That they might have joy column by Jacki Wood published in the Nodaway News Leader, 12/9/21.
In the summer of 2020, I began watching the “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” video series by former NFL player Emmanuel Acho, where he talked about race with Chip and Joanna Gaines, Matthew McConaughey and others. He developed it into a book which I recommend.
Instead of race, however, today I’d like to talk about another uncomfortable subject – mental health.
I was recently sitting in a small family setting and one person asked about another’s recent mental illness hospitalization. The mood immediately shifted but the person was open with their experience. As the conversation progressed, I noticed one family member was visibly uncomfortable, shifting in their seat, looking out the window and trying to change the subject. I didn’t feel like the conversation had fully developed, though, so I brought it back up and more questions were asked and discussed.
I realized we were truly having an uncomfortable conversation. It felt like some people understood things a bit better and others felt heard and seen.
We’re no strangers to mental health struggles in our extended family with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, addiction and suicide.
The pandemic was especially difficult on my own mental health as I spent much of my time alone and isolated. For 15 months, I only went into public twice (to vote) and my husband worked long hours. Last winter was very dark for me with a depression I had not before experienced.
Then after being fully vaccinated, as I began to slowly reintegrate into society, a new mental struggle developed – anxiety – especially around large groups of people.
Sometimes our struggles can feel like an unending, unrelenting daily battle, like we’re drowning and can’t keep our head above water.
I get that. I’ve been there.
When we’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to remember we’ve been here before and come out on the other side. Which is why conversations like these are important so we can remember and also realize we’re not alone.
Everyone needs help at some point in their lives. Asking for help with your mental health is no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of strength.
I’m a strong, smart, independent and capable woman, and I have struggled with my mental health. I know plenty of other people who have as well.
A conversation like this one needs to be the rule, not the exception. Conversations with family members. Conversations with friends. Conversations in private and conversations in public.
Uncomfortable conversations help us have clarity and compassion.
Sometimes those struggling might not know how to ask for help so it’s important for the rest of us to be aware and reach out.
Here are some signs a loved one might need help: struggling to work, parent or keep up at home; unable to handle stress with normal coping strategies; using drugs or alcohol to cope; risk-taking behaviors; unable to focus; sleep issues; lack of interest in activities that once brought enjoyment; panic attacks; fear of being around others; mistrust of people; sense of guilt and unworthiness; restlessness or agitation; anger or violent outbursts.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text MHA to 741741.
You are not alone and it’s okay to ask for help.