Thoughts by Richard Bleil
As the end of June approaches, so does the end of Mental Health Awareness Month. The end of the month may come to an end, but our awareness of Mental Health must never fail.
There were several reasons I started this blog, many of them related to mental health. When I started, over two and a half years ago, I was living in a basement with a friend, broken, broke, surviving off of the love of my friends. It’s not easy needing to rely on others for your very survival, but there it is. I had applied to literally thousands of ads for a new job, faculty, dean, even online adjunct. I landed three interviews out of the thousands of applications, but it was clear I was never the “top” candidate. When you’re invited to interview, there’s a distinctly different feel when you’re a top candidate and when you’ve been invited to “round out the three.” In other words, it’s common to invite three candidates to campus, but if they like only one or two candidates, they’ll choose a third just so they can invite three. It was clear that in my interviews, that was my position.
For a man who was very accomplished, highly successful, and suddenly struggling to be taken seriously, the blow was horrendous. By the time that my reserves of cash ran out, the pain was just all the more. I couldn’t afford to get my own place to live, and barely had enough to eat once a day. When I say that my friends saved my life, I mean that quite literally.
This blog was started because I began to feel as if my mind was beginning to atrophy. Without the challenges of teaching, and the acuity acquired in research, I could feel my skills slipping away. I had to do something to keep my mind active. But giving me a way to keep my mind active was but one reason for the blog.
The other, frankly, was to be as open and honest as possible, honest about my struggles, and honest about my mental struggles. I was diagnosed as “manic depressive” in the mid- to late-‘80’s, back when “manic depressive” was still the term of choice. I have been on and off of anti-depressants (currently off), in and out of therapy (even today), and still struggle today. I am fortunate, though, as my depression is low enough of a level to have been largely functional. There are days, though, that my depression will stop me in my tracks, and make daily life a struggle, sometimes for month on end. By vowing (to nobody but myself) to be open and honest about my depression and struggles, I honestly hoped that it could, in some way, be of comfort to others. I’m not a trained psychiatrist, but I’m hoping that by knowing that there are others like me out there struggling with similar conditions, it might provide some comfort, and the courage to continue for others in a similar situation.
Mental health is a significant frontier in respect and acceptance. Jokes about mental illness are still relatively common and having depression simply “written off” is exceptionally common. I have lost count of the times I’ve been told to simply “get over it”, or have been criticized for not being strong enough to take care of myself or reaching out to therapy to help me handle my condition. The reality is that depression is a medical condition. I’m sure I do not know all of the causes, but mine, for example, is caused by a lack of serotonin in my brain. I know of nobody strong enough to be able to consciously modify their own brain chemistry.
If you struggle with depression, schizophrenia, or any of the plethora of other mental health issues, you are not alone. In the darkness of night, it’s all too common for me to be struggling with my thoughts, and too easy to believe that it is me, it must be me, and I’m alone. I’m not, and neither are you. Never trust that there are others with similar struggles, and that there are those who do, indeed, love and worry about you. You have resources, do not fear reaching out to those people who are there for you.
If you know someone who struggles with mental health issues, this is the month to reach out to them. If you have not already done so, learn to accept them for who they are, and respect the struggles they face. Let them know that you are there for them, and be there when they need you. You could be what prevents a life cut tragically short.