May is Mental Health Awareness Month. For me, the designation ignites hope, as it marks a time in which awareness is shed on universal, however, largely-overlooked, issues. From the beginning, mental illness has been a shadow that blankets me the minute I stop devoting attention to it. My identity as a sufferer is fluid; it changes, ebbs, and flows. After years of work, corrosive thoughts about food are what still hit me hardest. They are, unfortunately, a part of me that I must fight, shake off, and laugh at before starting anew. In an instant, my self-worth is shredded into pieces and I must put in the work to build myself back up. Even as I progress, the thoughts will always remain. I choose to accept them as a piece of my whole self, because the only alternative is to lose hope entirely. It is likely that my use of self-deprecating jokes is a coping mechanism I will forever rely on. I will probably always struggle to not smile while talking about my pain. I will continue to approach scenarios in which others are unhappy with an over-compensation of positive energy, because I will never give up on trying to change what I cannot change. I’ve learned that it is okay this way as long as I continue to fight for what I can change.
For some, mental illness presents as acute anxiety that keeps them up at night. For others, it is an all-encompassing panic so intense that for a moment they fear they'll never find breath again. Some have an intrinsic concern over the relationship between their parents, the health of their siblings, or something else that lies beyond their control. Over time, an accumulation of fear and anxiety can become a larger problem or seep into other areas of functioning. Sometimes the unchangeable is what rattles us most deeply on the inside. Some have trepidation over the daily insertion of a fork in food because of a past experience with anaphylactic shock. Others suffer from agoraphobia, and still others hear voices. Some cannot shake a fear that the clouds will descend, and some worry that another trip to the hospital is inevitable.
A recent study revealed that the rate of suicide attempts in teens has doubled since 2008. The number of high profile suicides in the last year should be an indication that these struggles choose blindly. I urge you to live more deliberately as you interact with those around you, and I hope you will demand the same of me. Be kind to yourself. If you feel compelled, share your story. If not, be a listener. Some of us don't have a stage on which to find such a voice. Be the stage. Look out for warning signs. If you are anything like me, you may wonder if living as you truly are will ever be enough. But, somewhere, in a place that is not always easy to go, you know you carry the wisdom of a thousand years. Strive to believe that this - not the intrusive thoughts - is the precious part of you that will ultimately win.