Today, Wednesday, January 25th, is a day called Bell Let’s Talk Day. A major Canadian telecom company donates 5¢ to mental health initiatives per text/call on their network, as well as for every social media interaction with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk/#BellCause (we’re a bilingual country, after all).
Since its first run in 2011, nearly 600 million interactions have raised over $6 million of grants benefitting children and youth, aboriginal communities, and military families. On their website, there are over 48 pages of programs benefitted by the money raised.
As commendable and important as this is, what really makes this day special each year is the conversations that get started. I am lucky to not struggle with my own mental health. I get stressed like everyone else, and I have had a few anxiety attacks; but it’s nowhere near chronic and it’s not something that I have to think about when I’m planning my life and living day-by-day. I am, however, confronted with some of these struggles on a regular basis through those that I love. I have seen depression try to completely take over, I have seen anxiety in countless manifestations, I’ve had a friend open my eyes to the oftentimes scary realities of OCD (and no, that doesn’t mean preferring your pencils to all line up), and I could go on. These people are some of the strongest that I know (and that’s saying something, because I have people of a pretty high caliber in my life). They fight their internal battles every day, and I’m sure sometimes they do it alone.
But days like these and national conversations like this make it so clear that they do not need to do it alone, and they should not have to. I try my hardest to make it known that I am always here to listen and talk if any of my loved ones need anything, but even I know it’s difficult to talk about issues that have been shrouded in stigma or that make others uncomfortable. Issues that we think make us weak can be even worse to confront with another person.
The thing is though, breaking a bone doesn’t make you weak. Having cancer doesn’t make you weak. Physical illnesses do not make you weak. And neither do mental illnesses. Our brains process everything for us nearly every second of our lives. There is such a steady stream of information and emotion being processed at all times that it would be absolutely remarkable if anyone was to be in a perfect state of mental health all the time. That’s not the case, because it isn’t practical. Like running a car full speed with no stops until it burns out, runs out of gas, or hits something. That’s not how we treat cars though. We know we need to stop (at lights, signs, and pedestrian crossings), we need to refuel, and we need to make sure the oil and coolant levels are maintained. Our brains need that same respect. They (and we) should not be expected to be on full-blast all the time. And when something isn’t working properly, we can’t blame ourselves. You wouldn’t blame a car if the check engine warning light was on; you’d bring it to a professional and get it checked.
Of course, the narrative has not always been conducive to these attitudes. The responses of “Get over it,” “It’s in your head,” “Just try harder,” “Just be happy!” still ring out as a popular chorus. But there is a shift. Days like today encourage the education of those who stigmatize mental illness while hopefully reassuring those who struggle that they are not alone, they are not “crazy” and they don’t have to be ashamed of seeking the help they need. Whether it’s medication, meditation, speaking to a therapist, a change in diet, or something else, whatever help is necessary should be accepted and available.
Like I said, I am personally fortunate to have good mental health a majority of the time. From my standpoint, I sometimes find it difficult to help my loved ones when they are struggling with their mental health. I know the kinds of things I respond well to when I am overcome with anxiety or when life is getting overwhelming. But everyone is different and it can be tough to detach from your needs and focus on what they need. The first step to this is communication, and if that dialogue is a national movement telling people that they are more than their struggles and that their mental health is important and worthy of care and validation, I think it can only be a good thing.
I’d encourage anyone unfamiliar with the #BellLetsTalk campaign to look through the hashtag on Twitter or even Facebook. There are some incredible stories, countless words of encouragement and so much love and solidarity.
Regardless of our abilities, physical, mental, or emotional states, we are all capable of phenomenal things and worthy of infinite love. Much like there is no wrong way to be a woman, there is no wrong way to have a brain and no wrong way to be affected by things out of your control.
It’s okay to not always be okay. But just know that you never have to be not okay alone. If any of you ever needs someone to listen, don’t hesitate to contact me. Let’s Talk.
— kisses, Kate.