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  • Writer's pictureAli

Mental Health Awareness Month

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

The month of May marks Mental Health Awareness Month - a cause that directly speaks to my passion as a topic of conversation, as well as my purpose for this entire blog. As we dive into important conversational points discussing various mental health-related situations and diagnoses, please keep in mind that I am not a mental health counselor or therapist. I am simply a voice for those who experience struggles similar to mine, and my hope is to make space for active dialogue and compassion.

 

Growing up in the south in a quintessential, suburban neighborhood with a 'typical' family dynamic of married parents, an older brother, and a younger sister, we portrayed what seemed to be a well-put-together external image. We lived in a clean-cut subdivision full of other middle-class families who also seemed to have it together - down to their HOA compliance and manicured lawns.

Behind closed doors, our family struggled with many things, including unresolved and undiagnosed mental health disorders that manifested in extremely toxic ways. Looking back, I know that my parents struggled with mental health issues, but neither of them were able to communicate those needs at the time. It wasn't until I was diagnosed with PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) at age 22, that I began to reflect on my mom's behavior during childhood. I could relate to her on many levels with a number of behavioral patterns that she demonstrated; and my own diagnosis became easier to accept and navigate in adulthood. For those who are unfamiliar with what PMDD is and how it impacts womxn who experience symptoms, this diagnosis can be debilitating, frightening and overwhelming. PMDD manifests in ways such as, extreme mood swings, fatigue, irrational reactions, body aches, and in my case, suicidal thoughts. While getting answers as to my emotional and mental well-being was imperative, it didn't erase the fear that I might have suicidal ideations for the remainder of my life. The thought that I would be battling such a heavy, dark fight made me feel out of control in my own body, which is devastating and horrifying.

Since receiving that diagnosis, the level of compassion that I have for my mom has exponentially increased. I saw my own struggles within her filtered through a lens of empathy and understanding; and although I'm not certain as to her diagnosis, I am certain that her internal struggles are just as valid as mine regardless of a physician's ICD-10 code. No matter her documented mental health status or whether she had clinical PMDD, I know that she struggled in her own way, and that's the goal in this: to broaden my capacity to extend compassion - even while knowing that life behind those closed doors wasn't always my favorite place to be.


My paternal grandmother (whom we did in fact call 'Grandmother') was prescribed medications for mental health diagnoses at some point before I was born. Growing up, I wasn't privy to such sensitive information, and we weren't the type of family to ask too many questions. From the stories I heard, my grandmother suffered emotionally after my grandfather had an affair and eventually divorced her. Having been through infidelity in previous relationships and a divorce myself, I can imagine how painful that had to have been for her. I'm one of the lucky ones that had a relatively civil divorce without children, real estate or financial ties involved, but that's not everyone's story - including hers. To this day, I'm not certain as to her previous mental health diagnoses before she died, but I can say without a doubt that my grandmother loved her family with her whole heart, to the point that she stayed up on nights that I would be out drinking too much too late. She may have suffered mental health issues as a result of trauma, but she never let it impact her love for me, and I'll always cherish that and look up to her.


Since asking questions and talking openly through personal issues was not a strong suit in my family dynamic, we often swept difficult conversations under the rug. This type of behavior was something that I needed to unlearn in order to be a healed adult capable of processing less than comfortable emotions. It would take several years into adulthood before I would begin to unlearn my timidity surrounding vulnerability. I learned that asking for help was asking to be a burden. I learned that asking emotionally charged questions came across as prying instead of caring. I learned that confessing my struggles meant that I was opening myself to ridicule and shame. Those are deep-seeded wounded that have required such an intense amount of work to unlearn and overcome, which hasn't been an easy path to walk. Since having dealt with a family dynamic that influenced my thoughts on mental health from a very young age, healing my own negative stigmas has been imperative and life-saving. Had I not experienced the lack of openness surrounding mental health needs during childhood, adolescence, and even into adulthood at times, I would not be as passionate or fierce in my approach to discuss my own personal struggles and help others with theirs. I'm thankful for the mosaic of pain, loss, challenge and growth that has perpetuated me to be the woman I am today.


I am fully aware that some of you reading this have experienced similar situations within your own family dynamics, and maybe this resonates with you in that way. Or maybe, that's not your story, and that's okay, too. Everyone's journeys of discovering their healthiest selves are valid even if it's not understood. That is what this month is about: openness, vulnerability, and bravery. YOU ARE BRAVE for healing your past wounds. YOU ARE BRAVE for sharing your story with even one person in the world. YOU ARE BRAVE for fighting on days that you don't feel like fighting. And if there's one person to cheer you on during the hard days, I'm thankful that my story and my voice are leading you down a journey of healing.

That is the greatest honor of my life as a writer. Let's celebrate our bravery together.







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