your mental health has absolutely nothing to do with your spirituality. Even if what you are going through makes it hard to feel the Holy Ghost, or pray, or read the scriptures, or go to church. Some of the times that I have felt the pure love and understanding of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ the most occurred when I first began dealing with depression and anxiety. They know what you are going through. When you cry, so do They. When you have a bad day, They hurt with you. They don’t want you to feel this way. But because of their perfect knowledge, They know that for whatever reason, it is necessary. They do not feel that your testimony is diminished, or that your level of spirituality has decreased. Neither should you.
“He will not always take your afflictions from you, but He will comfort and lead you with love through whatever storm you face.”
– Thomas S. Monson
Now, I would like to address those of you who have never dealt with any sort of mental health challenge. There is a second part to the above quote by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
“While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.”
I know it is hard to understand something that you have not experienced, but please try. Ending the stigma will not just come from the willingness of those suffering to be more open. There must be a twofold solution. You are the second part. If you know someone who is going through something difficult with their mental health, please be kind. Please love them. And if you think you don’t know anyone in this situation, I can almost promise you that you do. You just don’t know it because that is the way they want it. That is why it is essential that we choose compassion in every situation, no matter what.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
To all my mental health warriors out there, you are slaying the game. Getting up and living every day is a big deal. And I wish I could give you all big hugs and medals for it. But since I can’t, here are some things that have helped me through my own personal struggle:
“Magnify” by We Are Messengers
“Trust in You” by Lauren Daigle
“Steady My Heart” by Kari Jobe
“Red Sea Road” by Ellie Holcomb
“Fight Song” by Rachel Platten
“Hills and Valleys” by Tauren Wells
“Bloom” by Grayson Reed
“Prince of Peace” by Hillsong United
“He Knows” by Jeremy Camp
“Hope in Front of Me” by Danny Gokey
“Warrior” by Demi Lovato
“Storms” by V. Rose
“Thy Will” by Hillary Scott
“Storyteller” by Morgan Harper Nichols and Jamie Grace
“I Have this Hope” by Tenth Avenue North (and basically every TAN song ever…trust me)
“Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing the best you can” – Unknown
“The Lord doesn’t put us through this test just to give us a grade; He does it because the process will change us.” – Henry B. Eyring
“Don’t believe everything you think.” – Unknown
“In order to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that shaped you.” – Andrea Dykstra
“Do not fear. Fear is not of God.” – Al Carraway
“We cannot truly grasp the depth of our light, until we are shown our darkness.” – Danielle Doby
“And here you are living / despite it all.”
– Rupi Kaur