500+ for 50 – day 46: redefining “normal” at an early age
When I was a young adolescent and I first began experiencing the effects of OCD and anxiety in my life, I really had no idea what it was that was going on. To a certain degree I was able to recognize that my thoughts and corresponding actions were not “normal”. And I felt a lot of shame for my behavior. My mind was manipulating me, and I understood that I was not necessarily like everyone else. That observation led me to feel a lot of pressure to conceal what was taking place inside of me. I felt powerless over my mind. Fear ran rampant, and I listened to its commands. It was as if I had no other choice. Right or wrong, my peculiar means of surviving life was the way that things had to be for me….this was the hand that I had been dealt, and it was my job to play it.
I was fortunate to grow up in a home with a very supportive and loving mother and father. I had every opportunity to share with my parents my feelings and lean upon their understanding and guidance to help direct the course of my life. But even with the knowledge of a strong network of support behind me, I could not bring myself to talk to my parents about my fears, obsessions, and unstable patterns of thinking. I was embarrassed. While I wanted more than anything for someone to set my mind straight and restore my sense of inner peace and stability, I was reluctant to ask for help because I feared how they might judge me. What would they think if I truly opened up to them and shared the vulnerabilities of my mind? How could they possibly begin to offer me comfort for things that they themselves were so unfamiliar with?
My parents were my only option to utilize as a sounding board. I wasn’t going to seek out a conversation with anyone else. Certainly I was not going to share my afflictions with friends, classmates, teachers, or coaches when I felt far too apprehensive to even talk to my own Mom and Dad about things. So I did the only thing that I felt that I could do. I swallowed it. I subjected myself to the demons in my head, carrying out their egregious demands, and I suffered silently, making every effort to hide my internal battle from the eyes of those around me. It was difficult. Looking back on those experiences now I can conclude that my early encounters with fear and obsession were seriously impactful with relation to my development as a teenager and later an adult. Perhaps if I had spoken up sooner I could have avoided the devastating turn that my life took in the direction of anxiety years later.
In writing about my life today I am seeking to fulfill a mission to empower the lives of others who have suffered silently with mental illness due to their fears of judgment and criticism. I’m hoping to create more conversations about mental health related issues and dispose of the negative stigmas associated with disorders of the mind. Often the disorder itself is not nearly as devastating as the pressure that an individual feels to conceal it. If we could encourage more positive discussions with regards to creating a healthy mindset and overcoming mental afflictions among society, we would open doors for healing everywhere. And the world would most certainly be a far better place.
Unfortunately, long ago society unjustly defined mental illness as a sign of weakness and failure. And that’s simply not at all accurate. I am a living, breathing example that our deepest afflictions can be our greatest sources of strength. There is no shame in acknowledging a battle within one’s mind. Some people are asked to confront physical setbacks while others fight to restore their mental well beings – there is no difference. We should always offer the same level of compassion and care to those who suffer with a disease of the mind as we do to those who encounter diseases of the body.
I believe that in order to make a significant impact in the futures of those prone to mental health related issues we will need to begin our conversations at an early age. It’s critical within our society and within our homes that we create an environment for children to speak openly about what they’re encountering in their minds. We need to rework the definition of “normal” so that children don’t feel so pressured to conceal the issues that have led them astray. It’s not enough to simply be loving, supportive parents. We need to lead by example as adults, showing that we are openly willing to challenge the stigmas of society so that our children can feel comfortable in seeking our support in their own personal fights for freedom. We need to show that we are open to the idea that it’s perfectly fine and perhaps best to not fit-in. Because the reality is that we are all unique and when we embrace that idea the pressure that our children will feel to run with the “popular” crowd will lessen quickly and their ability to perceive and accept their flaws will become far more palatable. If children are given the opportunity to choose to view their weaknesses as nothing more than a part of what makes them who they are, they will tend to learn to handle their afflictions more effectively, and the strength of their mental health related issues will diminish rapidly, setting them up for a far more healthy future in their lives as adults.
May God Bless!