To think the last time I “talked” about this our world was significantly different than it is today. We traveled about freely, got together with anyone we felt like getting together with, we went shopping and ate out at restaurants, gave people hugs and many other fun things. We were unaware of what was about to happen. But happen it did.
It is that time of year again. The annual Bell Let’s Talk day. I like this yearly reminder that Bell puts on to bring awareness to the issue of mental health and the importance of talking about it. As much as awareness of mental health has grown over the years it is important to keep growing that awareness particularly with the year we have just experienced. Clearly the lifestyle we have had to adapt to has had a significant impact on our mental health.
Over the years I have related stories of friends, family members and clients who have shared their stories with me. This year I will draw from my own memory bank, a story I think about often and will refer to in my presentations as it truly epitomizes the importance of talking.
In 2005 I was on a motorcycle trip with my brother. Although I had been struggling with my mental health for some time, I had been off my meds for a few months and was functioning quite well, or so I thought. On the last day of the trip, as we were nearing home, I witnessed him crash his bike. Ironically that morning, before we hit the road, we chatted about our farm, the stress of ongoing challenges and the effect it was having on my mental health. We decided there and then that we needed to move forward on selling. Unfortunately, the relief that decision brought was short-lived. When he had his accident, my responsibilities increased significantly. As he lay in the hospital, I needed to take over his portion of the work and life overwhelmed me.
A couple of days after the accident, I was at the farm when my neighbor dropped in. He asked me how I was doing. I was about to answer him the way most of us answer when asked that question. Whether we are doing okay or not we tend to just say “okay” or “not to bad”.
For some reason that day I started talking about what was really going on. My neighbor listened. He showed curiosity rather than judgement. He did nothing else except show caring as only a friend could do. Ultimately, he normalized and validated what I was feeling. That gave me the opportunity to verbalize all the negative thoughts running rampant in my head. That provided intense relief and provided the encouragement to carry on.
That fall I went on to seek further professional help. It was the beginning of my journey of discovery. But I always look back at that morning with my neighbor as a turning point, a turning point in the quest for a better, healthier life.
There are also those that may not need a reminder to talk about it. Perhaps their mental health is good. For those I will throw out a challenge. There are people around you that are hurting. Be prepared to reach out and check in. Be prepared to listen. Be prepared to acknowledge. You do not have to provide answers. You do not have to be an expert. Just listen. Listen, normalize and validate. Simply provide support.
Many feel that talking about it is a sign of weakness. We need to get past that stigma and together we can. The Bell Lets Talk day is a good reminder. From that reminder we must make sure we are tough enough to talk about it all year long. Make it a good one.