“I would never slay the dragon, because the dragon was also me.”
Since 1949, the United States has designated the month of May as Mental Health Month. I grew up surrounded by people who suffer from one form of mental illness or another, so I am fully aware of the trauma it brings to families. I wasn’t familiar with the phrase “Asperger’s Disease” as a child, but as an adult I now realize that it could have been applied to my father. Sadly, those sorts of things weren’t talked about back in those days. It was our job to simply put up with behaviors that ran from odd to annoying to horribly destructive. That’s not to say that everyone with Asperger’s has a dark side. It’s just that my father did, and Mom, my siblings, and I saw too much of it.
It’s not uncommon for mental health issues to run in families and my father wasn’t the only one who suffered from demons. He came from a dysfunctional family of multiple addictions. My sister is obsessive compulsive and suffers from agoraphobia, my oldest brother was a recluse with his own tendencies towards Asperger’s, the next older brother has bouts of depression, and my youngest brother abused drugs and alcohol for decades. Since he keeps to himself in the mountains outside of Durango, Colorado, he still might.
And then there is me. I am lucky in that I live a productive life filled with many rewards and blessings, but there are parts of me that aren’t so picture postcard perfect. This is not the forum to discuss my hitches, glitches, and shortcomings, and if I did, it would be a long list. Let’s just say that very few of us are what others think we are. Lives are never that simple.
Life is often a day by day existence for me and I am thankful to have found an army of supportive people that get me out of my head and into much better places. It took me a long time to recognize the power of relationships, and I am grateful that I have been able to integrate so many healthy ones into my life. Those people have literally saved me. As the late Senator Paul Wellstone said, “We all do better when we all do better.”
This year Mental Health May became even more poignant after the mental wellbeing of someone close to me suddenly slid into the gutter. He is a sweet and caring man who for whatever reason or reasons, snapped. I won’t go into the details of his collapse, but they are severe, and the consequences will be lasting. I have never been a praying man, but it’s the only word I have right now that describes my thoughts and concern for him.
When we break a bone, everyone wants to sign the cast. When we catch a cold, we’re told, “Get well soon.” This needs to be the case with mental illness. It’s not something to shun or hide away in a dark closet. That’s what happened with my father and that silence didn’t do anyone any good. Not his family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, or him. We all saw and felt it, but no one dared speak it out-loud.
Be it depression, addiction, bipolar, ADHD, schizophrenia, autism, or anything else you have or have known, mental health issues affect every one of us. We all know someone that has something or that someone is us. Be kind, supportive, and help take the stigma away from what so many of us suffer from on a daily basis. The road is long and there are so many bumps along the way.
Thanks for bearing with me. These vulnerability blogs are different from what I typically write about, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s good to get these things out. None of us is what we do for a living. I am not a computer, a piece of software, or a protocol. We are all just folks trying to play the cards we’ve been dealt.