Did you know May is Mental Health Month? I had no idea. But May is also a bunch of other things such as Asparagus Month (something I won’t be celebrating, I’m not a fan of asparagus), Egg Month (over easy please!), and a slew of other random celebrations. But we’ll keep the discussion to mental health today.
Since May is Mental Health Month, I thought it would a great time to discuss the importance of becoming more aware and knowledgeable of mental illness and to recognize that there are millions of people who struggle with mental illness daily.
I often feel as though mental illness is such an unspoken topic because we don’t know enough about it or what exactly causes it. When we don’t know much about something we tend to turn the other way and pretend it doesn’t exist, when really, it’s happening all around us.
Close To Home
Mental illness hits home for me because my older brother is mentally ill. He was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder last year after years of my family and I trying to get him help. Eventually the state had to step in and my brother was actually admitted to a psychiatric ward and evaluated.
Often times people with mental illness have no idea they are sick, which was my brother’s case. To be honest, I still don’t know if he knows he’s ill because he lives in a different reality than most of us do.
Knowledge is Power
I didn’t give mental illness much thought until I was faced with it. I didn’t see illness like Bipolar Disorder, Depression, and Anxiety Disorder as severe illnesses because I didn’t know much about them. I figured we all had mood changes from time to time or we all get anxious in life.
But the reality is that some people are truly debilitated by mental illness. There are levels of severity, like any illness, and some people will struggle all of their lives managing it through therapy, medication, and support from others. My brother is one of those people. He is unable to live on his own and function without the help of my parents. He can not work at the moment due to the severity of his illness.
Is it Real?
When people ask me how my brother is doing that knew him from high school or college, it’s really hard to explain. It’s not easy saying, “my brother is losing his mind” or “He’s mentally ill”.
To be quite honest, it would be easier to explain if he had a physical illness, such as cancer, than to say he has a mental illness. The stigma and lack of understanding is brutal.
Some people simply do not believe in mental illness. There are even some in our own family who don’t believe he is really ill. But they don’t see him day to day or even live in the same state, so how can they make such a statement? It’s easy to say something isn’t real when you don’t see it or experience it yourself. It’s called ignorance.
Is it real? Yes. Seeing my brother live the way he does makes it certain in my mind that mental illness is real and it can be life altering. One day my brother was “normal” and living a “normal” life. He had friends, a girlfriend, and a college degree.
But slowly he started to lose who he was and he was slipping away. One day I had my brother and the next he was literally gone. Sure, he’s here physically, but his personality is almost demolished and buried in his own mind.
His days were once filled with with the daily joys of life, such as family get togethers, dates with girls, and hopes for the future. Instead, those days are filled with endless hours of staring at a blank TV screen, laughing to himself, and not speaking at all to the ones he loves. He no longer travels and spends holidays with family. He no longer talks about the future and he no longer experiences those every day joys that we all take for granted.
The one “normal” thing I see him do is run. He runs and I pray to God that it gives him peace of mind, as I know his mind seems to be his worst enemy at the moment.
It’s a sad reality to know that I may never see my brother have a “real” job or get married and have children. I don’t get to have weekly phone conversations with my own sibling or bring him over to meet Andy’s family (he avoids most social situations). It’s a new reality that I’ve had to accept. Things will never be “normal” in our family again.
In honor of Mental Health Month and the millions of people and family members who deal with it closely in their lives, let’s take some time to educate ourselves and become more compassionate about this unspoken topic. Let’s not turn our back to those in need. Let’s not avoid this topic as if it doesn’t exist.
Walk to Help
I found this site and organization where you can participate in a walk to help raise money for mental illness. Is there one in your area? I found one for Cleveland in September, which I will plan to do!
I’ve just recently begun talking about my brother’s condition openly and it has not been easy to do. For a long time I avoided the reality that was around me. When I go home to Cincinnati for the weekend I am hit head on with the life that my parents lead taking care of my brother. I always leave sad and heartbroken seeing him the way he is and seeing my parents stress. You can literally see the heart ache on their faces. This was not how they dreamed their son’s life would be.
On the positive side, the more I talk about mental illness and learn about his disorder, the more empowered I become and the more determined I get to fight for this cause. There is no cure for mental illness and we don’t know nearly as much as we should about it. With speaking openly about it I at least hope to encourage others to learn about it themselves and to be more comfortable with the topic of mental illness.
Instead of worrying about your body and fitting into size 2 jeans today, take some time to think about your mental health. Give thanks that you are mentally healthy and appreciate your mind and have some compassion towards others that struggle with mental illness.