I Want to Talk About Mental Health

I’ve been working on this post for months. There are a multitude of reasons why I haven’t shared it up to now, the most obvious being I’m worried what people will think of me. But on this #worldmentalhealthday, it’s a message I want to send – if for no other reason to let you know that if you’re struggling, you’re definitely not alone. And you’ve got a friend in me.

This is a particularly difficult post to write. Partially because I’m starting out not knowing exactly what I’ll share, but also because I know that no matter what I share, I’ll have to be vulnerable for it pass muster. I know I’m going to have to answer questions – and talk to people that I should have shared some of this with long ago but never have. Just being real…it’s scary.

Before I get into it, I want to make something clear: I never want to compare issues or problems with other people. I know that when I take a few steps back, my life looks pretty great. I have an amazing family and great friends who love and support me, a good job that allows me the freedom to do things on my own terms, a roof over my head and food on my table. I travel more than most, and have seen more dirt and skies than many will see in their entire lives. My life overall is…good.

So then, what is this about?

I was inspired some time ago by a friend back in England, Ben, who wrote a blog post detailing his struggles with mental health. It was almost certainly the most authentic and real thing I’ve ever seen written and shared in such a public fashion. It was raw, and tough to stomach if I’m being honest. Having spent some time with Ben, it was a surprise to hear him talk about the often debilitating relationship he had with his own mental health.

Again, I don’t want to compare things on this subject. Ben’s issues are not my issues, and my issues are not Ben’s. But we have a commonality in that life is sometimes a little more than we can comprehend or handle. It affects more people than you might think – a lot more actually. And that’s why it shouldn’t have surprised me that Ben struggles, nor should I have been so reluctant to offer myself grace when I struggle.

Ten months ago I let some people speak things into my life that shattered me. Did they truly mean what they said? Did I hear them wrong or misinterpret things? I don’t know. But that means less than the whirlwind it created in my own head. Yvette says she believes the situation “broke” me – which, please understand, she says with the utmost love and respect for me – and she’s probably not far off. The words spoken over me kindled all the lies I’d told myself over the years. Suddenly, they were all verified. I’m not important. The things I do are not important or meaningful. The people I surround myself with are only interested in what I can do for them. I don’t truly belong or fit in anywhere.

I can’t count how many hours I’ve spent staring at the ceiling at night, replaying moments and conversations and inventing future ones. I’ve spent days in a fog, unable to be productive in my work or basic life tasks. And it’s not that I felt bad all the time – that was far from the issue. The issue was that I felt nothing at all. For the first time in my life I felt the weight of death hang over me. I’m not suicidal, nor have I ever been (it’s important that I tell you that) – but I’ve keenly felt the exasperation of life and wondered what the point of it is.

It’s not my intention for this to be dark. (Yvette says if I only write dark things, people will think I’m always dark.) But I do feel that the only way to appreciate the light is to understand the weight that its absence brings. If I’ve never known darkness, then have I really ever known light?

And that’s what I want to really talk about: LIGHT. I need it. You need it. I’m not out of the woods, but there are things that have helped me, and there are things that I’m constantly having to remind myself. So, indulge me for a moment while I preach to myself.

If you, like me, are struggling with something, here are some things you can do. (Again, preaching to myself.)

Before Anything Else…Get Help

Life was never meant to be lived alone. We weren’t meant to face the world by ourselves. Especially today, when the world feels more divided and hostile than ever, it’s important to have someone in your corner. Whether it’s a close friend, a family member, a therapist, a pastor – reach out. Do not keep your struggle hidden so it can fester. Bring it to the light. Find someone who will go to bat for you. Find someone who isn’t afraid of your bad days, someone who is willing to call, to text, to email, to sit down and have coffee or lunch or a beer or whatever. Find someone and let them know you’re dealing with something. They don’t need to be an expert on relationships or mental health. They simply need to be THERE.

Side note – These people aren’t always the easiest to find. And people will (as I’ve referenced above) let you down. Don’t give up. Find your people. And if you want a person like that in your life…then you also need to BE that person. Be available, call, text, email, carrier pigeon. Do it. Now. And please, if you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, get help immediately. And remember, help is available at your local MHMR, or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255.

I don’t know what help looks like for you. I wish I did. I wish there was a magic process I could share that would whisk all your problems away. There isn’t. It’s different for everyone. But I do know this: help nearly always involves another person.

Take the Opportunity to Grow – And Practice Mental Health

Oh man. If I had a nickel for every time someone said some derivative of “maybe God is trying to teach you something” to me. I hate it. And here I am about to do it – kinda.

Let me say first that I don’t believe that God does bad things to good people. I don’t believe God is manipulative. I believe we live in a fallen world with fallen people and sometimes we can’t help ourselves but to represent that. God isn’t in the business of making you suffer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use suffering as an opportunity.

This last year or so has been one big punch in the gut for me. But it’s been an opportunity to learn things about myself, about what friendship really means, about the church and my role in it, and about what I want my faith and life to look like. And the hard truth of it is, I may not have actually examined those things had I not experienced what I have this year.

So this is where we take our opportunity. Let’s make a habit (all of us!) to practice mental health. Again, I don’t know what this looks like for you, but find the things in your life that bring you joy and peace. Start a gratitude journal, throw yourself into a passion (photography for me), take a mental health day, go to the zoo, have a picnic, look at the stars, meditate, do yoga, put an extra sugar in your coffee. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to do the things that make you mentally healthy.

Understand that mental health is not black and white.

When I originally had the idea for Grey Matters, I hoped it would be my opportunity to give myself a foundation in the middle of the harshly divided world. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a company, or a music project, or a photography project, or a blog, or whatever. I just knew it was going to be important – for me if for no one else. I know that absolute truths exist, and I know there are things that are irrefutable. I’m not here to debate any of that. But what I can say without any trepidation is that life more often than not exists in the grey. What I mean by that is that life is complicated. People are complex and nuanced. Perspectives and paradigms abound and the truth is we talk too much and listen too little.

My point is that there is not a dichotomy of black and white when it comes to mental health. You are neither fully sick nor fully well. At the risk of sounding cliché, life is a journey. There will be good days and bad days, days you’ve forgotten and days you want to forget. Because you struggled today doesn’t mean you’re doomed for tomorrow, just like having a good day doesn’t mean there won’t be pitfalls on the horizon. I spent so many days thinking I’d never get out of this rut, only to realize it was the first bad day I’d had in a while. I’d beat myself up because I couldn’t seem to shake those negative feelings. The truth is, we all have our own struggles. We all deal with things from time to time that cause us pain. It bears repeating, you are not alone. This doesn’t diminish what you’re going through, but it does offer grace to step into another day.

And with that in mind…

Give Yourself Grace

So much of life is facing your weaknesses head on, and giving yourself grace when those weaknesses overtake you. I want you to know that it’s ok to not always be perfect, to not always have the answers. It’s ok to arrive at your destination in life limping. It’s ok to carry scars.

I may or may not know you personally, but if you’re reading this, you can be assured of at least one thing: someone out there cares about you. I care about you. People will let you down – you know this – and I will let you down. But take heart, do not give up, and you will make it out the other side. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t allow the lies to fester and become a cancer to your soul. Pursue the things that bring you joy – and allow yourself the difficult moments. They will pass. You don’t have to be happy all the time to be healthy. It’s ok. You are ok.

You are loved. Love yourself.

— Harlan