One of the things I noticed in the world of mental health advocacy is that maintaining relevancy for the cause, apparently, requires us to remain broken.
Broken? The same cop stands up and tells the same story: it happened 15 years ago and in that time he’s had 100’s of hours of counseling but it still keeps him locked. Trapped? His service dog is still a crutch he needs to be in public or to speak. The PTSD/Depression/Addictions/MH Whatever book is released and suddenly a trip back to the emergency is on the cards, with full social media fanfare. The veteran angrily defends his right to be, well, angry. The stereotypes dance and my brain rejects the entire display.
As I watched the dance and listened to the babble of the broken, I began to realize that once somebody has stepped onto the Mental Health wheel of fortune it is extremely hard for them to get off it. Their entire identity is wrapped up in their Mental Health persona, and woe betides anybody who pokes at it to see if it’s still real or not. The scrapping over “turf” is ridiculous, comical and tragic.
What is worse is that here are the mentors of Mental Health. Surely mentors show the way forward not how to remain stuck in the past, stagnant in an injury or disorder with no lunge towards freedom?
I have for the last 8 months stepped away from the world of mental health advocacy, I’ve barely visited Twitter and found that when I did tap into it, I was increasingly overwhelmed by it. The speed with which comments come in and replies are required no longer suited my brain. I stepped towards Facebook and my personal account. There I could have real conversations, debates and make long lasting friendships.
And here’s the thing.
I don’t miss it.
I’m not broken. I’m doing pretty good and kinda proud of it.
So why do so many Mental Health Advocates remain broken? What sort of message is being sent out there when the same tired story is trotted out, the same issues are brought up and there is little no perceivable forward movement in this person, this advocate? Not a good one I would argue.
There is absolutely no reason you can’t recover from a mental health injury or disorder. None whatsoever. It requires determination, support and sadly, money or funding. I’ve done some research into this and the best paper on it was produced by the Australians. They found that there is no evidence that mental health shocks can’t be recovered from and that somewhat controversially men who are higher earners and bigger successes in life are the ones that have most difficulty recovering:
“Controversial is our finding that men with higher levels of education or occupational rank appear to be more likely to be thrown off their equilibrium path when experiencing an episode of depression than men of low levels of education or occupational rank. Surprisingly, for women, we find the opposite.”
The effect of money is the biggest point I took from their research. That and early intervention.
The quicker you can get help, the quicker you will mend.
Being able to afford weekly counseling is key, those who can’t are less likely to recover quickly or at all. More public funding for mental health is something I for one would support, and especially for young people. Those who are affected by a mental health shock at a young age risk a lifetime of it because they are less likely to do well in school, which means less likely to go on to further education and a more lucrative career. Get them help early, quickly and they can recover.
So why do mental health advocates so often remain trapped in their mental health diagnosis? It is my belief that they wrap their identity so much into it that it is impossible to see themselves outside of it. That’s a problem.
Life after PTSD? Is fantastic. No, there isn’t a complete cure and sometimes I find myself triggered but I’m okay with it. Tub thumping comes to mind, “I fall down, but I get up again …” and so on and on, life goes. Life is about putting one foot in front of the other and understanding that we will get smacked down, but we will get back up again, repeat as needed. It’s that simple.
I spoke recently to a double amputee combat veteran who said that he wished more people understood that a PTSD episode is just that: an episode. It comes, and it goes. If all those around understood this we could avoid the histrionics, the drama and the insanity of the MH trap. We are not our diagnosis. Or our injury.
Sadly in some benefit plans your injury has a %, which means that you receive a $ benefit depending on how badly injured you are. So for example, with a PTSD injury, a veteran might be deemed to have an 80% benefit. I have heard that same veteran critiqued by others with comments like “He has 80% and he can go fishing? He’s faking it.” If you progress along this path you will quickly realize that for that veteran to “get better” not only is an uphill fight against the prejudices of others but also a risky one monetarily. We literally trap our veterans in the utter arse about way we have set up their injury benefits: we need to return to a solid pension base and stop this insanity.
To qualify for some of the benefits it requires you to remain sick. It is a very odd entrapment scheme.
For me life after PTSD means putting my family first, focusing more on my art and doing what I want to do which is to create pieces for real people who want their story told in art form, stepping away from the crazy chaos of Twitter and moving towards a more solid, easier to take my time on it, social forum that allows real connections. Writing my story with the help of a journalist friend, Rob Hoff, starting with an article on how I found art healed those I paint for and why I became involved in MH advocacy in the first place.
If you step away from reading this with only one message it is this: mental health shocks and problems are not incurable, nor are they something you have to live with, you can move beyond the label and live free of it. Trust me on this, I am the human that has no business breathing given how many issues I’ve faced, traumas I’ve experienced but I’m still here smiling.