Monday, October 23, 2017

Save Yourself: A #HoldOnToTheLight Post

My life recently has been plagued by instances of mental illness—both my own and exposures to others.

Since my original post for #HoldOnToTheLight, “Life afterFighting, Fighting for Life”, the revelation of how utterly alone I’m not has been at points enlightening, stressful, a few times horrific, and often downright quirky. I don’t think everyone around me is mentally ill, but it’s given me pause to coping behaviors people use to get on, get through, and get past whatever is in front of them.

I’m happy to report that I find more people meeting negativity with positive habits that make far better arguments for working against your demons instead of for them, but there are also a lot of people that are angry—they are angry because of the economy, the president, or this issue, or that issue, or my issues, but every time we complain we all share one thing in common:

We’re all suffering and we don’t want to be, and the vast majority of us don’t want others to suffer either. Some are clearly suffering worse, but on the whole, many of the human beings around the world are not having a great time being a part of it.

During the summer I moved to Colorado after living almost ten years in Charlotte, North Carolina, and like the Queen City, the homeless situation here is AMAZINGLY BAD. Most people living on the streets are former veterans, the elderly, opioid addicts and alcoholics, and those who have fallen through the system.

The vast majority of them are mentally ill.

They harm themselves, scream in the street at 2:00 AM, and cluster together on sidewalks where they suffer openly and alone, trapped in private hells while shuffling through some of the most beautiful neighborhoods I’ve ever lived in. They aren’t bothering you, they don’t have cellphones, and they aren’t burnt-out hippies or college kids begging for change—these people are lost.

Thankfully Denver provides a wonderful network of homeless shelters and public services that make sure these people have places to sleep in the winter, food in their stomachs, and the local community comes together every weekend for fresh blankets and clothes, mobile showers, haircuts, and job drives. For all the bad things that happen in the world, there are real heroes out there doing their best to help—because they show up.

Seeing the struggle of mental illness every day when I go outside has been a fascinating mirror to examine my own coping mechanisms (or lack thereof) in a time when I’m dealing with my own challenges—but I keep in mind that people keeping showing up.

Some background: I was diagnosed with clinical depression as a teenager and that depression was compounded by a series of concussions and bad habits that led to a PTSD-diagnosis, which I’ve thankfully done pretty well getting past by getting better, but it took years of therapy for me to finally figure out the right habits needed for me to get past these things—and thankfully, those skills worked.

Meditation, exercise, a better diet, and having people and professionals to talk to allowed me a solid foundation to better deal with my conditions in a multitude of different ways, which sometimes feels like demolishing a house to rebuild the foundation, but sometimes that is needed. 

Yet the most important thing was that people showed up to save me first. From friends to family to my psychologist, even strangers offered help and advice in times of need.

And yet, even having experienced that, I had no clue I was going to have to deal with anxiety when it finally got around to be named for what it was. In some ways I’ve always been anxious, but it’s always been about process. One of the coping mechanisms I developed for depression—putting my nose to the grindstone and getting the work done so I can be satisfied that I at least put in effort—developed a downside: I would place all the little things that would cause me to be depressed or anxious to the side until they crowded in, and when they crowded in, I didn’t just trip over them as much as I let them drive me into closets and sit in empty hotel restaurants crying while my friends crowed in the bar a hundred feet from me.

So now I have to work more, which is exhausting but worthwhile. Along with my work and my work at Falstaff Books, being a husband, trying to be healthier and happier, there were already challenges along with these blessings. My boss wants me to learn that it is okay to ask for help, something that I struggle with. I deal with bouts of insomnia, but I now make time to sleep when I can instead of “soldiering on,” striving every day to handle both anxiety and depression. Some of it is doing the stuff I was doing before: meditation, healthier eating habits, exercise, and staying active in my own life by being mindful—but now I also have to teach myself to take a step back from anxiety like I step back from the depression and figure out how to work around both, and sometimes those internal processes conflict. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible either.

But people are still showing up.

From my wife to my best friend/boss, or my coworkers at Falstaff Books, and even some digital therapy sessions, people have come out of the woodwork to help me learn how to better care for myself. Because of them this is a challenge I can beat.

Now I know I speak of mental illness as a challenge, and I realize that in that challenge I have a sense of privilege. I tackled and beat my depression before, so I know I can beat my anxiety. This is a challenge I relish, but I know so, so many who do not feel or see it that way. Some people after they read this are still going to feel alone, or worthless, or one of the many little lies our illnesses allow us to create for ourselves.

Those people will still be by themselves. Therein lies the root of the problem.

I’ve put in a lot of work to save myself from myself because people first showed up to save me, and for all the back patting I can’t forget that I was once that kid with a chain around his neck who thought no one cared about him. I beat that, but like I said the last time we were here, I know too many stories of those that didn’t get to win their struggle.

The need to save ourselves is paramount, and not so we can pat ourselves on the back, or “grow past” our problems—for many mental illness is a life and death battle to the end, and while the cost of defeat is exacting in its sorrow, the glory of victory is beyond anything a person can win outside of themselves. I need to get better so one day I can say “I beat anxiety and depression and saved myself. And so can you.”

I need to save myself so I can show up for others.

Every victory, yours and mine, saves actual lives.

If you are suffering, say something. There will be people there to love you, take you in, armor you up, and go fight with you until one day you too can say “I beat my mental illness. So can you.”

Donate to local shelters for the poor and underprivileged, help out with food drives, and volunteer. One of the things that I have discovered on my journey is that offering help first is often the key to getting things done. Sometimes s few hours at the library volunteering or simply asking someone “how are you?” makes all the difference in the world.

Speaking for myself, the worst part of about anxiety and depression for me is yjsy loneliness—and having someone simply come to be with me or acknowledge my existence breaks all that.

So go save yourself and show up for someone else. It will mean the world.

About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

Follow me @JayRequard!

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