Why We Can't Give Up on Mental Health.

Matthias Zomer/CC0

Matthias Zomer/CC0

Sunday night – I feel the anxiety brewing for the day to come. We’re short-staffed and overbooked. I know it’s only temporary, so I lay my head to rest to get as much sleep as I can to prepare myself for the potential that awaits me.

Monday morning – I wake up to chaos in the news. There’s been a shooting. So far, 50 are dead. It’s being considered the deadliest mass shooting in modern history; replacing the title that the shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida just last year claimed. I kiss my husband good morning, tell him of the tragic news and get out of bed. I don’t have time to read more, I have to get to the hospital.

Monday – I clock in at work and the expected mayhem ensues. For the next 10 hours, I don’t stop. 10 hours of crisis after crisis. Family’s world’s falling apart; confusion, frustration, hurt, despair, hopelessness, I’m surrounded by it. I can feel myself breaking down. I step outside, take a breath, shed some overwhelmed tears, regroup and get back to work; this is my duty, to help these families, to ease this hurt. Thank goodness for my support people today, they are picking me up, refilling my cup and giving me the energy to keep going.

Monday night – It’s 7 PM and I am finally heading home. I barely take a breath before opening my phone to find countless reactions from the devastation in Las Vegas. Questions, worries, prayers, anger, sadness, helplessness, politics. It’s all there. And it’s all swirling inside of me too. I breakdown. Because unlike what I’m sure many of you assumed when you first read this…I don’t work in an emergency room or a medical hospital, I work in a psychiatric hospital - a mental health facility that specializes in the crisis treatment of severe mental illnesses.

Why does mental health awareness matter now more than ever?

Mental illness is still considered taboo to talk about, still stigmatized, still a conversation that we don’t feel comfortable having. Yet it’s happening all around us and affecting every single one of us. But still, we avoid the topic.

What happened in Las Vegas Sunday evening was a horrific tragedy. The pictures of that night, the experiences shared, the names of those precious lives lost, the stories of the lives they led, its heart wrenching.

So many are asking themselves why and feeling at a loss of how to help or what to do. We send prayers, we donate blood, we ban together as much as we can. But days and weeks will begin to pass and we’re tearing ourselves back apart – our beliefs are pulling us in different directions, towards different focuses and we’ve found ourselves in the same old pattern.

But we’re not the same. Some lives have changed, some perspectives have shifted. And those ‘some’ are the ones that are continuing the movement, finding the meaning, creating the action.

You see, as much as we want to dehumanize this man that chose to senselessly take so many lives, he is still a human. One that walked among us and left a seemingly bare trace of any issue. Beyond his act Sunday evening is a story, a lifetime of various encounters and experiences that have fueled this behavior – this choice. For us to negate his story, to not even attempt to understand or learn more only maintains the pattern, keeps us stagnant, complacent, seemingly safe – yet we’re anything but.

“Maybe no one will ever understand Steve,” says Stephen Paddock’s brother, Eric Paddock. “But this is what I’ll carry for the rest of my life: Had I called him back instead of texting, would I have heard something in his voice? Would he have given up something? I don’t know. I can’t say. That’s what I’m going to carry for the rest of my life.”

A phone call. A connection.

More details will continue to pour out and the story will become more succinct, the picture more clear, but will our understanding follow suit? That decision is up to you.

How do we talk about mental illness?

-        Ask the hard questions. Reach out and lean into the discomfort that you feel when you dig deeper. It’s uncomfortable, it’s hard, but it’s important work because when you breach your comfort zone, growth happens and lives are changed.

-        Show up. Simply being there with someone, struggling or not, is an investment in your relationship with yourselves and them. We are wired to connect. When we put energy into the relationships around us, we feel stronger, rejuvenated and less alone. Guess what? So do they.

-        Take care of yourself. We cannot pour from an empty cup. Check in with what you need to refuel and do it. Self-care is not selfish. Everyone benefits from a healthy head and heart.

-        Listen to your body. What is it telling you? How is that energy serving you? We control our own reactivity, no one else can do that for us. We are designed to feel. Anger, sadness, fear – they’re a part of our emotion bank, but it’s up to us to release them in a way that is both healthy and freeing.

-        Limit your media intake. Let’s be honest, that shit’s exhausting. Especially in the social climate we live in today. Social media can be a great source for those that need a platform to speak their truth. Eliminating it seems unfathomable to most for fear of taking themselves out of the equation might lead to more detriment than hope. But I encourage you to limit how much you’re taking in. Look for facts, consider opinions, evaluate your own values, but when your energy begins to fleet and your cup is emptying. Shut it down.

-        Act. As a society, we function in immediacy. We rise to the occasion and come out in full force. But over time, that urgency diminishes. We cannot continue to fall back into our old patterns and still expect change. There is good in this world. Be a part of it.

“People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.

Speak Truth to Bullshit. Be Civil.

Hold Hands. With Strangers.

Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.”

– Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.

To schedule an appointment with Alyssa Cornett, LMFT-Associate, call 737-226-3803.

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