Since the day I started speaking openly about my own mental health issues roughly seven years ago, I have owned my issues and my healing. I have been clear about what I will do. I will be brutally honest. I will make naysayers uncomfortable. I will put myself into positions of vulnerability in order to model it for other people. Even when it hurts. Even when I lose people. Even when the cost to do so seems so much greater than the return. I’ll do it anyway.
But, there are things I won’t do as a mental health advocate.
I’ll never claim to be completely healed and perfect.
I have worked for years on my own healing. Sometimes, it feels like one step forward, two steps back. I will go for years without an issue, and then randomly I’ll have all the things happen – crying, shaking, anger and I’ll have to start all over again. I will never be perfect. I’ll never tell you that I am. I will never expect you to be. I truly believe that one of the reasons my healing process is so all-consuming sometimes is to remind me what others go through. Because of that, I’m okay with continuing to heal. I will take empathetic over perfect any day. I would take the ability to step into someone’s space with them – feeling what they feel – over looking down on them from my self-proclaimed perfectly transformed pedestal in a heartbeat. After all, how else will we heal if not with people who love and care for us? Who will take time to understand what we’re going through? Who have the ability to feel what we are feeling? How else can we transform emotion if we are not able to step into emotions of our own?
I’ll never try to be the boss of your emotions.
I will never tell you to get over your pain. I will never tell you that anxiety is all in your head. I will never assume that you have the power over any of your big emotions at any given moment. I will never ask you to transform, as that implies that emotion and trauma are nothing but a switch to be flipped. And anyone who knows anything about brain science knows that this isn’t possible. The most you’ll get from people who you ask to contain their emotions is guilt and then resentment. Eventually, that guilt and resentment shuts them down. And the last thing we need is people who are hurting who aren’t talking. Nothing good ever comes from minimalizing someone’s pain. I will never ask you to stop feeling to relieve my discomfort. Ever.
I’ll never abandon my search for understanding.
Understanding research, understanding new ideas and theories, but mostly, taking time to understand people. Listen to what they say. People will tell you who they are both in what they say and what they don’t say. Understanding triggers, strategies for healing, understanding what not to say. Even people who tell untruths, at the root, are lying because they’re struggling emotionally in some way. Understanding the root cause of why people do what they do is the first step to understanding mental health issues. Does this mean we need to accept toxic people? No. Does it mean that we need to allow someone else to suffocate us? Call us crazy? Tell us to stop our “bad behavior”? Hell to the no. But in understanding why they do what they do, we begin to accept that their mental health issues are more about them than they ever were about us. And that is another step in healing.
I will never imply that I have my stuff together. Are you taking advice from someone who has not fully healed? Yup. Are you reading about someone who screws up, who has big emotions, who is able to go to battle with the best of them? Unfortunately, yes. But you’re also healing alongside someone who will never make you feel less than you are. Whose passion for helping others feel like they are not crazy, unwanted, or broken far outweighs my own ego and portraying myself as a perfect human. Hopefully, that helps you love your imperfect human, too.