Tuesday 24 January 2012

"Circle The Wagons"

Back in the days when the American West was first being settled, it could be a dangerous journey. The settlers travelled West in wagon trains and if they faced attack, they would "circle the wagons" - it was a way of coming together and protecting each other.

For anyone struggling with depression to any degree it's so important to have people to turn to in times of need. A huge part of why I am so open about my own struggles is so that others know that they are not alone. There is comfort in shared experience. I work with some really wonderful people, people who have become dear friends to me over the years. I have always believed that if you share some of yourself you allow friendship to grow. There is a large percentage of people who I work with who have shared with me, in confidence, that they are either struggling right now with mental illness or have in the past. While I am so honoured that they have chosen to share this with me, I am also saddened that it's always spoken of in hushed tones. I seem to be the only one who is fully out of the "mental illness closet". There is still such a high level of discomfort and stigma attached to mental illness - it simply has to end.

Twice this week (and it's only Tuesday), two of my workmates have confided in me that they are struggling a bit. While not in a full depression, both are wary of what they are feeling and are conscious of their wellness. As I said in my last post, those of us who have suffered to a deep level of pain always feel that depression is never far away. But these two friends are smart - they both knew to reach out to a friend. They recognized that they probably need to consult with their physician about their medication - are the dosages of their meds correct or should they adjust the times that they take them? And they know that exercise and diet are important factors in wellness. Smart people.

I think I have provided a small level of comfort to these two friends because they know that they can share whatever they are feeling and I will never judge them. In fact, these were opportunities for me to also admit that I have been a bit down lately, too. But please don't misunderstand. These were not examples of "misery loves company" - these were opportunities to lift each other up.

But the people who I worry about the most, and I do worry, are the ones who don't share their struggles with anyone - the ones who don't have a support network to call upon. But maybe they do. Maybe they just don't realize that the person in the cubicle across from them has travelled a similar road. Maybe their cousin has experienced mental illness but was too ashamed to share it. The people who really need help but don't ask for it are sometimes the ones who don't make it. And that just breaks my heart.

So my challenge to you, if you are someone suffering or who has suffered from mental illness, is simple. Next time there is an opportunity to share your experience, please do. Be a little brave. And be proud that you made it through a truly difficult illness. You will very likely provide comfort and support to someone and you may even literally provide a lifeline.

Sometimes in life we can't rely just on our strength alone. Sometimes we need help. Sometimes we need to circle the wagons.

KB xo

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