Over the past year, I have been sharing stories of my travels and the amazing work I have witnessed being done around the world. I have shared pictures of gorgeous vistas and incredible people that I have been fortunate enough to experience. Yet there is much that I haven’t shared. I didn’t write about hiding in my room in Bogota for entire weekends; wishing that my roommates would leave the apartment so that I could let the dark and silence envelop me. I didn’t write about sitting by myself in a bar in Australia, rapidly gulping down a pitcher of beer, trying to drown the anxiety and frustration. I didn’t write about being surrounded by a group of people that I felt had finally seen through my projected image and had realized how bad of a person I really am. I didn’t write about walking through a museum in Africa, on the verge of a breakdown for no reason other than that I was convinced I am an absolute failure.
May has been Mental Health Awareness Month, and I have been struggling for weeks about whether or not to write this blog entry. I finally decided that if by some chance, it may help someone, anyone, then however painful it might be to share this, it would be worth it. I am not going to write about the specifics of my struggles. Rather I just want to make it clear that I have had, and continue to have, them. One of the main themes of the month is fighting the stigma of people dealing with mental issues. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has focused on “CureStigma”. This is why I am writing this blog post.
The dark secret of this entire journey is that it is actually rooted in one of my lowest points. After a combination of multiple personal and professional failures a few years ago, I began to think to myself that if I could get together enough money, I would just disappear. I would leave my old life behind and roam the world aimlessly, never to return, living out the rest of my life in a nomadic existence on the fringes. Over time, this idea took more and more of a hold and I began to take it seriously and started to make efforts towards it.
Luckily, at some point, I was able to find more of a purpose, and decided to make the journey about volunteering to help others, rather than focusing on my own issues. It has helped, but that has not led to a sudden “cure” or anything, as I have continued to have my bad days, as I mentioned above.
Throughout my journey, I have come across many people who have had their own struggles with mental health in one way or another, whether it be themselves or a family member. I’ve met a veteran that struggled with PTSD, many people with numerous family struggles, others with addiction issues, young people that have dealt with bullying. I once had a long conservation with a fellow traveler that had left home with the intent of committing suicide. None of these people should be shamed or pitied. Rather, others should recognize the incredible strength in each of them. The strength that allows them to regularly fight demons that others can only imagine. The last thing they need in addition to that struggle is to fight another battle against the stigma that too many people may place upon them.
Too often, that stigma and fear of judgment keeps people from seeking the support they need. A cultural shift must occur in order to better help our friends and families facing these issues, whether they may be long-term or temporary. I have been to therapy and I have been on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. I absolutely have the desire to keep that kind of information secret. But I also realize that is part of and feeds the stigma.
For those of you fortunate enough to have not ever had to face any such issues or had a friend or family member deal with it, I recommend you to still read about it and prepare. You never know when someone close to you may suddenly need help. And there are definitely wrong things you can say in such a moment.
I wish I had some words of wisdom to better help anyone reading this that is facing their own struggle. However, I’ve learned that each person’s struggle is unique. I can only say two things. One is to plead you not to try and fight alone. I understand that temptation and have often struggled alone myself, but please take advantage of any support and resources you can. The other thing I have to say is that you have an ally in me. What that may specifically entail for you, I have no idea. But I am ready and willing to support you in any way I can.
As a start here are some resources dealing with Mental Health and Mental Health Awareness Month:
I highly recommend this website for everyone. It is a resource website both for people struggling with some issue and for friends & family of people struggling. At a minimum, you can read up on how to talk to a friend or family member that is facing a mental issue in case such a scenario ever arises.
The Mental Health Awareness Month website from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It has a large amount of different resources.
The Cure Stigma campaign from NAMI, which is focused on removing the stigma our society has about mental health issues.
This gives many tips on general well-being for both mind and body as they are intertwined.