Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"I don't know what to do, and I need someone to help me."

"I don't know what to do, and I need someone to help me."

Seems like a simple thing to say.  Seems like a very straight-forward, to-the-point declaration, which one should rightfully assume would lead to actions.  Specific verbs, in a specific and logical order, meant to assist the asker.

Attach this sentence to something as abstract as mental illness, and the result is anything but helpful.


These are the things that typically await a mentally ill person, when they finally reach the point that they know they need to ask for help.

I can remember crying, in a ball on the couch, begging my mother to help me.  Telling her very specifically that I was planning to harm myself, and telling her very specifically that if someone didn't step in to help me that I was "going to die..."
She stormed out of the room madder than I had ever seen her.
My loving and wonderful stepfather at the time stood over me and looked at me with disgust.
"You are SUCH a brat.  And a huge burden on your mother."  And he left.
They all left.  And I sat there, desperate, wishing I could consciously force myself to burst into flames, and swallow our whole wretched household in flames.

I wound up in the hospital several months later, after my despair reached such a boiling point that I took a knife to school and threatened a boy.
I'm sorry.  And I'm embarrassed.
After I returned to school, I made amends.  I apologized to the boy, and we smoothed everything over.  We made jokes about it until it sort of faded into the background amid all the pregnancy rumors, the guesses about who was sleeping with whom, and whether or not this teacher or that teacher was gay/alcoholic/perverted...
And things got back to normal for the rest of the world.

Things never got back to normal for me.  I was embarrassed.  I am embarrassed.  And I am sorry. And I'm embarrassed again.
I don't think anyone understands that I never wanted to hurt anyone.  I never wanted to hurt that boy.  When I cut myself so badly that I left myself with scars that I must explain still to this day, I never truly wanted to hurt myself.  Really.

I wanted someone to see.  I wanted someone to notice that things weren't "right" and I wanted someone to reach out their hand in concern.  I wanted someone to help me.

No one did.

Of course, it's my own responsibility.  It's my own battle, and I am a grown up, who should damn well take the steps needed to receive help, if help is indeed what I want.

I know that.

I would venture to guess that most "unstable" people know that.

But tackling that seemingly impossible mountain when you feel utterly deserted by those you love...when you feel so alienated by your weirdness that losing those people is a legitimate fear...

It's enough to take your breath away.

Asking for help, while it seems like such a small thing, is really so frightening that words don't do it justice.

Because saying "I am afraid I will hurt myself," or "I think I might be suicidal," is hard enough in itself, without the added fear that such a disclosure will lead to ridicule.  Or blame.  Or anger.  

Even hinting at such a thing seems to bring out the worst in people.   Even as recently as my last hospitalization nine years ago, terrible comments were made about me, by people very close to me.  "So, is she just fucking losing it, or what?"
This is not sympathy.  This is not helpful.  This is not at all an acceptable way to assist a person in the throes of a mental health episode.  It's damaging.  And it's an enormous, ugly member of the group of reasons that people hesitate to ask for help.

My dad killed himself last year.

That sentence just hangs there, being unpleasant.  Like an old fly strip covered in bugs and dust, that no one's bothered to remove, despite how offensive it's become.
Whether or not he's my "dad" remains an awkward topic for me, because according to DNA, he isn't.  He wasn't.   He never was.  But for the first 8 or 10 years of my life, he was my daddy, and that was fact.  I eventually learned otherwise, but it didn't change my feelings for him.

He chose Father's Day weekend to drive far away from his house, and take his own life.  No one knows why.

There was shock.  There was disbelief.  There was confusion.  Typical emotions that a person would expect to arise out of a situation like this.

And there was this other part of me that wanted to question why he never asked for help...and an even bigger part of me that already knows why.

What if we were belittled and shamed for seeking out chemotherapy for our cancers?
What if we were greeted with anger when we showed up in emergency rooms in need of stitches?
What if we were met with rolling eyes and loud, exasperated sighs when we sought treatment for our broken bones?

Why do we accept it as the norm for people seeking help for mental illness?

Why wasn't my mother able to scoop me up in her arms, kiss my head, and tell me everything would be ok, and that she would do everything she could to help me?

Why wasn't my step father able to reassure me, and promise me they'd stick by my side until I was better?

Why wasn't my dad able to reach out and tell us how he was feeling, and just ask us to help him?

Because there is shame attached to mental illness.
We are conditioned to feel shame about our condition, and our loved ones are conditioned to feel ashamed of us.
We are asked to believe that these problems are weakness of character.  We are asked to believe that we are spoiled, seeking attention, or otherwise just socially inappropriate, and that such things should be swept under the rug and hidden.

So we go about our days, driving to work, folding our laundry, shopping for our groceries, and pretending that everything is fine, so we don't upset the natural order of things.  So we don't make the people around us uncomfortable with all of our icky feelings.

I would give everything I have just to be a "normal" person with "normal" emotions.  I would never choose this for myself, nor would I choose it for anyone I love.  Or even liked a little.  Or anyone at all, for that matter.  I would love to be ordinary and boring and firmly gripped inside a "normal" reality, rather than constantly riding this never-ending roller-coaster of emotions.  I would give everything just to be "right."

And I can't.
No matter how hard I wish.  I just can't.

Being expected to feel such an ugly shame about it, just magnifies the terrible despair that already drags me so deeply down into the pit.  Repair for my broken brain feels like it might be impossible.  And with no support, nowhere to really be accepted for what I am, and being treated as a selfish, broken person, I know it is.

This has to change.  Mentally ill people are everywhere, to varying degrees.  Some of us get sad now and then for no reason.  Some of us go on shooting sprees in elementary schools.  Most of us hover somewhere around the middle of the two extremes.  But we are all hurting.  We are all in need.  And we are never going to heal if things remain unchanged.

I suppose there is no easy answer.  If there is, I don't know what it is.  I just know that it has to change.  We need each other.  We need love, and reassurance.  We need to feel safe.  We need to feel as though we are valuable, and important.  All of us.  Every last soul on the planet.  We need acceptance.  And love.  We need each other.

People's lives are literally depending on it...

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