Mental Illness - The Other "Silent Killer"
With so many brave souls reaching out and sharing about their experiences with mental health issues, I considered that it may be time to share a little more about my own.
For those of you who have not yet faced this challenge - hopefully you will discover some helpful information which may provide you with a broader perspective. For those of you who have dealt with or are still dealing with this issue - I want you to know that you are not alone.
There are many times throughout my past that the idea of mental illness has swept across my mind. When I was young, just a child, I remember witnessing my parents' struggles and I knew, even then, instinctively that something wasn't right. There was always this underlying sense of struggle and despair that seemed to permeate the experience of my childhood, and I spent many years trying to understand and make sense of the environment into which I was born.
My father, a fiercely loving person who was passionately drawn to nature, was also an extremely deep and troubled man. He was an alcoholic, and in much the same way that the awareness of what it meant to be an alcoholic seemed to elude my family and our consciousness, the idea of what it was to be mentally ill, unfortunately for us as well as him, seemed to evade us as well. We all carried the feeling; we all carried the knowing that something wasn't right - but what we most certainly did not know, was how to actually put a name to it.
My mother, as beautiful and dedicated as she has always been, has struggled with issues of her own. Like my father, she had left school early in order to take on responsibilities that even though she had not chosen, she still felt she had a certain obligation to step up to. Sadly, the same things that most likely drew them together were the same things that eventually pushed them apart.
Looking back now, there were probably so many things that could be considered as flags for someone who is in the know - the alcoholism, the intolerance, the secrecy, the reclusiveness, the poverty, the explosive outbursts, the miscommunication and the excessive worry - all of the symptoms that make up the illness and all of the things that were considered to be such a normal part of our every day lives.
Carrying the guilt and the shame that comes with the illness made grade school enough of a challenging ride, not to mention the pressures that one typically endures throughout the difficult high school years. Thank God I had friends that made it easier and gave me some semblance of normalcy during those days. Those friends were like an anchor that kept me stable and secure, and brought laughter and light to my spirit and my soul. But even they, in all of their friendship and loyalty, never really knew the inner struggle that was my constant companion.
I can't say that I ever really knew how it felt to be "normal". I could see that others seemed to be different - they felt different to be around, so there had to be something that they had that I obviously didn't. It felt like an easiness, a joy, a sense of "okayness" that I observed in those people that not only did I admire and appreciate, but I also envied and longed for. To be free of the weight, and the worry, and the tension and the stress. It felt like a burden that you hadn't chosen but yet somehow seemed to be destined to carry. (Sound familiar?)
It wasn't until I discovered Strategic Intervention that I learned about Generational Patterns. I never understood why I felt like I carried something that didn't necessarily belong to me. But I did have a sense that the illness came from somewhere very deep in the past and that it was being carried down through the generations unknowingly and unwittingly, by the ones who were courageous enough and strong enough to keep going, to get married and to have children. There were those, I am sad to say, who unfortunately did not.
I can't say for certain that life's challenges are necessarily harder on those who suffer from mental illness, but I can say from experience that I can't imagine that they are not. I imagine it being like giving a person who is already carrying a 20 pound bag of potatoes an additional 50 pounds, and asking them to climb up a hill. Each step taking a little longer, each muscle stretching a little further, and each granule of endurance and determination being tested a little bit more.
The one thing that we tend to hold onto when our lives are a constant struggle is our family, and mine was no different. When my sister was killed at the age of sixteen, my family suffered a tremendously difficult blow. Amongst all the existing madness and despair, we had to find the strength, courage and determination to make it through. Though each of us dealt with it in different ways, all of us found solace and strength from each other. Without that, I can't imagine how we would have survived.
There are things that are important to understand about those who suffer from mental illness, and things that can help those who continue to suffer with it as well. So in an effort to shed some light on the matter from someone who has walked more than a mile in those shoes, here are a couple of valuable insights:
For those trying to understand them (and maybe even thinking about hiring them):
People who suffer from mental illness are likely to be some of the strongest, most reliable, dedicated and hardworking individuals on the planet. They have the ability to carry a lot on their shoulders, and most of them usually do - often with an incredible amount of grace, optimism and pride.
They tend to be creative in nature. They've spent YEARS practising empathy, understanding, compassion, awareness and self-reflection. Never underestimate their ability to manage - but remain mindful of when they become overburdened. (Their ability to recognize their own capacity may be somewhat lacking.)
