Fight or Flight? I Choose Fight.

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This is not the first time I've written about my depression and anxiety (here and here). Nor will it be the last. Nor am I the only writer struggling with mental illness(es). And yet... there is still a stigma. There are still hushed whispers and a sense of shame surrounding the topic. Even though 5% of the world is estimated to suffer from depression (that's 350 Million people...) we, as a society, refuse to talk about it. Refuse to address it for what it is: a problem

See, mental illness, in whatever form it takes, is uncomfortable. And by nature, our fight or flight response usually tells us to "run" from uncomfortableness rather than to fight it. But if we don't start fighting... individually and collectively... we are going to lose the battle against mental illness. We will self-destruct and destroy what we've built by remaining static and unchanging. 

That's why I'm writing this post. That's why Emerald O'Brien and I started our mental health initiative. Because yeah, we're just two people. But we're two people who are fighting. And that's how change begins. When you decide to fight instead of take flight. 

And fighting with someone in your support system, someone who not only understands your suffering, but wants to help, is an extremely powerful thing. To me, I believe it's one of the most crucial parts of healing and re-healing every single day as a mental illness sufferer.

Mental illness is a daily struggle for those of us who suffer from it. But it doesn't mean that we always display obvious signs. It doesn't mean that we let it take over our lives all of the time. To most people, I am a very well adjusted, fairly happy person. But they don't see the struggles I have behind closed doors. They don't see the nights I'm up until 3am during a thought spiral. They don't see my shaky hands as I grip the wheel when I know I have to drive somewhere. They don't see or hear from me on the days where I can barely get myself out of bed, let alone do something productive. Most of all, people don't see the nasty, self-destructive and utterly debilitating thoughts that invade my brain. Because I don't show that to them. I don't show it to anyone. But as my mom says, "everyone has a cross to bear." 

I think this is the reason why it's so shocking when a celebrity commits suicide (whether that is literally taking their own life or utilizing another method to do it). It's not all that surprising to mental illness sufferers, but it IS surprising to those who have no idea what we're going through. I hear people say, "But why? He seemed so {insert positive adjective}." And yes, maybe he/she did seem like that... but just as I explained above, people with mental illness learn to hide that part of themselves from others. We suffer alone, most of the time. 

And that's the problem. If those with a mental illness felt comfortable opening up about their struggles, perhaps they wouldn't have to suffer alone. Maybe they would be able to ask for the help they need. And perhaps, others who are equipped to help would do so without making those who suffer feel ashamed. How do we get there, though?

By talking about it. By fighting against the stigma. By demanding better treatment of the mentally ill. By educating those who have no idea what it means to be mentally ill. 

If we could all accept that mental illness—untreated—is a problem, then we can begin to move toward a place of change. 

One of the hardest things I've done in my life is come to accept that I have a mental illness. That I will most likely always have it. But that it doesn't define who I am. I am NOT my mental illness. But part of acceptance means understanding that my mental illness is a part of me. And when I treat that part of me with the respect and honesty it deserves, I'm ultimately doing myself and others a favor. 

I've wanted to write a story that deals with mental illness for a long time. But my struggle has always been that mental illness is not exactly entertaining. It's not fun. It's not glamorous and it's really not exciting. So how do you tell a story with a topic that goes against everything you've learned to incorpoate in your novels?

The answer is simple: Tell the truth. 

Because the truth is enlightening. It's powerful. Which is why the next novel I'm writing is about mental illness in all it's not-exciting, not-sexy, uncomfortable glory. Because I deserve a novel that depicts my reality. You deserve it, too. 

You know what else we all deserve? To know that there's hope for those with a mental illness. This book isn't going to be sunshine and rainbows, but I want my readers to know that in reality, if you can accept your mental illness... you can learn to deal with it. It may never go away, but there will always be a "better day." And yes, there will still be shitty, terrible days. But that's the point... that you become strong enough to endure/tolerate the shitty days so the better days are that much better. And I hope that by depicting characters in a world that is tied so closely to reality, that readers who do not suffer from mental illness will see a side they haven't seen before. That they will understand our struggles just a little bit more. 

And then I hope that they too will join me in the fight to understand mental illness and how to help those who suffer from it. 

Emerald O’Brien and I have made it super easy to begin that conversation... that fight... a way to help in even a small way.  Purchase a book. Help someone in need