1 Down, 30 To Go…

Day 1 of #MentalHealthMonth…

Those would have been my words to the social media world today with great hope they might catch someone’s attention. With hope another Warr;or might read them and know there’s someone else who does understand. With hope someone, who thinks we are soft, weak and just “need to get over it”, would see those of us who claw our way through 5 seconds at a time, just a bit differently or at least with less contempt. With hope family or friends, who couldn’t save someone they love from a war their own brain waged against them, might find peace or understanding or self-forgiveness in the words of someone who is somehow still managing to enter the battlefield each day.

Not this year. Self preservation won about a week ago. Not sure how I feel about that but here we are all the same.

As the days of stay at home orders have turned into weeks, now approaching months, my days normally filled with meetings, projects and volunteering aren’t quite so full anymore. It’s given me entirely too much time to think and scroll social media and news websites; I’m fairly certain I’m not alone in passing the time in such a way. Maybe it’s only in my “way too much time on my hands” existence, but the more I read about COVID and the more talking heads make it all more confusing, it’s hit me that coronavirus and mental illness are oddly similar. They are both widely misunderstood and come with a slew of health professionals who approach each from different angles. There is no lack of politicians willing to use both for political gain. People who’ve struggled, and the family and friends who’ve watched it happen, have first-hand perspective of what epidemics can and are doing. The most difficult? The general public who all have opinions and “data” they’re happy to share and use to destroy anyone who doesn’t agree with them. It’s ironic a disease with as much controversy and misunderstanding surrounding it as COVID does would act as the catalyst to drive me from the very platforms I typically use during this month to raise awareness for a group of illnesses that often carry their fair share of controversy and misunderstanding.

Too much time. Way too much time. To say I became addicted to the train wreck of information and opinions about a pandemic none of us saw coming is an unreal understatement. I was constantly fighting the urge to argue or correct people’s thinking or even share my own story and shrunk back in fear. It totally tortured my soul. I knew it was awful for me. I sobbed and sobbed over the words of people I didn’t know, who were clearly ill informed and inhuman in some cases, who clearly lacked compassion. But it was like a train wreck – I could not limit my full immersion and I certainly couldn’t look away.

The ugliness and division of COVID was already difficult to navigate. Who and what to believe. Which doctors and leaders were telling the truth. Which politician was using this for their own personal gain or to simply destroy their opponents. The “Open it all up – it only really kills old people and if you are that afraid you can just stay home!” vs the “Keep it all closed – some people are just going to have to suffer so we can save the world!” was exhausting. I am guessing my fellow empaths can relate to struggling with “Why can’t we want to help those struggling financially AND save old people (and others)?”

The real breaking point for me has been the sudden “interest” in mental illness. A growing number of people have been using the risk of isolation, addiction, suicide rates, inablity to get treatment, depression, anxiety and more as reasons to throw the doors to the country wide open. It’s not that those things are untrue; people are most certainly dealing with varying levels of all of that, and more. Interestingly, when people do openly share any of that as it relates to the world reopening, they’re branded snowflakes and worse, by some of the same people using mental illness as their “End stay at home!” cornerstone. The moment mental illness became the battlecry of people who don’t quite seem to grasp the true hell that is mental illness, I knew my mission this year needed a Plan B.

So, in a run up to the short window I use to twist myself into a pretzel in an attempt to save the world from its ignorance over a string of illnesses all too willing to kill more than 47,000 Americans this year, I walked away from social media. It’s the best and easiest way to reach people during such an important month and I walked away. Guilt over self-care is getting a little lighter each day. May, and October, suicide prevention month, have a power over me I’ve been really unsuccessful at beating. The empath in me catapults herself into a frenzy of feeling the need to save the world and educate anyone and everyone, whether they are willing or not. No social media and at the end of Day 1, I haven’t yet ripped my hair out but have managed to stress eat in ways I’m not really proud of.

It’s a lot for me. It’s a lot for everyone. As someone trying to keep an illness that often makes me think I am totally alone and that nothing will ever get better while having a desire to escape at a time when trapped is very much the word of the day, it feels like more than a lot. I have two great hopes for this month: 1) I can still make some sort of impact and raise some sort of awareness through this blog, posted to social media channels but without twisting myself into a pretzel posting every single day. 2) The people who have nodded toward mental illness as a reason to reopen the world will learn something about the illnesses they’ve spoken so strongly of and that those same people will care about mental illness long after this is all over.

It will be the first time in a long time I have chosen me ahead of my cause. It won’t be an easy 31 days but I’ve made it through Day 1. Just 30 more to go.

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