Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Let's Talk

Let's talk mental illness.

It's been on my mind a lot lately. Yesterday I found out a former friend & hockey teammate chose to end her 15 year battle with bipolar disorder. She was made of all the ingredients you would find in a recipe for success. Brilliant, kind, hard-working (the hardest of the working kind), determined, perfectionist. She was selfless & treated everyone with the utmost respect & had a great sense of humour.  But, despite her nature, she spent most of her adulthood fighting the demons of her illness. The last email I received from her gave me the impression she was on the road to recovery, she sounded hopeful & talked about the future. But only a couple months later the battle became too much & she took a more tragic exit.

Less than a month ago, my husband lost a friend & co-worker to depression & PTSD. Also an outstanding human being, father, husband, friend, frontline worker -  all around an exceptional person. It came as a shock to us, I recall double checking to make sure I heard his name right. He was one of the most upbeat people we knew & the last person we expected this to happen to. And so, we were overcome with the realization that it can happen to anyone, that it really is a disease.

These battles lost have hit home hard. Some of you know to some extent that mental illness has directly affected me & my family. My sister has spent her entire adulthood struggling with schitzoeffective disorder: a combination of schizophrenia & bipolar disorders. In order to cope best she has created distance between herself & our family.  We miss her greatly. We worry about her constantly. We stand by & are there for her when she needs us.

We don't talk much about it. We often avoid the subject. The restraint we hold with a hesitation has the power to bring a conversation to a dead silence.

So let's talk. Let's help to alleviate the stigma. But is it that simple? I've spent the last couple weeks trying to better understand why mental health is so hard to talk about. Digging deep, I have found some of the sources of my hesitations in sharing my sister's story.

Dignity. There's a fine line between dignity & exposure. How do I keep her dignity in tact while sharing her story? Can I get the message across without people getting the wrong idea?

Is it my story to tell? Would she be ok with it? I know she is embarrassed & has cut ties from her past, do I dare attempt to bridge these ties?

How do I paint a complete picture? I can only tell her story from my perspective. So do I tell my story? Is it fair to tell how I have been affected by this when I am not the main victim here?

The subject is a scary one. The reality of it is too personal. We are afraid to admit it is real. Of the possibility that it could overcome us too. So we hesitate to bring it to the surface. To face our own demons.

There's a general sense of mourning that overcomes those of us that love her, when her name comes up in conversation. There is a part of my sister that we have lost. These are emotions easier kept inside.

So, from the perspective of someone with a loved one who suffers from mental illness, I have some questions... How can we talk about mental illness in a light that keeps the dignity of those affected in tact? How do we respect the wishes of those that suffer while bringing the issue into the spotlight. How do we educate the world about mental illness in the most efficient & effective way? How do we encourage those suffering to speak up about their experiences knowing there is a good chance of public shaming involved.

What do you think? Let's talk.

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