A few months ago I bought a creeping jenny. I potted her and put her in a very well lit spot in my apartment and gave her water and love. For several weeks, maybe even a month or two, she thrived. She looked like this.
Pretty fabulous, right? Then after a while I noticed that her leaves were browning and falling and she was looking worse for wear. I hadn’t changed anything about the way I was caring for her but I saw that she was fading fast. At first I thought she was done for. I considered dumping her and getting a new plant to fill the pot, but then I decided to put her on the balcony for a while and see how she fared outside.
The change didn’t happen overnight. She still looked sad and sickly for the next couple of weeks, but she had strong roots. I went out and cut back her dead leaves and waited. Little by little I noticed new leaves growing and her fullness came back. Now she looks like this.
Kind of like she got a new hairstyle. A little side swept bang. She’s been through it, but she’s still got it.
Dealing with anxiety and depression can be a lot like this. For a good while I can be fine and doing well and then seemingly nothing changes, but I do. I start to feel the ground crumbling and my sure-footedness gives way to a slow slip. Before I know it, I’m completely overwhelmed and feel like a dying plant, desperate for clean air and sunshine.
But the good news is, just like my plant, I have strong roots. I don’t have to start from scratch. Sometimes a change of pace, lots of love, and plenty of patience is all it takes to bring me right back to my healthy self.
May is Mental Health Awareness month. Of all the months and all the issues to be aware of, this is an issue that I feel needs louder voices and if I can be a voice that helps break the shame and stigma, then I want to do my part.
I am a firm believer in saying out loud the things that are plaguing us. If we bottle the sad and bad for too long it becomes toxic waste within us. I’m happy to share my story with anyone who needs to hear it. Maybe my story of dealing with and working through anxiety and depression will empower someone else to speak up, seek help, and not be ashamed.
Fortunately, we live in a time where it is getting easier to talk about these issues instead of whispering about them. But a lot of people, myself included, were raised in an era where we didn’t talk about things like this. For many people, especially in the Hispanic community, it is still like this today. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 16% of Hispanic adults are living with mental illness. However, only 5% of Hispanic males and 9% of Hispanic females are using the services available to help with those issues.
The stigma that surrounds mental illness stems from ignorance and fear. Fear takes residence in our minds and whispers lies that make us think if we go to a doctor, she’ll find something wrong with us and we’ll end up being la vecina loca who talks to herself and sees people that aren’t there. Ignorance catches us in a web and wraps us up in the thread of denial that weaves our people together. “You’re fine. Why do you need to go to the doctor? Drink a Sprite. Take a nap. It will pass.”
Mental health conditions aren’t kidney stones.
Across cultures there is so much unmerited shame tied to seeing a counselor or therapist. But seeking help takes strength. It never means you’re weak. It’s preventative care. Am I currently seeing a therapist? No. Am I actively looking for one? Absolutely. It doesn’t mean I’m sick and it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. It means I want to prevent being sick or having something go wrong if I can. Some of the best things we can do are educate ourselves and seek out the resources and support services in our communities. There is power in having a professional in your corner who can help you work out the things you don’t understand about your brain and your reactions to certain situations.
Being candid and transparent with my life isn’t always easy, but if it helps someone else realize they aren’t alone, then it has served its purpose.
It’s important to note that the common dialogue is often, “If you feel the ground collapsing beneath you, don’t let yourself fall into a pit. Reach out for help. Talk to a professional or someone you trust.” While I fully support that statement, I also understand that certain mental health conditions can leave a person feeling like their mouth has been sewn shut. They can’t reach out for help so we need to reach out to them. If you have a loved one who has become withdrawn or different in a way that is ringing some bells, reach out to them. Let them know they are loved and not alone. Let them know that you care.
I pray that you and your loved ones are well.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
National Alliance on Mental Illness: 800-950-NAMI