How do we make someone with a mental illness feel seen and supported?
Through On a Dragonfly’s Wings, I post almost daily on FB and IG resources, tools, best things to say, what not to say, motivation and support, love, and as much information as I can to educate those of us in a support role and those who are struggling.
It’s just not enough.
I have a friend who struggles every day of her life to get out of bed, to put one foot in front of the other, to keep going day after day. And even with all that I know, it’s not enough.
I love her beyond the stars and back and I don’t know how to help her.
That’s the thing about mental illness, no matter what we say to the hurting person, their brain will tell them the opposite. We know all those things are awful, but to the person struggling, it’s their truth.
Nikolai used to say all the time how stupid he was. No matter how many bazillion times we told him he was so smart, he just didn’t believe us.
The Real Depression Project recently posted some of the best things to say to someone struggling with mental illness:
1. Your mental illness does not define you.
2. You are strong for fighting an invisible illness 24/7, 365.
3. Your struggle doesn’t make you weak.
4. If all you do is survive your dark days, that’s enough.
5. Don’t feel guilty for resting – it’s essential for your well-being.
I’m pretty sure I’ve said all of these statements to one person or another, including Nikolai, including my dear friend. It’s not enough.
I have zero answers.
Today my heart just hurts so badly for those who live in a mind that speaks lies to them.
Words don’t seem to matter today. All I can do is wrap her up in more love than I can almost bear and pray that it is enough.
Join me today in praying for all those who can’t see their worth, who struggle with thoughts of suicide. Please God cover them in light and love.
If you are a suicide survivor, I highly recommend you read, “Understanding Your Suicide Grief” by Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD. Shortly after Nikolai died, an acquaintance I know in my community gave me this book.
It took me almost two years before I decided that I should read it, that I needed to read it. I ignorantly believed all this time that I was fully in touch with how to handle my grief and heal myself.
I tried therapy and that didn’t work for me. It was probably more me than him, but either way, I walked away from it. I got a few things off my chest and decided I was good to go. Then as you all know, that season of anger hit me like a fan on full blast in your face. The last few months has been trying to figure that out and what to do with it. Per my last blog, I read “The Choice” by Dr. Edith Eger. I believe that book saved me in many ways. It gave me a different perspective and helped me pinpoint the anger. I was angry at me. The need to find a way to forgive myself and truly heal has been at the forefront of my mind ever since.
So when I saw this book gathering dust on my bookshelf I decided to finally take a peek.
It didn’t take long. On page 34, Dr. Wolfelt writes, “In large part, healing from a suicide death is anchored in a decision to not judge yourself but to love yourself. Grief is a call for love. So, if you are judging yourself and where you are in this journey, STOP! Judgment will not free you to mourn, it will only make you afraid to do so. When you stop judging the multitude of emotions that come with your grief, you are left with acceptance, and when you have acceptance (or surrender), you have love. Love will lead you into and through the wilderness, to a place where you will come out of the dark and into the light.”
I have found that I am afraid to let go of the pain, I want to hang onto it; yet, at the same time, I want to be free of it. This is making me so angry. And, really, it all begins with forgiveness and love. Nikolai’s death is not my fault. His death was not in my control, it was in his. He is responsible for it, not me. I was a good mom. I wasn’t perfect, but I was good enough.
All of the what if’s and why’s have to stop. These are only questions Nikolai can answer. They aren’t for me. To continue to try and relive every step of his life serves no one.
It is time for me to surrender, to forgive, to love and let peace finally settle inside me. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But it’s time.
Grief work is hard, yet necessary. This journey through loss and healing does not mean we forget those we have lost. It doesn’t mean that our feelings of loss will ever disappear. However, if we do the work, the devastating feeling of loss will soften and peace and joy will re-enter our lives. We will never go back to “normal,” we will discover a new “normal” and that is where forgiveness lies and love lives.
We have a responsibility to live. While it hurts to suffer lost love, we owe it to those we lost to continue living with passion and love on our heart.
