Anxiety, depression, dark thoughts and paralyzing emotions – it can be very difficult facing mental health issues.
Mental health has been one of the largest areas of medical research in recent years, and rightly so. There seems to be an ever increasing amount of us who either have had some sort of mental health issue at some point, currently struggle with one, or know someone close to us who is. According to the Black Dog Institute, one in five Australians experience some sort of issue during a year.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely you too have been affected by these issues in some way. Perhaps you are going through an issue yourself, or perhaps you have someone close to you in that boat, and you’re not sure what to do.
For me, I’ve found myself on both sides of the fence. Last year, I went through a massive bout of panic attacks (which you can read about here) that affected my health in more ways than one. While they’re not a regular part of my life anymore, I’ve discovered very recently I still need to be careful of the memories I revisit, and how I think about certain events in my life. I’ve also had some very intimate dealings with things like depression, suicidal thoughts and acts of violence in different people in my life.
So this isn’t going to be a page of medical advice or a replacement for professional help. This is just a guy who’s had a lot to do with issues that have destroyed so many lives, and how I’ve negotiated my own challenges – both as the sufferer and as someone who loves people going through dark times. Here are my encouragements to you if you’re facing mental health issues.
You’re not alone
People who have faced depression before will tell you it’s like walking around with a big cloud around your brain. It has also been compared to being in a bubble that you can’t see past. As a result, people suffering with it feel like they’re completely cut off to the outside world, that no light is coming in to the darkness. Other issues can be similar in how they make the sufferer feel isolated. Even more than that, the people who are trying to support them can feel alone in that they don’t know how to help this person they care about.
You are never alone.
One of the big lies of any mental health issue is that no one cares. And while it does feel intensely like no one cares, you are cared for. You are valuable. You really do matter. Might not mean much to you now, but I think it’s an important thing to come back to.
You aren’t the only one
Another lie of mental illness is that you’re the only one going through what you’re going through. Who could possibly understand what you’re going through? People don’t know what you’ve been through, or what you’re facing now – or so it seems.
The truth is though, you’re among friends. And many of us have gone through similar experiences to each other. A lot of people know what it’s like to go to bed and not want to wake up again. A lot of people know what it is to have an anxiety that prevents you from doing anything else but lie there. A lot of people know what it is to have family members and close friends that they don’t know how to please.
There was a prophet once named Elijah who cried out that he was the only one fighting on the side of good, the only one who was staying committed, and his loneliness was crippling. He was shocked to find out there were actually 7000 other people like him. This understanding went a long way to helping him recover.
You aren’t the only one. Others have been there too. Others are there with you.
Getting help isn’t a weakness
When I first started having my bouts with stress-related anxiety, one of the first things I needed to do was ask for help. I’m so glad I did – I ended up seeing a great counsellor who ended up helping me work through the bigger issues of why my body was reacting the way it was to the stress in my life at the time. In my case, several weeks with him was enough to get me back in track. For many others I know, it takes a lot longer than that, and for some it’s a quicker process.
There are many factors that come into play when it comes to mental illness. Traumatic experiences, chemical imbalances, repressed feelings – many of which our bodies react to by shutting down or shutting others out.
Definitely if you encounter any sort of issue that’s persisting for a longer period of time, it’s worth seeking out that advice. Finding a good psychologist if you need one. Engaging the support of the people in your life. You may need a form of medication to help rebalance, the same as you would need to correct any other illness you may suffer.
As a Christian, I know many people of faith who really struggle with this a lot. Having gone to deliverance meetings or seeking similar miracles at a service, many people of faith are then frustrated and distraught when the problem comes back a few days later. If you’re in that boat, remember you are “transformed by the renewing of your mind”, and renewing the mind can take a lengthy period of time.
All of us need help at one point or another. It’s not a weakness. To win a sports game, it takes a team. To build a building, it takes a large array of contractors and the involvement of multiple companies. To get through study, it takes lecturers, tutors, research staff and your own effort. And no one ever feels bad for relying on a team to get them through things like that.
So why would our mental health be any different? Getting help isn’t a weakness – it’s a necessity to winning over the darkness.
Avoid the blame game
When I was having my panic attacks, one of the first pieces of advice that my counsellor gave me was not to get angry at myself while they were happening, but to just let them happen and to ride them out. He was right. The times where I would start hammering myself and blaming myself were much bigger episodes. Hitting myself with blame was only making things worse.
Maybe it was through no fault of your own that you’re facing the challenges you’re facing now. Or maybe it was. Either way, blaming yourself is never a healthy way to process a mental health issue.
There’s a time and place for everything. While you’re in the middle of a dark cloud, it’s definitely not a place to start blaming yourself for being human.
It’s a more healthy thing to focus on what is it within yourself that’s making you react to the situation like this. If there isn’t an answer, or if the answer is chemical, or if you haven’t worked it out yet, relax.
And if you’re trying to support someone else who’s facing a mental illness and you find yourself unable to lift their spirits, stop blaming yourself. The situation is bigger than you, and it’s not your fault or responsibility to instantly make things better.
Your decision makes the biggest difference
I’ve been able to see so many people come through the other side of mental illness. Isn’t that awesome? If you’re in it, there is another side.
Every single person who’s ever come through an issue successfully has always said, “I had just decided to deal with it, and I was able to get through it”. As much as everyone else can help you when you’re in that dark place, it’s that decision that comes from within yourself that makes the biggest difference. The decision to press on, to get the help you need, to face the things that may be leaving you feeling trapped.
If you’re on the outside looking in, keep that in mind too. It has to be their decision. You can’t make it for them.
Now I’m not saying that it’s your decision to be depressed. But it is within all of us to decide how we’re going to respond. We can let it take over the rest of our lives, or we can decide to start moving towards wholeness.
These are some things I’ve found helpful to myself in my own experiences with mental illness. Once again, this is no replacement for professional advice, just intended as an encouragement to those going through a hard time, and for the people around them.
The dark times in our lives are guaranteed, but I’m so grateful that the sunrise of the morning is also guaranteed. It doesn’t last forever.
And one day you’ll be able to look back on this time in your life and realize how much stronger you’ve become. And that will be a happy day indeed. But until that day, take it as it comes, celebrate the wins, and keep moving toward those brighter days.