They tend to be terrific at problem-solving. All those years of dealing and coping with their struggles has taught them to be extremely proficient at being innovative and finding solutions to problems. Their introspection has massively increased their ability to think outside of the box!
They have a heightened awareness of other people's issues and emotional states. Because they have experienced such deep levels of emotion within themselves, they have a tremendous ability to grasp what others may be going through and that gives them the skills and capacity to do very well with human resources and social issues. Pay attention to what they have to say!
Trust that there is always more to them than meets the eye. If they have a tendency to over-react to things, it's because they deeply care about what others think of them and their behaviour. The journey through life with mental illness is like trying to navigate through a fire with a blindfold on. You have to learn to use all of your senses, all of your faculties and all of your mental, physical and emotional resources to make it out alive. As Dory would say, "We just keep swimming."
For those who continue to suffer with mental illness:
Take good care of your body, your mind and your spirit. Your well-being is your responsibility. You must do everything in your power to ensure that you remain healthy, strong and happy. Eat well, sleep well and get plenty of exercise - not just sometimes, but all the time. Your health is your priority!
Find a group of people who can support you, understand you, and uplift you. Surround yourself with people who are helpful, positive and compassionate. Stay away from toxic or negative people. Your heightened senses make it difficult for you not to absorb their energy.
Learn to accept yourself. All of you. Stop judging, criticizing, blaming yourself or feeling guilty about what makes you unique and different. You have so many skills, talents and abilities that you must find a way to use to serve the good of humanity. You have a responsibility to use your gifts to contribute to the world.
Do not rely on others to give you permission to seek help, to do what you know you need to do or to improve your situation and your life. You are the key to a better future. You have a right to find joy and you deserve to be happy and fulfilled. There isn't something wrong with you - there are many things that are very, very right. Focus on the things you can control and release the need to concern yourself with the rest.
Stop searching outside of yourself for answers. Everything you long for and everything you need, really is there inside of you and has always been. If you have trouble accessing it, hire a coach, mentor or spiritual advisor. If you feel that you need medical or psychological guidance, seek help from a professional. Do what you need to do to find peace and enable yourself to thrive.
Do not be afraid to give your experience a name. There is an unbelievable amount of healing that can begin when you are able to call your experience for what it is. Denying or resisting any part of you that needs attention is likely to do a lot more harm than good, and will usually result in even more pain and inner conflict. Be kind to yourself.
Look back over your life and your upbringing and think about whether or not you could be carrying on a generational pattern. Realizing that you could be living out a family history of mental illness may help you to broaden your perspective and allow you to get some clarity around where these feelings could be coming from.
If you are interested in learning some tools and strategies that could help you change the way that you feel and may help you to overcome any negative generational patterns once and for all, contact me for a complimentary two hour coaching consultation session. There are many ways that Strategic Intervention can help you to feel better, be happier and experience more joy and ease than you ever thought possible. The work has helped me tremendously in my personal and professional life, and having worked with many clients who suffer from mental illness, I am confident it can help you as well.
Let's keep the conversation going. Let's not stop talking about how real of an issue this is for us all. Let's not keep silent and keep struggling internally and alone. Let's be more accepting, more understanding, more open and more compassionate about what other people are struggling with or going through.
This is my story. Everyone who suffers from any form of mental illness has their own. Try to see them, hear them and listen to what they have to say. You never know, someday you could be one of them. Someday, you could be one of us. And you will be glad that you opened your mind and your heart so that you could learn more about something that is human and therefore, possible for you to experience. Thanks for listening.
About the author
Tamara Dodgson is a Certified Strategic Intervention Coach and Life Strategist, trained by Robbins Madanes. She has spent the better part of a half century studying, researching and learning about personal growth and development, self-help, spirituality, leadership, success, achievement and philosophy. She is a writer, philosopher, life coach, mother, fitness enthusiast, nature lover, book fanatic and divine being of infinite possibilities. She is also the proud author of "Designing Your Life - A Guide to Help You Consciously Create Your Future" and has recently released a new educational program called "2017 - Your Year of Transformation." You can connect with her on Facebook at Forward Coaching & Consulting Services, on her website at www.tamaradodgson.com, or via email at email@example.com.