“Your joy is sorrow unmasked…
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” – Kahlil Gibran
People frequently say to me “you are so strong”, “you are the strongest person I know”, “how can you be so strong?”.
Being strong is the only choice I have. It’s either that or curl up into a ball and suck my thumb in a corner for the rest of my life, which honestly, some days, doesn’t sound like a terrible idea.
I made a promise to myself the day Nikolai died that I would always at least get out of bed every single day. What I did after that was up in the air, but I had to at least get out of bed. As humans it is in our nature to fight this constant battle of wanting to just let ourselves drown while also wanting to stay afloat. But I had two other children to worry about, a husband to love, a funeral to plan. There was no choice but to keep moving forward, no time to really feel, especially when other people are depending on you. Once the distraction of funeral planning has ended and your house empties of people and the cards and texts are fewer and fewer, this is when being strong really comes into play. This is when you have to dig deep and try to put things back together. This is when you make decisions that impact how you are going to heal.
I decided to run head on into the belly of the beast. I decided to be resilient and strong, brave and courageous, a fighter. I made the decision to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves; those who struggle with mental health, those who live moment to moment never knowing if they want to live another second. To do that, I had to be strong. It was like going into battle some days with a full armor suit and shield, preparing to take on whoever and whatever to get things done.
Yet along that path, I forgot to tell myself that it’s okay to not be strong every single day. Fighting internal demons while trying to slay dragons and save the world – well sometimes those just don’t mesh. Some days that is a battle all on its own, with no clear winner.
To survive any form of trauma in our lives we have choices – choices on how we want to come out the other side and how we are going to get there. I guess I chose strong. For me, this was the only choice I had. It’s not part of my DNA to sit out the hard stuff. Yet every time someone tells me how strong I am, I cringe. I hate that word, yet live by that word. It’s so confusing.
I think more times than not, people choose strong over thumb sucking in a corner. I think, as humans, we are resilient and standing in the middle of a fire waiting to burn just isn’t an option. That fire forges something new in us and wakes us up to new possibilities. It doesn’t mean that the flames don’t sometimes still ignite and hurt, it means that we can withstand the heat long enough to get to water.
What I have found is that even though I am able to get through the days, not all of those days are strong days and that being strong is relative. Find YOUR strong and be that. All we need to do is get out of bed and the rest of the day will sort itself out.
“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.” – Dave Hollis
Have you really given this any thought – this return to normal and what it looks like to you? Are you going to jump back into “normal” with two feet? Are there things about the stay at home lockdown that you enjoyed and if so how are you going to incorporate those things into your life moving forward?
I have discovered a lot about myself in this lockdown period. I have been working from home since March 13. I was just told this week that I will be required to come back into the office to work on Monday. I have spent the better part of two days now crying, worrying and becoming more bitter by the minute because I realized a lot of somethings over the last 63 days of being at home… there isn’t any place I’d rather be than home, other than missing my friends, these people I share my house with are the people I want to spend all my time with, this puppy we got is the exact therapy I needed, these daily walks and out loud prayer have lifted my soul, and I’ve realized that my passion lies elsewhere. Going back to this daily office job is not my passion and I realized I’m dreading putting my all into something that doesn’t make my heart sing.
So today I have made the decision to quit crying and worrying and swallow the bitter pill. I have decided to take all that negative energy and turn it into a plan of action for my life and the things I am passionate about and the people that I love. What kind of impact do I want to have? What are my goals and dreams?
I don’t want to return to “normal”; although I would love to go to my local coffee shop on a Friday morning and hug all the people like the good ole days. I don’t want to return to the normal daily grind of working for someone else on their time and in their way, for their cause. My life was made for more. I think deep down, I knew that the day Nikolai died.
This quarantine has taught me quite a bit; however, what has really hit me square in the face is that the one thing that has affected ALL of us, yet been talked about the least, is mental health. I don’t think I am scientifically off when I say that more people have and will suffer from mental illness during this time than any physical ailment. I am not trying to be insensitive to those impacted by this virus (my husband had it), but at least we are talking about it. At least there are actions surrounding prevention, spread, cures. What about mental health? What have we put into place for those suffering from mental health?
