Astigmatism; Noun: a defect of an optical system (such as a lens) causing rays from a point to fail to meet in a focal point resulting in a blurred and imperfect image

Stigma; Noun: a mark of shame or discredit

–Merriam-Webster Dictionary

May is Mental Health Awareness month.

Across the globe, people are sharing their stories of hope, pain, struggle, and survival. It has been a beautiful outpouring of love and support for those of us that live with mental illness. I believe that one day, the stigma that hovers over our community like a choking fog will lift and there will be peace and acceptance of us and our disorders. However, before we reach the promised land, there are somethings that need to be addressed.

So, I have a question for you.

If you saw a doctor to get help with some physical condition, let’s say astigmatism, diabetes or high blood pressure, and they prescribe you medication to treat that condition, would you question the doctor’s decision? Would you cast aside professional advice to adhere to your own beliefs? Would you question yourself for even seeking out medical attention?

This is part of that stigma surrounding mental illness that I mentioned earlier. I don’t fully understand why so many folks don’t agree with seeking treatment for their mental illnesses. Let alone the amount of people that flat out refuse to take medication for it. It truly baffles me sometimes.

The stigma plays a big role for some people. I can only speak for the Black community but there are many of us that either don’t believe that mental illnesses are real or don’t take them seriously. Even better than that, there are folks that believe that invisible illnesses don’t affect Black people. The things I’ve heard people say over the years are downright ludicrous.

“Anxiety. That’s white people shit.”

“Depressed. You better depress you ass in that basement and get that laundry going.”

Then, if you manage to seek out treatment, the shame surrounding therapy pops out.

“Why you paying somebody to listen to you cry. I can do that. Pay me.”

Or this one. One of my favorites.

“If you were having problems, why wouldn’t you talk to me about it?”

Well, terribly unsupportive person, based on your prior history of poor attitudes surrounding mental health and treatment thereof, I didn’t want to suffer more abuse than I had to. Thanks so much for asking.

Also, you aren’t a trained mental health professional. You wouldn’t ask your uncle Luke to help you fix your bad knees, would you? Exactly. His knees probably need to be looked at too.

Friends, especially my Black and Brown friends, I’m here to tell you that it’s time to put all that foolishness to bed. There is nothing wrong with admitting you have a problem. Nor is there anything wrong with seeking help. I have been fighting this battle against clinical depression and her bestie, chronic anxiety for the better part of my life and I am here to tell you.

It is so much easier with help.

Not just having a trusted person to vent to. Not just having a personal relationship with the God you serve. Actual, professional clinicians that are specifically trained to help you get through your rough patches in life. If you have that person that you can talk to, that’s wonderful and I’m happy for you. However, you need a pro to help you unpack your shit.

While I’m on the subject of help, I want to discuss medicinal options. Here comes the taboo police again.

“Why you taking that? Ain’t nothing wrong with you that some prayer won’t fix.”

“Just get up and smile. That’ll make it better.”

“You don’t need them chemicals in your body.”

First of all, I don’t want to hear about what chemicals I put into my body when you’ve been self-medicating with booze and lord knows what else your entire life. At least, my decisions are based on medical advice and not what’s on sale at the liquor store that day. Most mental illnesses have to do with chemical imbalances in the brain. So, it turns out that I do need those particular chemicals in my body. Imagine that!

Secondly, if I could just get up, straighten up my shoulders and smile my way to happiness, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. It wouldn’t be a thing, you know. We could all just wash up and everything would be daffodils and sunflowers. No more mental illness. Problem solved. Call up the Pulitzer committee, we got a contender on our hands.

Speaking of prayer, I do believe of the power of stating what you want and need. As a Christian, I believe that prayer is powerful, and that God can handle anything you lay at his feet. At the same time, they say that faith without works is dead. To me, that means that you might come down with an affliction, but God may not just take that affliction away, easy as you please. I believe that God grants people specific talents to help His people to thrive as much as possible. Scientists and medical professionals are people that can help relieve people’s afflictions. You can pray to God for healing, but don’t turn up your nose when the God sends a healer to help.

Sometimes, those healers offer prescriptions. Medications designed to address the chemical imbalances that make your brain hate itself or worry itself off a cliff. I believe that medications to treat mental illnesses are a Godsend in this world. I know people aren’t comfortable sometimes but I, once again, offer myself as tribute. I’ve had experiences with several of the heavy hitters in the anti-depressant world and I can tell you about my experiences with them. Be sure to tune in next week for that episode.

The point is, Life is hard. You don’t have to suffer through it alone. You don’t have to hurt your way to the grave. This hurtful life can be filled with all the love, light, laughter and happiness you hear about from others. The things that your brain convinces you that you aren’t worthy of, that you aren’t capable of having.

It’s more that possible, friend. It’s absolutely attainable.

It’s okay to ask for the support you need to get through life. No shame whatsoever. Do what you need to do for you. Cause you’re worth it.

In case no one has told you today that they love you, I love you. And I mean that shit.

We got this, friend!