I want to start this post off by prefacing that I am not a licensed social worker/therapist/clinician but can only speak to my own experiences dealing with mental health and working in the human services field. My experiences and my opinions may not apply to you. All this is to say, take the following with a grain of salt and find what works for you.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Kelsey Stewart. I worked with Kees at Windsor Mountain Summer Camp and am currently earning my master’s in social work. I’ve worked in the human services field for about 3 years total. I myself have struggled with mental illness for a long time and hope that you find the following helpful in finding support or supporting your friends and family through what has undoubtedly been a difficult year for us all.
2020 has been hard, let’s just start there and acknowledge that. Many of us have lost jobs, loved ones and a sense of safety. With that, has come an influx of people struggling with their mental health including a huge spike in our community members relapsing after being clean from drugs/alcohol; some of them have been clean for years. The numbers are staggering, and we don’t really see an end to all this soon.
So, what can we do for ourselves and our people to make this a little easier? The first thing I’ll say is that if you yourself are struggling, do not be afraid to acknowledge that and ask for help. There’s this weird stigma around mental illness as if it’s something we can control with willpower. I speak from experience. I always encouraged other people to ask for help, to reach out and start therapy or medication if they felt like they were ready but I myself wasn’t ready to take those steps. I have seen therapists to process the trauma I’ve experienced but at the end of the day I still struggled severely with my depression and anxiety. Finally, in 2018, after a lot of hesitation, I went to my doctor and asked to start an antidepressant. The first few weeks were tough-I experienced nearly all the potential side effects and almost stopped taking them. But after that adjustment period, a veil lifted, and I looked at my husband and said “this is how you feel all the time?”
It had been a good 15 years since I had looked at the world around me the way I do now. This isn’t to say medications should be the first thing you try if you are struggling with mental illness. I had done all the things anyone who is opposed to medications suggested; changed eating habits, exercised, tried to “just not be so sad” (pro tip: don’t say that to someone struggling with mental health). None of these had enough of an effect to feel like I was “normal.” I’ll point out I still struggle some days and that life isn’t perfect simply because of a 20mg pill, but I am a different person than I was a few years ago the difference is notable for my friends and family.
If you’re hesitant to dive right into taking medication, I totally get that and therapy is where it’s at. It is undoubtedly one of the weirdest experiences the first few times. Like yes, let me sit down and tell a stranger my darkest secrets and most traumatic life events and hope they can help. But the beauty of living in 2020 is that therapy is accessible to all of us. You can meet in person, meet over skype or even use an app to talk to a licensed therapist directly. And that, my friends, is pretty flipping incredible. The best part about talking to an unbiased person about your life is that they can give you a fresh perspective about all the things you’ve been replaying in your head all these years which have likely had some impact on how you interact with the world around you. So, they’ll validate your experience and feelings, work with you to process it and help develop healthy coping skills. It takes time and commitment but once you find the right therapist, it’s a game changer.
What if you suspect someone you know/love/care about is struggling? Reach out. I’ve said this so many times but truly a text just saying “Hi, thinking of you. How are you?” could quite literally be a game changer for someone or save their life. In a time where technology makes communication so ridiculously easy and quick, take the few minutes to reach out and check in. In our lowest moments, a reminder that someone cares is such a relief and reminds us we are not alone. Remember, it’s ok for you to not know what to say and that just your presence can be enough, even if it feels miniscule to you.
A wise woman once wrote “While our past and our history shapes who we are and who we become; it DOES NOT DEFINE US. You have the power to define who you are, how you live your life, how much joy you experience and how much love you give and get in return.” This has stuck with me over the years and I hope they help you remember that you control your destiny, you are not defined by your struggles and there is always a light at whatever dark tunnel you’re down. Find the joy, find the love and know it does eventually get better.
2020 has sucked but we will get through this, together.
PS-If you’re looking for resources, I’ll list a few below.
International Suicide Hotlines:
International “Find a Therapist”
How to Help a Friend
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