On mental illness and tragedy

8 Jun

This is normally the type of post I would save for secret poetry blog, but I am going to put it here as I think many people deal with these things: anxiety, depression, the desire of having an something to cling to as a lifeline.

Artists and writers and creative folk have long had a history with at times crippling mental illness. We always talk about the “stigma” of mental illness– and for a long time I thought I knew what that meant. “Ah, I see. Stigma. Bad, bad word.” I thought of stigma as being the same word as “discrimination.” But it really means “brand, stain, mark of disgrace.” (yes, I did Google that). In short, to me that means that viewers of those with mental illness see scars, damaged goods.

I would like to think that I have matured. I saw mental illness as tragedy and tears, and brokenness. What happens when an entire country is ravaged by the way rape is used as weapon against women’s bodies and men’s ability to protect their families? Is the entire face of the country marred and tainted for the lifetimes of that generation? What about children who turned to militia to survive, and their childhoods have been wrought with lessons on how to not be human? Are they just the twisted scars of their own past?

Previously, I would have seen these people as casualties. I would shake my head, tears in my eyes. “Devastating.” I would say. “So very sad, so very sad. What a cruel place this world is.”

Is. That. It?

No, no, no. I don’t get to just leave. Prevention is amazing, amazing. But I think what I failed to realize is that these people are allowed to continue, survive, thrive. Have productive and meaningful life. These people can achieve amazing things, and though there may be permanent damage, it is weak to only see them as damaged.

At one point (selfishly) I was too overwhelmed by my own pain reflected in their stories. But it is my job to set that aside, see them. 

“We need to both add joy and take away pain,” I said. I still think this in some respects, but it has evolved. Joy and pain are not commodities. They are not things that run out.

I know I am capable of helping children and women navigate the waters of what this world can do to you. It is scary, because I am human as well, and I am deeply affected by pain in general. My tolerance is not high. I get angry, so very angry, and I know anger is a caustic substance. But I have also learned what to do– I know I need to stay connected to family and friends, I know I can’t indulge in sad music, I know I need to see light things and laugh, and cook maybe, and write. I know I need to distance myself from relationships that cause me to feel dark and languish in “what-ifs.” I need to revel in beauty, and the stories that give me hope that despite the world’s evil, there are those who choose to be in love with one another.

And now– now I can be that anchor, that lifeline. And I have such joy knowing that what people are capable of could be lovely if they can just find a way to hang on.

What do you do to take care of yourself so you can be that person for someone else?

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