The holidays can be a very tough time of year for folks. Emotional defenses that are able to fight off sadness or depression the rest of the year can be worn down by the unnecessarily hectic season, financial pressures, the perceived and real expectations of others and, toughest of all, painful memories and feelings of loss for loved ones who have passed.
So I am re-running an essay about mental health that originally ran in the Chesterfield Observer on May 2, 2012. Hopefully you’ll find some laughs in the stories, but my most important point is this: if you are experiencing serious mental or emotional challenges this time of year or any time, don’t face it alone. Please get help, and there are lots of resources available: medical professionals like psychologists and psychiatrists (email me if you need one in the RVA area; we are talking about a health issue, btw), pastors, family, friends, the National Alliance for Mental Illness (www.nami.org) and others.
Just please get help. Because it is fixable. I know.
At first it was just a quirk. And kind of funny.
It began in my late 20s. Usually before a big weekend, I would notice my every sniffle, and I would worry that I was getting sick. In fact, I’d worry so much that I would get sick.
I began flushing public toilets with my foot instead of my hand. I also began using paper towel to open the bathroom door when I was done. Although I still refuse to concede that I was being overly germ-sensitive, since half the guys leaving the bathroom walk right past the sink without washing their hands. And besides, now there are trash cans by the doors of bathrooms because everybody does it. So THERE.
I began making regular trips to the emergency room, sure I was having a heart attack. After 30 minutes of running on the stress-test treadmill in a suit and tie, I’d be sent home with a clean bill of health and a pitted shirt.
Every lump was a tumor. Every bump was skin cancer. I might as well have made WebMD.com my home page.
My joke became that I’d been to the emergency room so many times with imagined ailments that I got frequent liar miles.
It was even affecting my play. I was a pitcher for my softball team, and my incessant worrying that I would not throw a strike was not helping me to throw strikes. Nor did it help, by the way, when the outfielders yelled, “Throw a strike!” as if it hadn’t occurred to me.
It was funny, but it was still a problem. Lying in bed at night contemplating my mortality was leaving me exhausted. Sitting at my desk during the day contemplating my mortality was not all that great either.
Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I had fought the counter-productive thoughts on my own for years and I was failing, and it was beginning to significantly, negatively impact my life.
I went to an expert for help, and it was the best thing I ever did. Honestly, I thought the doctor was going to tell me I was losing my mind. But instead, the doctor said the two greatest words (other than Stacy’s “I do”) that I have ever heard. He said, “It’s fixable.”
He told me I had obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, and that I was one of millions of people with this problem. That realization alone was a huge relief. And he worked with me to fix it.
I often speak and write about strategies for sanity in a world gone nuts – things like going with the flow, maintaining perspective and, of course, keeping your sense of humor.
But there are times when we cannot overcome overwhelming feelings of vulnerability and stress, or when a brain disorder (which is a physical ailment in the same way that heart disease is a physical ailment) can cause depression, panic, anxiety or other symptoms. In those cases, “positive thinking” isn’t going to cut it.
When that happens, don’t mess around. Get help.
There are many resources in our area, from counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists to health centers like “Friends 4 Recovery”, which provides people in Richmond with techniques to manage their illness, obtain and maintain their recovery, and get prepared to join or re-join the workforce.
Studies show that one in four Americans will experience a serious mental health issue during their lives.
If you ever suspect that you might be one of the 25%, please get help. Because it’s fixable.
Chuck Hansen’s books are available at Amazon.com: Nose-Sucker Thingees, Weeds Whacking Back & Cats in the Bathtub (a collection of humor essays), and Build Your Castles in the Air: Thoreau’s Inspiring Advice for Success in Business (and Life) in the 21st Century.