Monthly Archives: May 2015

There’s No Shame in Being Sick

There’s no shame in being sick. Last fall I spent what was suppose to be my first day in a new job at home in bed. I took a photo to mark the occasion. You can see for yourself that I look as awful on the outside as I felt on the inside. 

Like you, I like to look my best when posting selfies on social media, but often it’s only part of the story. I’m practicing what it feels like to take off the mask and show the real me. Sometimes it’s not pretty.

On my first day of work, instead of going to the office to meet my new colleagues, I was stuck at home with a high fever. I felt frustrated that my body failed me on a very important a day. I felt helpless because the fever has to run its course. I felt useless because I couldn’t even care for my five year old son. 

But I didn’t feel shame for having a fever. There’s no shame in being sick. Why is mental illness viewed differently, often with moral judgement attached?

Mental illness is more common than fevers and colds. Since mental illness can be an “invisible” disability, we don’t often look sick when we have it. But inside we don’t feel well.

Mental illness is something that happens to our bodies. Sometimes we can’t get out of bed. Mental illness is a physical illness that impacts our bodies. 

If there’s no shame in being sick, then why do we feel shame when we are sick with a mental illness? 

Compassion. That’s the feeling that we most need…for ourselves and for others.

Our bodies need care when we are fighting illness. Let’s break the silence and erase the stigma of mental illness. 

There is no shame in being sick. 

 

A Mental Health Sunday Prayer

Bless the ones who hear, see and experience the world differently.

Bless the ones who defy labels and don’t fit into boxes.

Bless the ones who wait for an expert’s diagnosis and treatment plan.

Bless the ones who take a mental health day and don’t go into work.

Bless the ones who break the silence about mental illness.

Bless the ones who feel crazy, weird or eccentric.

Bless the ones who feel isolated, ashamed and afraid.

Bless the ones who hold the safety nets.

Bless the shadows that move through our lives.

Bless the day and bless the night. Amen.

C is for Cure

Mental illness looks different on each person. What I do know is that chronic mental illness sucks. Mental health educators are right to emphasize that treatment and recovery are possible. 

Yes. However, some people are like my brother and seem to be resistant to many forms of treatment. His most recent treatment of electroconvulsive therapy did not help because he was one of the unfortunate 20 percent that receive no benefit from it. But he gave it a try because chronic mental Illness feels like torture. 

Today there is no cure for severe mental illness. And we don’t hear a lot of talk about seeking a cure, nothing near the international campaigns to end cancer or fight HIV/AIDS. Why is mental illness the ugly step child? Have we given up hope that brain diseases are curable? 

There’s such complexity among the various types of mental illness that we really cannot get very far addressing the topic generally. That’s why stories matter. Individual experiences of mood and brain disorders teach us. We can learn from the young woman who is dealing with an eating disorder and we can learn from my brother’s chronic severe depression.

Last night while dining with my husband, I saw a person who looked just like my brother. I squinted my eyes, watching him walk down the sidewalk alone, putting on a navy blue jacket over a grey t-shirt. He was smoking a stubby cigarette in the drizzling rain.

For a moment I imagined jumping up and inviting him to join us for dinner. I restrained myself for two reasons: one, my husband would think I was crazy and two, the stranger in the navy blue jacket would think I was crazy. Within a couple of minutes the man was gone. And my husband said, “Hey, didn’t that guy look like your brother?”

My brother is more than a person with a chronic severe brain disease. He’s a great, smart guy who loves to ride motorcycles, eat Mexican food, walk on beach with his mom, go to the movies, and attend church with his family. He’s a fun-loving uncle and loyal big brother. And I often see him, though now I live far from him.

I see him looking up from the lonely pit.

I see him walking down the street in the rain.

I see him riding his motorcycle down a sun splashed road.

I see him cured and set free.