2017: Mental Health Awareness Year

In May of 2016, I took my first real steps in disclosing my life-long struggle with PTSD and it’s kissing cousins: depression and anxiety. I wrote a lot of posts on social media that opened my life up to those who may not have known it about me. In fact, as my notoriety has increased due to my near constant touring for my music career, these statements and posts about my life began to hold greater weight inside my head. Who am I sharing this part of my life with? How will they react? Can I trust my fan base beyond those whom I call my friends? My answer to this question is I don’t really care. Trust has never been a friend of mine, and even those friends who think I have the deepest level of trust in them are usually wrong. I can count the people I truly trust on two hands with fingers to spare. I’ve been burned by trust far too many times for me to rely on it a great deal. But again, I don’t care. I have been living a life where trust has not been adequately present for 30 years; I’m used to it. If people want to use the words I type to vilify me, that’s fine. I never trusted people, to begin with.

Sharing your struggles is not a task taken lightly. The right people have to be involved and you have to know they are going to respond in a way that is empathic, compassionate, and understanding. When you don’t trust most people, this concern goes right out the window. So as my readership and fan base has grown, the question of whether or not I should continue revealing some of the most vulnerable parts of me is moot.

May is the designated Mental Health Awareness Month, and like most other months dedicated to honoring someone, a group of people, or a cause (et al), it’s a pretty cheap 28-31 days. I’m not satisfied with one month where we all talk about our depression, anxiety, bipolar, chronic illnesses, etc. I live with my depression, anxiety, and flashbacks on a daily basis. They don’t magically disappear on June 1st when I stop my daily posts about mental health. In fact, symptoms are likely to worsen.

2016 has been a magnificent year for me: I’ve successfully launched a music career, gained notoriety, and seen more of the country than I ever thought I would. I got to live at a national park for an entire month. I am a lucky person because my career and my lifestyle are finally in resonance. I understand how lucky I am that I don’t have to wake up and amble through the mundane existence of a 9-5 job, which has proven impossible for me in the past. Unfortunately, the decision to live in resonance does not mean that my mental health has improved; its been quite the opposite.

Without getting into details, I’ve made a lot of changes this year in hopes of treating or coping with my mental health, which only seems to get worse with every passing year. I’m sure there’s research that shows that the more depressive episodes you go through the more likely you are to go through them, but I don’t have the energy to do a Google Scholar search to cite them (I assume a more ambitious reader may do so). While some of the things worked (nature-based healing, EMDR, and cannabis being the top); a lot didn’t seem to make a difference.

“On the inside, there is a constant war going on and it’s anything but peaceful.” 

Living with chronic depression is hard to explain. On the outside I often look predominately fine: you may notice slight dark circles under my eyes and a bit of a slower speech pattern, but if you didn’t know me you wouldn’t recognize these things. On the inside, there is a constant war going on and it’s anything but peaceful. The images supplied to me are as horrific as any horror movie (picturing yourself in the midst of dying by suicide over and over and over again, all day, every day). This has been my life for at least 25 years. Voices in my head continue to tell me how worthless I am, how everyone is a liar and they are just telling me that I’m a good person so they can feel better; so they can feel like they did something if I ever were to pull the trigger. These thoughts are quite effectively reinforced by the fact that when I isolate myself (see: most of 2016) people don’t really notice that much. Some do, and I appreciate that, but my depressed brain even questions their motives. No one wants to feel like they could have done more when the dirt hits the coffin.

It was different during Mental Health Awareness Month; people paid attention. Then, they forget. They stop sending messages. I get it, I really do. It’s not in front of people so they don’t think about it. We live in a society with a very short attention span and if I’m not snapping my fingers in front of the faces of my readers every day they forget about what was once important to them. I’m not saying that mental health awareness loses its heart once June hits, but it fades from consciousness. This tells me that those who value mental health must needs make it more important. It needs to permeate the lives of those who do not suffer under its banner. It needs to be thought of on a constant basis and cannot be discarded like some rind once the fruit has been used.

This is a call to action. 2017 needs to be a mental health awareness year. Here is my commitment to you: I will step up my disclosures and share my walk with you. I will share ideas and tips for becoming more aware of how mental health affects our daily lives (even those of you are lucky enough to experience stability). I will write about how people without mental health conflict can assist those they love in a way that is not intrusive, and in a way that is authentic, genuine, and full of compassion. Those are the things most of us need, anyway. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Depressed and isolated friend? Don’t make plans with them. There’s a good chance they’ll get broken and your friend will just feel worse because he or she has “ruined your night”. Go to their house. Bring a cup of tea (chamomile, no caffeine). Don’t plan on staying long, just say hi and give a hug. WHY? Because it shows them that even if they’re isolating they’re still thought of and loved.
  • Offer to watch a movie with them. I’m partial to Harry Potter when I’m depressed, but super-heroes work as well. This is not “hang out” time. You shouldn’t say much. Just sit there, make them some popcorn (they may not eat it) and watch the movie. When its over, give them a hug and some love and go on your way.
  • Texts: Do this on a daily basis. Make them funny, full of love, or just normal stuff. A good way to send something special is using an app like Canva or Adobe Sparkpost. Throw some color into a drab day.
  • Bring over a healthy dinner. Make sure it’s something they’ll eat (don’t bring broccoli casserole if they hate broccoli). Then leave. Drop it off and leave.

A little known, but a well-researched fact is that you don’t need to say anything! In fact, 80% of whatever you say is going to get completely distorted in your depressed friend’s head and the outcome of something that seems so innocuous and loving ends up in a panic attack or furthering suicidal thoughts. Depression and mental health are exceptionally complex disorders in the brain and if you’re ever caught in a “What the fuck just happened?” moment you need to learn to roll with the punches, keep your gob shut, and nod your head with equal amounts empathy and sympathy.

 

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In the interest of authenticity and full-disclosure, I’ve been actively suicidal for the past few weeks. I am having to cancel the second leg of my winter tour as well as a 3-week long recording session. As of right now, I will be taking a full 2-month sabbatical from playing live music in order to straighten some things out. I plan on taking a lot of long walks, just me and my dog John Henry. I plan on reading and writing. I plan on once again reclaiming my spirit, whatever the hell that means. I do not plan on pulling the trigger.

Will you lean on me if I lean on you?

lae-maohmca-felix-russell-saw

-RJP

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3 thoughts on “2017: Mental Health Awareness Year

  1. I truly love your CD and listen to it all the time! You have a beautiful , amazing voice, but most of all, I love you for who you are! I plan to have a cup of chamomile right now to honor you and your writings. Much love across the miles! Betty

    Like

  2. Pingback: The Road Pt. 1: Meltdowns | The River's Bend

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