What Mental Illness is REALLY Like (and Resources to Help)

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month and is meant to raise awareness of mental health issues and decrease the stigma surrounding mental illnesses.

Growing up – back in the 1900s (which, incidentally is now my most favorite way of aging myself because it sounds so ridiculous, but is also 100% accurate) – we didn’t talk much about mental health or mental wellness or depression or anxiety. There was a whole lot of “What’s her problem?” or “She’s got nothing to be depressed about” and “Why can’t she just get over it?” in that dangerous, judgey, quiet avoidance. Admittedly, certain conditions have spiked with the popularity of cell phones and incessant comparisons on social media, but depression and anxiety have always been around.

What I eventually realized – because it was explained to me in no uncertain terms by a medical doctor – is that these nebulous brain illnesses (addiction included) are chronic illnesses, and if left untreated, they will kill you. Just like cancer or diabetes. Professional (medical) intervention is life-saving and necessary.

And there is not one thing to be ashamed of.

Unfortunately, brain illnesses don’t usually tug at heartstrings and bring out compassion in people – usually, there’s a lot of misunderstanding, judgment, and callous comments. Yes, certain things can make a situation incrementally better, but exercise and eating right won’t cure it. You can’t just get over it or snap out of depression, anxiety, or a depressive episode.

As a family, these last 15 months have been the hardest, saddest, scariest, and most important time of our lives. As the school year began, we diagnosed one of our daughters with clinical depression and anxiety, and the dynamics of our family changed drastically. And then, at the beginning of 2021, she had an acute mental health emergency, and we had to hospitalize her for eight days.

Since then, we have all been SMOTHERED and COVERED in love and grace.

Her young friends have been wonderful – I’m sure they understand this even less than we do, but not a single one of them has shied away from the loving, hard work of being a good friend. None of their parents have tried to distance their kids from her, and have reached out to me asking how they can support us. I’ve seen the texts and notes they’ve sent my girl and every single one of them has moved me to tears. The love and compassion in these kids is astounding.

My friends’ love and support have carried me through the hard and scary days. People have reached out to let me know we’re not alone. Nobody has suggested we must’ve done something wrong. Her teachers have been absolutely lovely and loving and shown so much compassion and understanding.

And still, this road we’re on feels very nearly impossible some days. And so terribly lonely.

I’ve heard from several different people who suffer from mental illnesses that they think it’s harder to love someone with a mental illness than it is to have a mental illness – we carry a different fear than they do. But if you are someone who loves someone with a mental illness, remember that it’s part of their magic, this is part of what makes them so special and shine so bright; their deep feeling, their endless compassion, their beautiful empathy.

There are so many more people than you can imagine who are struggling with mental illness. Many hide it so well, and that’s exhausting for them. So, hand out grace like candy. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Treat people kindly.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, we’d like to provide you with some local and national resources.

  1. For more information about mental illness or to find help for yourself or someone you love, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great resource and has a South Carolina chapter as well.
  2. On October 9 there is a NAMIWalks’ United Day of Hope. This year, walks are virtual but are a great way to support the cause. Information about the local Midlands walk can be found here.
  3. The National Suicide Hotline is 800.273.8255 (800.273.TALK) and they also have a chat option. If you are thinking of suicide or want to help someone who is, this is a great option. Their website is suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
  4. A faith-based option probably better for anxiety is Sister Hope. This is a chat service from Catholic Charities of South Carolina that uses Chatbot technology and provides strategies on how to manage anxiety. Text “Hi” to Sister Hope at 315.276.3157. Sometimes texting is easier for the kids and less obvious.

There are many other good resources out there – check with your primary care physician if you need help finding one.

And if mental illness affects your life, I hope you find comfort knowing you’re not alone.

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Wildly in love with her perfectly imperfect life, Kathy’s been married to her most favorite person in the world, “The Professor,” for 14 years. They moved to Columbia from Atlanta seven years ago and are enjoying raising their two girls, Gracie (12½) and Tate (10) here. After undergrad and her MBA, Kathy worked in Corporate America for 10 years before retiring to work full-time for the girls. Most recently, she was a grant writer at a college here in town, but had to leave that job when her family moved to New Zealand for six months for The Professor’s sabbatical. She started her blog, kathygoeskiwi.com, to document that amazing adventure, but now she’s home and trying to figure out what to do with her life. Again. Probably the loudest and most foul-mouthed introvert you’ll ever meet, she can usually be found curled up with a trashy romance novel, on the tennis court, at her awesome gym, or drinking wine with people she loves.

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