So. May is Mental Health Month, a tradition started in 1949 by Mental Health America, with the idea of increasing awareness of mental health and helping those who suffer from it. Chances are, you know someone whose life has been touched by mental health; maybe it’s even you. Maybe you’re afraid to talk about it, or tell anyone. Maybe that’s the reason you don’t get help for yourself.
But you know me, right? You’ve seen me around here for years on Flickr, Facebook, my blog, and generally all over the sites you’re not supposed to cruise while you’re at work. (But not the porn sites; I’m not there so don’t go looking for me.)
I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) almost fifteen years ago, but I suffered for it for years without knowing what it was–that it was even “different” than how anyone else felt–and cheated myself out of a lot of things because I didn’t get help. I had my first panic attack at 21, and like I said, I didn’t know what it was but I know it scared the shit out of me. I had a spate of attacks that year, then it was dormant till I was about 28. Then it came back big time, and by that time my daughter was in grade school and my then-husband didn’t understand what I was going through at.all. Neither did my family. It was diminished. There was talk of “sending [me] away,” which I can tell you right now made me want to take everything I’d said back. It made me never want to talk about it again.
I didn’t want to be alone with the kids (mine, or my stepdaughter). I didn’t want to go to parties, I didn’t want to drive, I didn’t want to leave the house. My mom did my grocery shopping for several weeks before I finally did see a doctor. Dr. Doctor was his name. Seriously.
After he told me what he thought my problem was, I looked him straight in the eye and asked him, very genuinely, “Do you know anything about mental health?” My experience with that doctor didn’t help me and in many ways it made me worse. But again, it lasted only a few months and then was dormant again.
And on I lived.
Like I said, almost 15 years ago (and after the death of my most-beloved dog, Stiggy), I had some sort of breakdown that I thought was depression. After speaking with my therapist, who sent me to a psychiatrist, I was told that I would need to get onto meds immediately, and I would probably be on them for the rest of my life.
I was with Mr. Susan, whom I was dating at the time, in my car when I got that news. I pulled over and cried and cried. I thought I was “damaged.” I thought Mr. Susan should leave me. I wasn’t like anyone else. I was different. I wasn’t normal.
It took a lot of years to accept the fact that I was taking meds in the first place, let alone that I would have to keep taking them. Luckily, I had an amazing support system: Mr. Susan, who never once made me feel less of anything for taking my meds, and my daughter (who I didn’t even tell for months because I was afraid of the way she would see me), and they continue to support me.
So you know I’ve been working with The Village (a program of Mental Health America) here in Long Beach; giving the members family portraits through your amazingly generous donations. I took portraits over a 2-day period of members and of staff, and I’m not going to be specific when I start showing the photos. Some people didn’t want their photos shared, and that’s ok. Most did, they were eager to tell their stories in the hope of helping someone else. Doesn’t that just blow your mind?
It does mine.
The framed prints arrive here tomorrow, and I’ve set a date to deliver them next week. Honestly, I can’t wait. I’m so excited to see everyone again; to see how happy they’re going to be when they get their prints (for some, the first time they’ve had their photo taken all together). Something like a photo, that I take for granted every time I click the shutter, is so precious and rare to them. It’s taught me a lot about not taking things for granted: my meds, my friends, my family, and people who need or want my help.
So I thought it would be a good idea to kick-off Mental Health Month with the story of someone you know: me. And, of course, a few photos from the projectI thought you’d get a kick out of seeing some of these, but believe me, I have lots more, and a huge variety, to show you.
Oh, and the title of this post: it’s the mission for MHA’s 2012 Mental Health Month. See, it’s estimated that one of four American adults suffer from a diagnosable, treatable mental health disorder. I don’t know how many get the help they need, but I have a feeling it’s not bundles.
If you’ve been watching my Facebook posts, and my blog posts, about my project and about this issue in general, go do something for your local branch of MHA. Take their pictures; teach them to take pictures, or draw, or write stories or poems. Or just go talk to them. Listen to them. Volunteer.
And if this all applies to you too and you’re not getting the help you need, ask for it. You have at least one person who is willing to listen to you, even if you’re all alone.
You have me. I take meds, and I understand.
Enjoy the photos. More to come.