What do Kate Spade, Robin Williams and Marilyn Monroe have in common with little old invisible me? Quite a lot to be honest.
You see, most people don’t know this about me. I guess you could say that after my mental illness kicked in I closed myself off. Off to my family, my friends, my world. I was smothering in shame.
Shame. That would be the key element here. I honestly believe its even more key than the fact that we all suffer(ed) from mental illness. Fortunately, by the grace of God and my own mother, I’m still here today.
When you hear of someone committing suicide do you say ‘what a shame’ or ‘that’s a shame’? Or even worse. Do you say that it is ‘selfish’ for them to take their life or ‘the easy way out’? Do you say ‘that is so shameful to leave a child behind like that’?
Please reconsider your thinking next time. Because so many people are listening to your words. Your feelings. The scary part is that you might be raising little people. Or even big people. I can assure you though, those people hear what you are saying. If God forbid they go into a dark depression tunnel one day—they will feel the darkest of shame because they know how YOU feel about mental illness. They love you. They value your feelings. They want to make you proud.
To hear a loved one shame someone with mental illness it really only makes mental illness that much worse.
Oftentimes when we don’t understand we shift to blame. And blame leads to anger and shame. I know. Trust me I know. I lived it. For the past ten years I lived it. And I will continue to live it until the day I die.
I have a disease. One that my brain has complete control over. It has led me down paths of destruction and despair. Devastation and even near death. Dark, right? Very much so. So dark that for so many others like me there is only one way out. There is only one way they can stop all the pain and disappointment. Only one way to not feel shame for the misery they believe they caused their loved ones.
My disease has probably been with me my entire life and I just didn’t know it. My disease was opened up like a Kate Spade bag and put out there for the world to see when I brought a human into the world.
My disease? The technical psychological terminology doesn’t matter. That would just be slapping a label on it, wouldn’t it? My disease is not a label. I don’t walk around with “crazy” stamped on my forehead. My disease is just that. A disease. Just like cancer and diabetes. Both diseases that if not properly addressed and treated could very well kill you. Same with my disease.
When I became a mother something wild happened to the chemicals my body created. Hormones that was thought as typical postpartum blues were so much more than that. I fought it. I fought it so hard.
I had family who told me I was selfish for feeling the way I felt. We just moved to Philadelphia and the day I returned from maternity leave my on-air position was terminated. Here I was. This new mom in a new town with not one person who cared about me near. My husband cared but he had to take care of his family. He had to work hard to keep us afloat. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the time to understand my illness and encourage me to really get help for it.
At least until it was too late.
His family had destroyed my self-worth with their infliction of shame. And my family did almost the same. My parents were the only ones who were there for me. My mom and dad were the only ones who jumped on an airplane (they had not flown but a couple times in their lives at that point) and put their flying fears aside because their fear of losing their daughter was more important to them.
I can assure you, if my mother and father didn’t believe in me, lean in to hear my pain, take the time to look into my eyes and see my heart, I would not be here today to tell you about it. I’d be where Marilyn Monroe, Kate Spade, and countless other people in the world have gone.
Often times we say ‘they seemed so happy’ or ‘why would they do that? they had a great life’? Well…maybe it happened because of the high expectations about that great life that people around them told them they should love. Or even worse, that they didn’t deserve to love.
Mental illness is complicated. It’s not an excuse for bad behavior. It’s also not a character default.
Mental illness could be helped tremendously if we all just leaned in and listened. And when the time is right giving our aching loved ones the strength they need and deserve to carry on.
Please help me help you and the ones you love. Your loved ones may not be a big fashion designer or a big celebrity. But they deserve love and understanding too. What’s the alternative?
Just lean in. Listen. Ask questions. And above all know that you can’t save someone from themselves. However, you can save someone from shame by sharing your love.
Tough love doesn’t count. Only real love wins.