Mental Health Day 2016

​Sometimes people ask you how you are and you really have nothing to tell them. I mean what do you say? That they should leave you alone? Not forever but for like a while? A while which could be days, weeks or even months? Would they understand that? Would you understand that? 

What about those times when you feel like five/ten years is too far away? Not in a sense that you’re excited for time to pass and don’t want to have to wait, but in the sense that the thought of living that long terrifies you. So much so that you sometimes wonder if there’s a painless way to sign out of life. But then you remember all the people that think they love you. Never mind that you’ve been screaming for help for as long as you remember but no one has heard you. Yes, you think of them and close the window where you had typed “how to end my life painlessly”.

And so you compose yourself. You put on your best “I’m better than ever, can’t you tell?” face, and say you’re fine, pushing aside the tinge of disappointment you feel at the realization that once again, they haven’t noticed.

So many people around us are struggling. Just because people seem fine, doesn’t always mean that they are. Pay attention. Be kind. Show affection. You’ll be surprised at how many lives you might be saving with simple acts of kindness.

Happy #mentalhealthday world!

It begins with you.

It begins with you.

My native language has so many derogative terms for the display of ones feelings. When it’s not kyejjo, which when loosely translated means being a cry baby, it’s “kutijja” ( in the case of love or romance) which would mean an exaggerated display, I think. But it’s not really a good thing. If you pay attention, what everyone is trying to say in essence is put a lid on it. Whatever it is, no one else needs to know. Your feelings are your business. And so you have a whole lot of people walking about with no idea what it means to actually feel stuff.  A bunch of robots, if you ask me. How does anyone live like that?

Anyway, I think our cultural refusal to acknowledge emotions has a huge role to play in our people’s refusal to acknowledge things like depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia etc as real. We imagine that like emotions, that stuff can be locked away and forgotten about; that those who actually suffer from these things (read: those who fail to ‘deal’ with their emotions responsibly ) are cry babies and/or attention seekers, which are collectively termed ‘kyejjo’. Basically, what they are saying is you can get over it. You can forget it. You can choose not to let it affect you. What is it anyway? Those are white people problems/ diseases for the rich/stuff that only affects the current generation. It’s very sad; sad because so many are forced to live in silence and in shame (on top of the on going turmoil in their heads) and many still are being subjected to mental assylums, traditional healers etc in an effort to make them normal. Not to mention those who , unable to cope, resort to suicide as an end to it all.

The stories break my heart. Why would anyone consciously let themselves suffer if there was something they could do about it? Who in their right mind would want attention/sympathy so much that they would make up something like this? Does that make any sense to you? No, I didn’t think so. Anyone who can say something like that has clearly never woken up in the morning feeling internally paralysed and unable to function. You’re probably thinking “unable to function? Just get up and get moving”. I’m no doctor and so I will not get technical with this post. But these images speak volumes.

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Do not make someone’s life unbearable because you do not know. Do not directly or indirectly contribute to the growing rate of suicide (both attempted and successful). Ignorance is not an excuse.  Educate yourself. Today’s world is flowing with endless resources. Let’s educate ourselves and create a better world. It begins with you and me. And it begins right now.

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How to love someone with depression and/or anxiety.

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1. Educate yourself.
The internet is littred with millions of articles about mental health, depression and related topics. Some of these said articles are testimonials of people who live with these conditions every day. This really is the first step. You can’t help until you understand. You can’t love, can’t support and certainly can’t connect before you understand. So get to know everything you can about what your friend/significant other/sibling is dealing with. When you understand, everything else will be a little easier.

2. Be kind, always.
No matter what we’re feeling, kindness is something humanity can never have too much of. Sometimes it might feel like your significant other is shutting you out, or that your efforts are futile. But no matter the situation, BE KIND. We all have off days. But a depressed person will have way more of these than you do. Understand this, and do not make it worse for them.

