Column: Denial of a mental health challenge not healthy
Salmon Arm Observer - 6/8/2018
It is extremely difficult for many people who live with mental challenges, specifically here mood disorders (recurring depression or bi-polar disorder) to accept they have one.
There are many reasons for this. Facing mental vulnerability leads some people to conclude, "I'm weak. Everyone else can handle all their personal problems. So can I."
None of these statements is true, but they may be deeply held.
Not accepting the illness is the biggest barrier to healing from episodes of a mood disorder. This is called denial. While in denial, a person may say, "I'm not depressed; I'm just feeling a bit down right now. I'll get over it soon."
He or she then gets stuck in the blackness of ongoing hardship.
It is natural and understandable that a person who lives with a mood disorder becomes angry when they realize that their mental problem repeats.
He may ask, "Why me?"
She may exclaim, "It's not fair."
Indeed, a mental disorder is not fair. Many things in life are not fair, but anger about it does not contribute to an as-healthy-as-possible life.
Realizing one has a problem does not imply that one will accept it as a reality. Realizing is the first step. Acceptance is the next one.
Anger about anything in life often masks fear. Those who live with a mood disorder may find themselves asking, fearfully, "What if this episode never ends?"
"What if I go crazy?" Or conclude, "My spouse may not believe me."
"My friends will dessert me."
When fears are not acknowledged, they prosper and grow dangerously within.
Pride is another major obstacle to acceptance. Men, especially, often find it difficult to let go of pride in this area because of society's expectations and their own upbringing. Interestingly, our depression support group is comprised of about one third males.
False hope sometimes prevents one from true acceptance of his or her problem. He may say, "If I accept that I have a disorder, then I have to assume I'll have another episode, and I don't want to do that. So, I've decided I've finished with episodes forever."
This hope is understandable, however, for most this hope does not deliver what is hoped for.
Experiencing episodes of mental disorders is painful in many ways: emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. This pain is unavoidable. We feel like diminished human beings. Who wants to accept that?
When an alcoholic goes to AA, they face the fact they can never have a drink of alcohol again in their lives; they can give up drinking. When a person faces that they have recurring episodes of depression, they cannot choose to "give them up." Who wants to accept that?
In order to accept a mental disorder, we must be willing to be humbled. Humility of often a tough pill to swallow. But the good news is that if we do swallow this pill, we are then freeing ourselves up to deal with our struggles by seeking help and support from our families, friends and our community's medical and mental resources.
Accepting one's mental health issue requires taking risks, which to some people is overwhelming, and seemingly impossible. But it isn't impossible! Growth of any sort requires risk-taking. In this instance, she may risk losing a friendship due to lack of compassion on a friend's part; he may find out he has to revise some dearly held goals for his career; she discovers that her life may is going to be bumpier for herself than others.
We know that taking these risks doesn't guarantee the result of an easier life. But taking appropriate risks does result in our being more aware of the possible response of others to us, and being able to make better decisions for ourselves in the short- and long-term. This necessary risk-taking leads to acceptance, which then leads one to be able to manage their mental challenge well.
Finally, and importantly, our friends and family may accept our disorder on our behalf, but unless we accept it, nothing will change.
May those of us who live with mental challenges be honest and kind to ourselves and others by accepting our truths, so we can move through our personal healing in the best way possible. Now, there is something we can all accept!
-Nan Dickie is the facilitator of a peer-led depression support group in Salmon Arm. Meetings are held the first and third Mondays at Askews Uptown community room at noon. Everyone, including supporters, welcome. Info: firstname.lastname@example.org; 250 832-3733.