This lockdown has brought most of us mentally to our knees at one point or another. Watching friends and even strangers struggle makes my heart hurt. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we are also on the brink of a mental health pandemic – neither of which we are equipped to handle.
A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45% of U.S. adults said the pandemic has affected their mental health, with 19% saying it has had a major impact. A majority of Americans (57%) also said they were worried they could be exposed to COVID-19 since they couldn’t afford to miss work and therefore couldn’t stay home. (US News source)
Even before the coronavirus outbreak, roughly 1 in 5 Americans experienced a mental illness within a given year, with some 10 million adults having serious thoughts of suicide. And these are just the adult statistics. What about our kids and the affect this is having on them?
And while we are discounting and even eliminating insurance barriers and costs associated with physical health right now because of coronavirus, we aren’t making these same concessions for those suffering from mental health. Insurance coverage, or lack thereof, is the greatest barrier to most people seeking mental illness assistance. We need to take a hard look at providing lower cost options for people to find help and we must focus on both prevention and recovery, teaching people how to navigate through the different stages in their lives.
The teaching part is so important because it’s clear that we have all struggled this quarantine season. While we as humans are not equipped for lockdown or how to handle it – if we had the tools to navigate mentally through tough times, maybe, just maybe we could weather this storm better.
Because whether you are an essential worker, working from home, working from home and also teaching your kids, students, graduates, elderly, living home alone – whatever category you fall into, I see you. We have good days but we also have bad days. Those days when we feel like we just can’t do it anymore. We are at our wits end. We are lonely. We need human interaction. We need the world to not be so scary. We need empathy. We need kindness.
And so I ask again – what part of your new “normal” are you rushing back into? Has this quarantine changed you or the way you think? Has it given you a new perspective on life and who you want to be? I encourage you to take this time to find yourself. Find your passion. Be kind to yourself and to others.
And if you are struggling, please reach out for help.
I choose joy has become my daily mantra. Do I wake up every day feeling joyful? No. That is a hard and fast no. However, I get up, get dressed, pour my coffee and make the choice to live joyfully each day.
I have a lot of things to be sad about right now – don’t we all? But what happens when you focus on all the sad? All those negative emotions spiral you into a black hole that is very difficult to escape. I’m not saying it’s not okay to be sad – it absolutely is; however, don’t unpack there. Cry for a minute. Grieve your losses. And, then choose joy. Because when we choose joy, when we choose to look at how blessed we are, it changes our outlook and allows us to be more content with our situation.
I have five days “off” from work. This wasn’t ideally how I wanted to use my PTO; however, I’ve decided to use it to further my dreams and goals. I’m choosing to refocus my energy these few days into projects that light my heart on fire. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I can’t think of anything more important to focus on right now than that. It has always been extremely important to educate about mental health; however, these days it has become even more important. People all around us are struggling with one thing or another and how they are able to handle those things will determine much in their lives.
I made it my mission the day Nikolai took his own life to do whatever I could to help educate our community on mental health and suicide. I decided that day to make sure that as many people as I can affect know that they are enough – they are strong and courageous and we need them and the impact they are going to make on this world. Nikolai’s death transformed me in a million different ways. I grieve the loss of my child, yet I have found my purpose at the same time.
Nikolai lived joyfully. I believe he struggled with mental health all his life; however, he always chose joy. The last few years of his life, he desperately fought for that joy. The week before he died I asked him ‘where his joy was’. He said he didn’t know. He couldn’t find it. That was hard to hear. This is when I knew things were bad, really bad. For someone who lived for joy, saying those words was his last ditch effort at this mental health battle. He lost the war.
So when I say I CHOOSE JOY. I choose it for me and for him and for all of you who are battling finding your joy every single day.
Use this time to find your joy – whatever that may look like to you.