3. Re-affirm your support as much as you can.
The truth is, you’ll never fully understand. The truth also is that even the world’s best psychiatrists will never fully understand -and they’re the experts. That being said, more than anything, your depressed friend/significant other needs to know that you’ll always stand with or by them no matter what. So even when you don’t understand; even when whatever they’re going through makes absolutely no sense to you, remind them that you’re there through it all; that they don’t have to do it alone. And prove it. Again. And Again. And again.

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4. Pay attention, and LISTEN.
Every single one of us gives off signals every minute of every day. Even when we’re not communicating, we’re communicating. A good example of this is when we say we’re “fine”. Sometimes we are not fine when we say we are. And anyone who cares to will pick up on this.

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Generally speaking, when you pay attention, you’re able to hear the things people don’t say just as clearly as you do the things they say. So pay attention! We’re losing too many people to not paying enough attention. The media is filled with reports of seemingly happy people whose suicides shocked the world because they suffered in silence. Now I’m pretty sure if someone had paid attention, they would have picked up on something. Like I said, we’re always communicating, even when we’re not. It could be through our body language, our interaction with others, our speech, tone of voice, our behaviour, lifestyle choices -something. So pay attention. Your friend/significant other should never be made to feel like talking about their pain is pointless.

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5. Understand that they do not choose to be that way.
Repeat after me. Depression is not a choice. Anxiety is not a choice. No one ever chooses to exist in a state of constant mental turmoil. That just makes no sense at all. They can’t just “get over it” and they will not magically “be fine”. We do not tell cancer patients to get over it or that they’ll be fine. Depression is just as serious, even if we can’t see it. So remind yourself constantly that if they could, they wouldn’t be this way. 

6. Take care of yourself.
Do not neglect yourself. Loving someone who’s depressed can be exhausting and sometimes, you might host feelings of guilt and/or exasperation over the fact that you can’t always make this person happy. It’s not your fault. And its not theirs either. So don’t feel guilty about being happy when they’re sad. They want happiness for you. So remember to recharge.

7. When in doubt, HUG it out.
Granted, hugs won’t magically make them well, but they’ll remind them that even when you don’t understand, you’re there. Sometimes, that’s all they need.
A lot of the time, we assume depressed people want to be left alone. And while they do sometimes need space, remember that we all need someone. No one should ever have to carry their burdens alone. Also, remember that they constantly worry about being a burden to their loved ones. They do not want to weigh you down with their issues. So it can be a struggle to get them to share their destructive thoughts with you. But that doesn’t mean you abandon them to it. Like I said, when in doubt, HUG!

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8. Do not compare your experience with theirs.
It’s almost natural for us to want to share similar experiences when people open up about rough patches. A lot of the time, though, this comes across as you minimalizing their pain. Don’t. Many times, an unjudging listening ear is all they need.

9. Break the stigma, don’t create it.
Depression is not something that should be seen as shameful and depressed people are not weak or inadequate. To the contrary, the depressed are often the kindest, most compassionate people out there. A lot of people are unable to express the weight they are carrying because they are afraid of being judged or dismissed.

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“We tell them that it is not real; to get over it. If they could, why would they tell you even when they know how they are going to be seen?”

No one should ever have to feel like this! No one should ever be made to think that they are their wounds or that their wounds make them unworthy in some way.

And finally…

10. Ask questions.
If you need to understand, ask. Ask them how they feel. Ask them where they are in their coping process; what kind of day they had. Not all days are bad days. So make them feel comfortable telling you when they have an off day -and then do something to make it easier. Offer to watch their favorite movie with them. Make them a cup of hot chocolate. Invite them along for a walk or drive. Offer to take over some of their chores. We all have little things that make us feel better on our bad days. This is the part where you ask what these little things are. They’ll come in handy.

On a bad day, depression can feel crippling. You know you need to do this and that but you can’t get yourself to move; to do anything. It’s not something that can properly be described to someone who hasn’t experienced it, but these 50 people tried.

Here’s to mental wellness and helping out wherever we can.