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Disaster Might Lurk Nearer Than You Ever Imagined

Three years ago, I never would have imagined that disaster stalked. Sure, I knew Sarah, our youngest daughter, struggled with depression and an eating disorder. But I didn’t know how near disaster lurked.

Back then, my knowledge of mental illness could fit within 140 characters. Today, I could write a book. Sure, I’d heard about things like schizophrenia and psychosis. Mania was something that people back in the 60s experienced when the Beatles crossed the ocean. Depression happened in the 30s, and I callously believed that people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps to get out of mood slumps.

But when mental illness happens to someone near and dear to your heart, you have two choices—reject them or educate yourself. Rejection was not an option. In my quest to gain knowledge of mental illnesses, I’ve come to understand that all too often I have subconsciously rejected those who suffer.

Words and phrases that I used to bandy about now make me pause before uttering them. I self-edit phrases like ‘that’s crazy!’ or ‘he’s gone off the deep end!’ As far as I know, no one has started a movement to eradicate those words or phrases from our vocabulary in an effort at political correctness. Nor do I think anyone should start such a campaign.

But I do think that joining campaigns of understanding will help ease the pain of those whose lives are affected by mental illness. A friend on Facebook posted a passionate post on the anniversary of her daughter’s suicide this week. She couldn’t understand WHY. Why had she not confided her agony with her parents (they had a strong relationship). She struggled with the anger she felt towards her daughter for not revealing her pain to her.

We as a society have so much work to do to stop the stigma surrounding those with mental illnesses. Someone suffering from suicidal, depressed, racing, or anxious thoughts should feel as comfortable as a diabetic in confiding in someone that they need something.

Loving Someone with a Mental Illness

My daughter has bipolar disorder. I just about burst my buttons with mamma pride every time I think about her and all she has done since her diagnosis. She shared her journey on my blog. In six months, she will graduate from college. We don’t pay a penny towards her college tuition, room, or board. She has scholarships and she works 20 hours a week during the school year and full-time during the summer. In July, she will marry her best friend.

And just like a diabetic, she has to manage her illness. She has learned to keep healthy, get regular sleep and exercise, and see mental health professionals on a regular basis. Her fiancé knows her back story. She has a support network in place.

Although disaster seems relegated to the back porch, it hovers near. Mental illness works that way. She knows we love her and accept her exactly as she is. But how many people don’t have that assurance? Before diagnosis, diabetics don’t know that they have an illness that could kill them. Likewise, an adolescent experiencing the onset of bipolar disorder has no idea that they are ill.

The next time you see an adolescent ‘going off the deep end’ don’t just shake your head in pity. Draw near—to either the adolescent or an adult in their life—and ask questions. If your child seems irrational and defiant, or maybe depressed so badly that nothing works, keep seeking answers and asking questions.

What to Do?

Suicides don’t happen in a vacuum. Don’t call suicide a selfish act—that blames the victim. Instead, do something when you see someone faltering. We can no longer sit back and criticize other parents for their ‘wayward’ teenagers.

Don't ever say that #suicide is a 'selfish act.' That's blaming the #victim. #mentalillness Click To Tweet

I honestly don’t know how I would have reacted if someone would have told me that they thought Sarah had a mental illness before she received an official diagnosis. Maybe it would have angered me. I hope I would have listened and it could have spared a lot of heartache.

We have a duty to our fellow human beings, though. Don’t be afraid to speak up. It could save someone’s life. Maybe someone near and dear to YOUR heart. When you see disaster lurking, GET HELP! If it happens to someone you love, intervene. When it happens to an acquaintance, don’t be afraid to bring up the topic. It’s better to lose a friendship than for someone to lose a loved one.

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Help me get the word out! (My Five-Minute Friday friends, I’m so sorry for going over the five-minute limit. Once I start writing about mental illness, I get caught up in my passion for educating others).