Patrick Kiernan: A message to the allies of the mental health community

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Entertainer Latrice Royale is known for saying, "It's okay to make mistakes, it's okay to fall down. Get up, look sickening, and make them Eat It!" Her approach to applying self-forgiveness as a tool to look past failures and hurdles for achievable success, is one that resonates with me. As a person living with C-PTSD, the shame-spiraling patterns around symptoms of mental health are damning; blocking fluid ways forward more often than not.

While the self-desire is needed to make changes, I don't believe anyone gets anywhere without help. I owe much personal gratitude and appreciation to the mental health helpers, healers, caregivers, and advocates — the allies of the mental health community. Their work is tough, unpredictable, and at times seems void of recognition and appreciation. After Mental Health Awareness Day at the State House, I saw some individuals acknowledged in front of their peers for their work in mental health fields. However, not all allies are professionals, some are just hard-working supportive loved ones in close proximity to the mental health community. Broadly, all allies should know they are appreciated in their various approaches to support.

When society sees behavior as lazy, allies can see the travail.

A little thing, like restorative rest, has much larger effects on the symptoms of mental health. Sleep is hindered regularly by the unseen-by-many nights of lying awake with a mind that cannot shut off, sliding up and down the spectrum from anxiety to panic and back, the weeping while pleading for the exhaustion to relent but doesn't because these symptoms are a part of a larger problem. Allies know there are alarms set, day bags packed, and itemized to-do lists ready to restart the next day correctly afoot despite sleep never coming.

When society labels you conspicuous, allies can realign the perception to identify the pain.

A little thing, like looking into a mirror, can be a point of tension. The awareness of inner-endured pain of mental health reflecting in an unrecognizable manner on the face, leads to a carried shame detouring the ability for regular eye contact. Allies know how this shame lingers in behavioral cues beyond just avoidant eye contact that many come to expect in conversation.

When society labels you unstable, allies see the desperation in pursuit for what will help.

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A little thing, like having emotional fallout in public, can seem wildly out of context to on-lookers. The inability to mask outward expressions and to hide the vulnerability is a raw sensation pushing one to look for anything to help conceal what is happening. Allies know how you're not being "dramatic," can't "just get over it," and how you want nothing more than this to be the last time it happens.

To the allies of the mental health community:

You transcend messages of "end the stigma" and "leave people better than when you found them" throughout the communities.

You remind others to be kind to the person next to them, as one is never privy to all of what people are dealing with. You help to bring further equity at the table for those who are silently suffering. You know the way to change the culture around mental health, is to also change the conversation.

Thank you for being an ally to those who silently feel the challenges mental health can bring. Thank you for the time to listen, understand, and meet us where we are to support us towards where we want/need to be. Thank you for being translators who know an individual with mental health struggles is not able to "will their way" through certain moments. Thank you for reminding us we are not alone, when the loneliness ushers in a deepened layer of darkness. Thank you for offering your helping hand up when you see we have fallen.

More of those struggling would have been lost along the way without your commitment to the mental health community. Thank you!

And to my husband, Caleb: thank you for wiping off the tears, late-night chats showing me I am not alone, impromptu walks to nowhere when I felt unsafe, holding me tight when I looked my ugliest, promising you will always be here when I felt like the worst of burdens, the unconditional love, all of the aforementioned, and so much more. I love you.

Patrick Kiernan of Harmonyville, Vermont is a small homesteader and blogs about the intersections of mental health and the self, marriage, and health care systems at patrickundcalebk.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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