I've written about how I got into speaking on mental health, but never so much why. So why did I decide to put myself out there for others to get to know something that many consider a deep, dark secret?
I've always been somewhat of a confessional writer. In the early 2000s I published my horrible poetry and free-ranging rants on my music website, Action Attack Helicopter. I knew I wanted to share thoughts and ideas with others--I thought it might help someone although I'm not sure why. I suppose at some point I got some encouragement here or there from a friend and a few positive words of feedback. That was enough to keep me going.
Over the years I've had some zines and blogs and they also received very limited but honest praise. And I also didn't know what else to do--I felt there was a need to express myself. It's part of being a writer; that idea implanted in one's mind that one must share their thoughts.
It didn't seem too awkward, then, to transition into being more direct and honest about my mental health issues. No longer did I need to mask it in poorly written poetry or adequate prose. I wrote not only of my struggles but also of answers. I spent hours of time online and researched solutions to issues related to loneliness, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
It's not only about writing, though. It's easy to do that behind a computer, tucked away in my apartment. Yet, I want to speak about loneliness and depression. There are a few reasons why I actually get in front of crowds and speak.
1) I like the immediate reactions. It's wonderful to see people smile or laugh at what you say. Or it's an acknowledgment through a nod that they understand what you're saying. The ability to try and connect with others--and to know you're connecting--is a rewarding feeling.
2) It's a rush. Speaking makes me nervous and I imagine it always will. Yet when you know your topic and can channel it into energy when you speak, it's quite a high.
3) I can see the direct effect of lives changed. It's encouraging and rewarding to have that immediate validation afterward. It's awesome when someone tells you that what you said spoke to them and they can identify with it. That confirmation of what you did and that it had a positive impact on others signals to me that it was a job well done.
I'm not going to lie: it's validating to know I'm changing lives and affecting people. It makes me feel good. But that's something we all seek in our lives. We want to be happy about our existence. So yes, some of this is about what I get out of it. But if I'm going to feel good, I can't think of any better reason than because I'm helping others with my words and speaking.
Over the past few years I've engaged in mental health advocacy. During that time I’ve noticed there are two avenues by which to tackle issues associated with mental illness.
First, there are steps involving awareness. This includes using our experiences with mental health issues to let others know they’re not alone and that life can get better. Also, awareness can include a discussion of how to deal with making mental health a priority in the community and in our lives. This is primarily what I’ve done and continue to do.
The second way to spread the word of issues with mental illness is in regards to making changes in our society to better assist those in need. This may include working on passage of legislation to provide better coverage of the mentally ill. It may also mean being a therapist and working in the field. Or it could be that you start a foundation or organization to develop better mental health.
I’ve seen a few organizations that focus on the entire package (National Alliance on Mental Illness). But it seems many groups and individuals take on one or the other. It’s difficult to combine both in a way that is coherent and effective. For most people and groups, it’s far too large to both spread awareness of an issue and fight for economic and legislative concerns related to it.
I have done my share of speaking out for good mental health. It’s important to spread the awareness of hope for those in dire straits. When lives are on the line, we need to move.
Yet the lack of affordable insurance coverage, the price of medications, and the need for greater mental health services in many areas are all representative of foundational issues that need attention. The handling of these struggles are best done at a larger societal and governmental level. It’s this lack of change on these issues that amounts to placing a band aid over a much larger wound.
While I’m aware of the need to save lives, it takes individuals with knowledge of this system to fight for the rights of the mentally ill at governmental levels. At this point in my life as a mental health advocate, these skills are something I haven’t attained or spoken up about much. Yet they’re key if we want to move forward and stop with temporary means to grand problems.
There are simple ways we can, as a society and as individuals, act to make systematic changes. We can start by challenging our legislators. We can ask them where they stand on issues related to mental health, and more importantly, what they’re going to do about it. We can ask them to support and propose legislation that will fight for the mentally ill.
We also need to not hesitate to elect legislators who are open about their mental illness or have close connections with the mentally ill. Unfortunately, for many politicians, it’s only when they have personal experiences with an issue that they are prone to act.
It’s a tough fight for the mentally ill, but it’s only through this combined effort of awareness and action that we will see gains made for our community.
Besides writing my own blog, I follow the work of others who deal with the topic of mental health, including depression and loneliness. Here are a few I want to highlight.
Jordan Brown – Jordan is a recent graduate in social work who is one of the top mental health writers on Medium. He writes encouraging, thoughtful posts that come from a very personal place. Jordan truly has a heart for helping others with their mental health and it shows in his posts.
Mike Veny – Mike’s message is a powerful one about how he’s overcome suicide attempts and being expelled from schools as a youth. He’s now a top mental health speaker and someone whose success as a speaker I admire. He works to overcome the stigma that all too often comes with depression.
UnLonely Project - The UnLonely Project has been featured on the Today Show and in Psychology Today for their work on combating loneliness in our society. They also have a streaming film festival of short films that deal with the topic at their website. Their work seeks to give tools to those dealing with loneliness and tie it in with the arts as a means to combat the issue.
NAMI Blog – This blog for the National Alliance on Mental Illness covers a range of topics on mental health. These include insurance, depression amongst teens, and self-care. The blog is updated multiple times a week with posts that are easy to understand and which are quite helpful.
The Lonely Hour – This podcast is an examination of loneliness and solitude by host Julia Bainbridge. It’s not a bummer, though. Through interviews she explores various aspects of loneliness: whether it’s brought about by the loss of faith or a life of addiction. It’s an honest and thought-provoking exploration of loneliness.
Once someone gets to a point of sharing about their mental health, others can assume, “Well, they’ve got it all together. They’re on top of things.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. In my case, I am stabilized enough to share my experiences with others, but I'm not to a place where I no longer suffer from mental illness.
I am diagnosed with bipolar II and the symptoms associated with that are fairly well under control. I’ve also made a great deal of progress on my anxiety and self-confidence. They’re miles above where they once stood and allow me to function well, without allowing doubts about my self-worth.
But here are the things with which I still struggle:
I get depressed. This is usually related to feeling stuck and bored with what is going on around me. I’m often impatient about the changes I want in my life. When they don’t happen it leaves me disappointed. A lot of my depression is about that disconnect between where I am and what I want my life to be like. This primarily means I want to be in a situation where I can speak and write about mental health. I’m working on changing that.
2. Existential depression
This article pretty well describes that situation. But to summarize, I have, for much of my life, felt like I don’t know what it is I’m here for. This can often lead to feelings of worthlessness and pointlessness with my existence. This is slowly changing as I find that speaking out about mental health has helped me find purpose. But I still have my doubts.
3. Suicidal ideation
I’ve written about suicidal ideation for an article at Medium. This can be a real tough one to handle. When I am stuck I revert back to feeling as though suicide is a proper way out. But I’ve seen time and again it’s not.
So, what about you? If you’ve made improvements in your life, what are you still working on?
This blog is an exploration of the subjects of belonging and loneliness. I also look at mental health issues. I seek to provide content to my readers that is informative and helpful. If you don't want to miss anything, sign up for my email list.