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Friday, November 14, 2008

On Mental Health

There's no easy way to talk about some issues, and mental health is high up on that list. However, having to deal with mental health issues is something that many people face, both for themselves and for those around them. I'm no different in that regard; I've had family members struggle in the past and in the present with depression and other disorders. Now I'm not going to comment on their individual struggles, as doing so would be both offensive (in the sense that no one from the outside can truly understand what's on the inside) and just plain wrong (as an invasion of privacy). What I will do though, and actually what I think about often, is how having that in my life has changed me.

It's truly amazing just how flexible and adaptable the human being can really be. Complex doesn't being to describe how our minds work. It's my opinion that no where do you see that more on display than in the ways that people react to stress. Now I'm specifically NOT talking about the stress associated with big life events; all of us, for example, would be negatively impacted by the loss of a job, the death of a spouse or child, etc. Instead, I'm talking about that cumulative impact of hundreds and thousands of small events have on some people. So too it has been in my life. The people close to me who have suffered through mental health problems haven't been the victims of massive life-changing implosions, but rather seem to have been slowed down by the accumulation of events, much like (as I suppose) an accumulation of barnacles can eventually slow down a ship. It's much harder to fight something when you don't have a someTHING to fight.

Now the impact of these issues on these family members has been wide and varied, and goes beyond, again, what I'd even consider talking about in a public venue. But the impact on me is quite a different story. To get right to the point, I've found that having to deal with this kind of stress has actually helped my mental health over the years. While growing older naturally has a negative impact on your body isn't nearly as kind to me at 44 as it was at 30, I find myself to be mentally tougher and more emotionally stable than I've ever been...especially (say) 14 years ago. Having seen people have the inability to appreciate the small victories in life has taught me to look for them. Having someone around you that doesn't know how to cope with small stressors in life teaches you the value of learning to handle them yourself. Having people around you that, by virtue of their medical problem, can't seem to see the simply, straight-forward solutions to problems teaches you to look for them in your own life.

You could read into what I'm saying and come to the conclusion that I'm making some claim about perfect mental health on my own part. That's far from being true. I am, quite honestly, a work in progress. There are things that I struggle with each and every day, outlook and attitude being chief among them. But if I've learned anything from having had to deal with mental health issues in my family, it's that you truly do choose your attitude. I know there are people with medical conditions that prevent them from being able to do that, so I'm thankful that I don't suffer in that regard. I'm also thankful, all be in with a small gain of salt, for the fact that I've been able to grow emotionally from some very tough experiences, rather than having these same experiences push me down a path of despair.

All of what I've written above could change tomorrow. Something could happen that would turn my world on it's head. You learn this in dealing with medical problems, and that's just part of the plan. Regardless of what happens though, I do know that any short term suffering for me personally will in fact be just that: Short Term. I've learned that you can get through anything and be better off on the other side. For those of us who have that ability, it's truly a gift.

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