For as long as I can remember God has given me great compassion for those who deal with mental illness. These brave warriors get up every day and fight battles that those around them may know nothing about. I’ve always hated the stigma around mental illness for many reasons but most of all, because it is one of the biggest reasons precious people stay trapped, unhealthy, and hurting. Anytime I’ve tried to put into words my frustration with the shame our world puts on those battling depression, anxiety, and the like, I feel I come up short.
But here we are again. One more attempt. One more hope that maybe one more way of looking at it will make sense to potentially one more person. And it’s all inspired by a little pink pill.
Yep, this little pill the size of a mini chocolate chip gave me some new perspective. Perhaps what I learned might be helpful for you as well.
Back in May I had half of my thyroid removed and while my left half is putting in some great work (Good job, Thyroid!), it can’t really keep up with producing the amount of thyroid hormones my body needs to function each day.
So, I now take a little pink pill each morning. The hope and prayer is that over time this little pink pill will now do something my body can’t.
What strikes me is that I haven’t had a single person tell me I shouldn’t take this pill. (Besides some crazy people on the internet who want to sell me their own version of something that they claim works better, but I’m not talking about them right now.)
I had a part of my body removed and taking this pill will do what my body can’t do for itself anymore. It’s pretty straight forward. It seems good and normal and right to just about everyone I’ve come across.
Yet, I look around at so many friends and families members who literally have some of the same exact symptoms and mental health struggles I do right now, but because the cause of their depression or anxiety or brain fog or fatigue is different, they’re treated completely different.
I’ve been dealing with this for almost 10 months now. In that time no one has told me I should “ just pray more” or “have more faith” when I’m so tired I can barely get out of bed. No one has told me to “snap out of it” or “pull myself together” on days when I’m depressed or struggling to form a coherent sentence or when I took time off work to heal from surgery. No one has told me the medicine I started taking last week is unnecessary and I should “just trust God to heal me.”
My friends whose hormones are out of wack, but for other reasons hear that kind of crap all. the. time.
Here’s the reality: Anyone dealing with a mental health challenge IS battling a PHYSICAL illness. While I understand the concept of the category of mental illnesses, I think even that label sometimes reinforces the false concept that “it’s all in our heads” when we struggle with these things. Yes, these problems impact the way we think and the way our brains work which is why that title fits. (It also makes it that much HARDER than other physical illnesses to navigate.)
When our bodies and minds battle with these illnesses it is most often because something is physically off in our bodies. It can come from trauma, a problem with the neurotransmitters in our brains, or even genetics. Another key contributing factor: an imbalance of hormones… the very thing I’m dealing with right now.
It frustrates me that simply because the cause of MY hormones being off is as obvious as the 2 inch scar on my neck, I get offered grace and understanding that so many in this world never receive.
As I’ve battled days of fatigue and brain fog and depression waiting for my thyroid replacement medicine to kick in, the people around me encourage me and support me and help me do tangible things I didn’t feel capable of doing. Yes, they’ve prayed with me, encouraged me in my faith, and asked God again and again for healing on my behalf. They also told me to take a nap or go home early from work.
When I had my surgery, people showed up at my door for weeks with homemade meals and drove me to appointments and sent me cards and gifts and ice cream.
Even before that, when I walked through months of trying to figure out what was actually wrong with my body and what doctors could maybe do to fix it, friends and family texted me and listened to me and asked about how doctor visits went.
So if you don’t know how to help friends battling things like anxiety or depression or bipolar disorder … maybe just start there:
Send the text. Make the meal. Mail the card.
Drive them to the doctor.
Sit with them in their tears.
Go on a walk with them.
Ask them how a therapy appointment went.
Laugh with them.
Buy them ice cream!!!
Yes, mental illness is harder to explain than a broken arm or even a thyroid removal. You may not “get it” and it might make you a bit uncomfortable.
But it’s not that complicated: Just show up, people!
Your friends need your love not judgment.
Oh! And if (whether temporarily or for the rest of their lives) they need a little pink or white or blue or some other color pill to help them feel like a normal functioning human being, by all means stop shaming them for it. Maybe throw them a party instead and celebrate that there might just possibly be a way out of their fog.