Shortly before 2021 transitioned into 2022, I got together with a close friend whose daughter died of suicide in 2019. My friend, the father of the young woman who passed, and I sat across from each other and shared about how the world’s beauty can be impossible to access when a person is suffering from mental illness. Having experienced my own psychological pain, I know what it feels like to have a mind that lies to me, in my own voice, telling me things that are as easy for me to believe as they are untrue.
These days, I’m tremendously grateful that I have the capacity to love life, myself, and others, but it’s taken a lot of support to get to that place, and it continues to require ongoing mental-health maintenance for me to stay balanced and upbeat. One of the core problems with mental health struggles is that mental illness is invisible. None of us can see another person’s pain. Sometimes, we can see the manifestations of it – in terms of self-destructive behaviors, lack of self-care, isolation, and other behaviors or lack thereof. Other times, we can’t. When a loved one’s struggles exist on the inside, it can be difficult to know the depth of torture that exists within them. We can’t see their self-judgment. We can’t hear the voices in their head. Because of that, it’s all too easy to make the mistake of believing that those struggling perceive the external world as we do, when, in fact, their perceptions are filtered through depression, anxiety or whatever other mental illness is skewing their worldview.
I vividly recall a day in my late teens when my mom was walking me into an eating disorder treatment center and saw a rainbow overhead.
“Look!” she exclaimed. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
To her, it was an awe-inspiring array of colors. To me, that rainbow was the epitome of all that was wrong within. I saw it and I felt broken, because I couldn’t feel the joy that came so easily to her, and we were both looking at the same thing!
Today, I can appreciate rainbows. But it required a lot of help, and a lot of healing, to get to a place of positivity. My first step: being honest about how I was truly feeling, and what I was actually thinking.
If you’re reading this and have been living with depression, anxiety, or any other inner struggle, I hope you’ll be willing to share your pain with others. Tell a loved one, a friend, a paid professional – preferably, tell a lot of people – and ask for whatever level of help you need. It’s not weak to admit to being unable to manage your thinking on your own. In fact, so much of the pain I experienced when I was struggling was caused by keeping my inner world a secret.
If you’re reading this and you know that someone around you is dealing with mental health challenges, I hope you’ll let them know you want to be a source of support for them. This doesn’t mean you have to make yourself responsible for shouldering all their burdens (In fact, please know that trying to do so won’t help them, and it will likely hurt you). It simply means being willing to be a consistent and engaged friend, relative, spouse, coworker, etc.
As I was reflecting about my friend’s daughter’s premature death, it struck me that her story could’ve easily been my story. So, if you or someone in your life doesn’t see the value in living, please support them in getting WHATEVER resources will enable them to discover life’s many rainbows, and to appreciate the beauty in themselves.