This is my last blog post honoring Mental Health Awareness Week this past week, October 4-10, 2015. Each day this week, I have posted a “STUCK” blog telling an anonymous story to demonstrate challenges faced by someone else. This person could be someone you love, it could be you or it could be me.

Everyday someone somewhere is struggling and feeling stuck.

If my blogs resonate with you, I’d love to hear your comments. Please share my stories and discuss. No one needs to suffer alone or in silence.

Imagine being diagnosed with a serious illness. Imagine the shock and concern followed immediately by feelings of anger and resentment. Why me??!

Just imagine being given a diagnosis that changes your life. It feels like the world has stopped spinning.

What is this going to mean for me?

Am I going to become dependent for care?

Am I going to be able to work?

How is this going to impact my family?

The list of worried, anxiety- ridden questions goes on. Fear!

Now imagine that you’ve been given a life-changing diagnosis AND you can’t tell anyone. You must fight this thing alone, in silence, all by yourself.

That is exactly what happens to many when they are diagnosed with a mental illness. The diagnosis alone is shocking, and worrisome. But more devastating is the stigma of having a mental illness and feeling weak, fragile and crazy. And feeling like you can tell no one.

Many years ago when I was working in a lab, one of my coworkers was diagnosed a serious crippling arthritis condition. Lynn suffered from debilitating pain in her feet and hands that continued to get worse over the years that we worked together. While we would stand in the lab to do our work, Lynn would have to sit to take the pressure off her feet. She would take frequent breaks from the repetitive work that caused pain in her hands. Over time, Lynn was unable to work in the lab anymore because her hands could not manage the work. But she kept working. Management built her a little office in the corner of the lab. She would order all our supplies, and process our results, all done on the computer. She could do that.

Winter was hard for Lynn to get around. She joked that she needed to move to a warmer climate but she was hiding the pain that the cold weather brought to her hands and feet. It was getting harder for her to get around. On pay days, every 2 weeks another co-worker, Jim would do Lynn’s groceries for her. He would take her van, get her groceries and come back to work. In later years, he would drive the groceries to Lynn’s house, unpack them and drive her van back to work. We all pitched in to do what we could to help Lynn in any small way would could.

I remember one day I was peeling an orange for her on our break and she told me, in her best French accent that she had got the electric chair. I knew that she had applied for a grant to get an electric wheel chair because her hands could not push a regular wheel chair anymore. I explained the difference between electric chair and electric WHEEL chair in English. She laughed so hard, she cried. “Oh geez, I wonder what I have really applied for now!” Lynn was always in the best spirits despite her continuous pain.

Now imagine Lynn didn’t suffer from crippling arthritis but from a mental illness like PTSD, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Do you think she would have told her co-workers?

Do you think management would have allowed flexibility of her work duties to accommodate her? Do you think we, her co-workers, would have helped her like we did?

Do you think Jim would have gotten her groceries every 2 weeks?

Sadly, the answer to these questions is NO.

When the illness is in the body, we are compassionate, loving and helpful in creative respectful ways.

When the illness is in the head, we become judgmental, critical, evasive and disrespectful.

What is the difference between an ill body and an ill mind? There isn’t a difference.

Our brains are an organ in our bodies just like any other. The difference is our brains control our moods, emotions, behaviours. When those behaviours appear out of character or bizarre in nature, we get scared. Fear makes us disapproving and provides us with a rationale for being judgmental.

“That’s not normal”

“He’s out of his mind.”

“She’s not making any sense.”

Normal or regular behaviours are affected because the brain is the part of the body the enables us to be logical and reasonable is sick. If we can remember that this magnificent organ that controls our bodies is sick, then maybe, just maybe, we can draw on some compassion and kindness. It’s important to offer help as we all did with Lynn. It’s important to treat the person as valuable and important to you, just like we did for Lynn. And if you aren’t sure what to do, it’s ok to ask the person what they need. They may be able to answer you but they may not know. That’s ok. Go back to offering to love and support when and if they need it.

Most importantly, advocate for your loved ones if you can. If they cannot advocate for themselves, they need your support. Don’t let the mental health system tell you that you are unwelcome. The only way to change this nonsense is to continue to advocate for our loved ones. It makes no sense to me that I can advocate for my elderly parents in the event they get confused by doctor’s instructions but I cannot advocate for my ill child when she’s recovering from an overdose. It outrages me to think that medical experts expect her to make wise decisions when her brain is ill.

I could go on. I am hoping my daily blogs posted during Mental Health Awareness Week have opened dialog and given pause to reflect. I am passionate about providing support to those coping with mental illness and their families. If I can help one, I will consider my writing a success. As always, I look forward to your comments on my writing.

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