We have to be weak to be strong.

We are taught how to be strong, but we aren’t taught how to be human. Weakness is seen as a bad thing. Loss is glossed over.

We are lying to ourselves and to each other.

In our lies we are killing ourselves.

Sometimes the death is dramatic – A school shooting. A suicide.

Sometimes the death is slower – Fifty years stuck in a job, a marriage, a life that doesn’t fit, doesn’t feel real.

In our desperation to conform, to put on a happy face, we lie to ourselves and deny our basic humanity.

One thing I try to tell people when I visit with them in hard circumstances (a death, a divorce, a dismissal from a job) is “It is OK to say ‘This sucks.'” Invariably they take me up on it.

I think this is what we all need – permission to be honest about our feelings, which is at the core, permission to be human. We spend so long putting on a happy face that we stop knowing what our real face is anymore.

I just found out that a friend I knew from high school has killed himself. Things hadn’t been going well but nobody expected him to take his life.

A few months ago a lady told me that her teenaged stepdaughter had committed suicide. She was distraught over being dumped by a boy.

My father attempted taking his own life several times in my childhood. His grandfather was successful, if you can think of killing yourself as something to succeed at.

These losses are all holes. We are lesser because they are not with us.

I wish there was a better answer than calling the police or the shrinks when someone is suicidal. I envision an intervention, an escape, where people are retrained how to take care of themselves. Not medicine and shock therapy, but true healing. I envision a vacation, a spa for the soul.

I committed myself twice. Twice I knew that I wasn’t well and I sought help. Twice I was in a mental hospital. I didn’t learn anything useful in either one. It was only when I got out and started reading about bipolar disorder for myself that I started to get better.

I wasn’t “healed” when I left the hospital. They let you out when the insurance benefits stop.

I started to heal when I started to take care of myself, but I feel that I should have been taught some of these skills in the hospital. It is hard to look out for yourself when it is your mind that is the part that is broken.

The best medicine is self care, and prevention. I’ve learned that there is a fine line for me for how much I can deviate in my routine.

The basics? No caffeine. Limited (or no) processed sugar. Drink lots of water. Avoid all stimulants. Regular exercise. Creating, in one form or another, every day. Making time to be alone, and time to be with friends. Learning to speak my truth, and set boundaries.

Sure I take my medicine. But I need a lot less than many people because I don’t get as off balance.

When I stop doing what I know I need to do to take care of myself I feel that I “have let my flame get low”. All I have to do to build it back up is to start doing those things again.

These are the skills that mental hospitals should teach. These are the skills that all hospitals should teach.

But until they get the clue, it is time for us to teach ourselves.

Mental health is not an accident. It is a lot of work.

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Bully in the library.

I can’t stand bullies, but I often wrestle with what to say or do so that I help but I don’t become a bully in turn.

It is easy to spot a bully when he is hitting someone. It is when he is using non physical forms of aggression that are harder to spot and to deal with.

I was in a library while on vacation and overheard a woman chiding some people. She kept going on and on about how they weren’t working fast enough, that it was almost time for lunch, that they weren’t going to get done in time.

She wasn’t helping. She was actually slowing them down by her constant harangue. She not only wasn’t trying to figure out what was causing the problem, she was becoming part of the problem.

She wasn’t using her library voice either. She was annoying me, a patron.

I looked through the stacks to see what was going on. There were three people at the table, all women. The lady who was doing the talking was about 40 years old and about 250 pounds. She had a binder open in front of her with a lot of charts. The other two ladies looked like they had some developmental disabilities. One was around 60, black, and had a brace on her wrist. The other was around 20, white, and had a beautiful smile.

I took a breath in and walked up to them. I said in a cheery voice “What are you all working on today?” while looking over what was on the table in front of each of them.

I feel I have an advantage with this tactic. While it is considered rude to initiate a conversation with a stranger, I’m physically very non-threatening. I’m short. I’m female. I don’t stick out. In some ways I’m invisible.

The lady said that she was their supervisor, but didn’t tell me what they were working on. I looked and it was an activity to help the library with summer reading. They were hand writing something for each reading log. Why the words hadn’t been printed on the sheet in the first place is beyond me.

It looked a bit like busy work. It looked a bit like their time was being wasted. Everybody needs to have meaningful work to do. Nobody likes busy work.

Since they were in a time crunch, (as evidenced by the constant reminders of the supervisor), I asked her why she wasn’t helping them. She pointed at her binder with its charts and graphs and said she couldn’t.

I said “A boat goes faster if all the oars are in the water.”

The younger lady gave me a huge smile at this. I feel like both she and her companion were frustrated at this lady but couldn’t say anything to her because of the hierarchical relationship they had.

I walked away, and listened. No more harangue. No more bullying. Bullies hate witnesses. Thinking that nobody is watching is what gives them power. I just let her know that she was being observed.

Ideally, she would have been working with these ladies – not necessarily doing the work with them, but finding out ways to get them to do their best.

I have seen quite a bit of this kind of “supervisor” of people with developmental disabilities at my workplace. So many are short tempered with their clients. So many are snappish. For some reason they feel it is ok to show off how smart they are by subtly making fun of people who have cognitive impairments. They treat them like children. They treat them like dummies.

The only dummy is the supervisor.

Getting impatient with how “slow” a person with a mental disability is makes no sense. It is like getting upset at a person who is missing a leg for not being able to keep up with you. They can’t compete.

But they shouldn’t have to.

The caregiver forgets that this person is doing the best she can, and that it is really hard all the time. They forget that their client is a person, first and foremost, and deserves to be treated with respect and kindness.

Mental health isn’t an accident

Mental health is just like physical health. If you don’t take care of it every day, you’ll get sick.

The bad part is that there isn’t an immediate symptom that something is wrong, with both things. It takes weeks or months of not taking care of yourself to fall ill. By then it is hard to pull yourself back together.

It isn’t like if you touch a hot stove and you get burned. The repercussion is quick in that instance. There is a simple one to one relationship. You learn very fast that if you don’t want that kind of pain, don’t do that kind of action.

But mental illness, like physical illness, is cumulative. It is a slow wearing away of yourself and your strength.

But it isn’t an accident. And it can be prevented.