Day 283 of 366: Blog Challenge 2012

Hello all

Today is World Mental Health Day: a time for us to be aware of mental illness in the community.We are asked to celebrate it by being silent. Yes, I did say: SILENT.  I have always believed that good mental health is about finding your voice, speaking out or taking action if necessary … for your own well-being. But staying silent?

We’re being asked to “Zip-it” and stay silent to ‘TURN UP THE VOLUME on the issue of mental health. When you put it like this, one sees things differently, but I’m still not sure about it. The Zip It website issues a challenge for us today to Zip It for 24 hours.

“Donate your voice and be silent for an entire day to help turn up the volume on mental health issues in Australia and raise vital funds for 4 key mental health organisations: Black Dog Institute, headspace, Lifeline and Suicide Prevention Australia.”

Even though I cannot warm to the idea, the Zip It website does suggest something interesting: namely that many of us will experience a mental health issue at some stage of our lives. This is not hard to believe. I do know that some short-term depressions lift for instance, when a problem in our lives is dealt with. This has certainly happened to me at various times.

And I would not hesitate to call my depression “a mental health issue” either. Of course, there are other insidious mental health issues, including deep depression, that can be very debilitating and I am not talking about this darker problem. Also, I have spent a lot of my working life dealing with people with serious mental health issues and I know conditions such as schizophrenia are very hard to treat, but I’m not talking about this one either.

No intentions of Zipping It!

In fact, I want to talk about the not quite so serious mental health issue which I think a lot of ‘US’ suffer with on an ongoing basis. It is the milder form of depression which I will call: “the functioning depressive illness.”

In fact, I am not going to Zip It at all today. No, I am going to SPEAK OUT!  About this functioning depression I mean …

You know, the one where we may go to the Doctor who prescribes anti-depressants and we feel better and so we go on working and living our lives as normal but very few know about this ‘mental issue’ of ours. Those of us who suffer keep it to ourselves! I have done this in my life.

I have to confess at this stage, that I come from a family of chronic worriers/depressives on my mother’s side. My grandmother particularly, suffered very badly with depression and my mother was also prone to it. Neither were treated for depression but it is obvious to me now, as an adult, that they were depressed.

And so, we become like those we have observed all our lives. Therefore it was very hard for me to walk free of this particular form of depression that seemed to hang over the whole family like a cloud. I have vivid memories of my Lebanese grandmother (who became bedridden around 75 yrs old from a stroke) sitting either in bed or beside the bed in her bed clothes, saying things in her broken English like: “Oh darlink, life is a-hard, I wish God would justa takea me.”

I mean what do you say to an old lady, when you are only 16 years old and she says this kind of thing? As I grew older, I discovered that the problem was the “victim mentality” that all the women of my Lebanese family seemed to have. I found that I didn’t have to ‘obey’ this unspoken rule of how one behaved in the family in order to be considered acceptable.

My grandmother had a walking frame bigger than this and only walked around the room with it, nowhere else.

I learned that the anti-dote to this victim mentality was ACTION: to take on challenges and do the things that were necessary to take me out of this mentality. For example, my grandmother refused to come to the dining table to eat and had to be served meals in bed.

This compounded her depression because no one wanted to go into her darkened room and chat to her. In order to feel good, she would need to be interacting with the family … and she never did. She died 20 years later still in bed but in a nursing home by this time.

Friends, it is true that I have spent my whole adult life working toward better mental health because of this depression in my family. The book that helped me the most would have to be: The Road Less Travelled” by the American psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck, first published in 1978

This was a very well known book thirty years ago for those involved in self-recovery. At first, I struggled through the book and it’s terminology but eventually came to know every chapter really well. It opens with these famous words:

“Life is difficult.

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult and we truly understand and accept it, then life is no longer difficult.”

Folks, this is indeed a great truth and it is so important that I want to talk more about it later. It is still Mental Health Week until Saturday. This acceptance of life being difficult and learning to get on with it changed my thinking entirely and I will tell you how it did that …  tomorrow. It will be SPEAKING OUT, Part 2.

I am off to the beach for 10 days with Geoff then, but I will still be here – on my blog – to continue this theme. I cannot wait to tell you more.

Until then …