Today is Friday, August 18, 2017

I'm rested. I'm happy. I'm regular.

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Just 24 hours after my last column appeared in The Wilson Post, I started to breathe normally again.

Revealing to people, other than family and close friends, that I'm in therapy left me feeling more vulnerable than stepping on the scale in front of my husband.

I knew all about the stigma attached to anything related to mental health. I'll even admit I had my own preconceived notions about people who see a "shrink."

"They need to stay busy. Get a job. Get a second job. Get over it."

And then I realized no amount of busyness or work or getting over it was going to do the trick. I needed backup. But I was scared to death that someone would find out. And by someone I mean people I don't know.

People who may only see me through thoroughly vetted social media photos or properly airbrushed headshot next to my byline. Who cares, right?

Getting gas on Thursday morning, I ran into a lady I've known for years but haven't seen in months. After I said, "Hi! How are you?" She grabbed the hand that wasn't pressing the gas nozzle handle, pulled it close to her chest and said, "I just want you to know, I'm praying for you. I'm so sorry." For a few seconds I had no idea what she was talking about. Did she know something I didn't know? Before blurting out, "Why," I realized what she was trying to say. Instead, I looked into her very concerned eyes and said, "Thank you."

Later that day, I made eye contact with a few people who had the same concerned look as my gas station friend. Then came several emails and phone calls from friends and distant relatives who were alarmed after reading about me being in therapy. All of this attention made me feel fragile, and that really pissed me off. Some missed the whole point. For the first time, I understood why people with mild or major mental health issues don't want to talk about it.

I started regretting my decision. Then came a few emails, phone calls and messages from those sharing their own story of struggle. Some, like me, experienced short-term situational depression brought on by a health scare, change in family dynamics, or the like. Others, meanwhile, were living with a more complicated diagnosis.

Even though their treatment options varied, at one point they all felt weak, alienated and shame because of something they have no control over.

In the words of one reader, "Nobody squirms when you mention diabetes, cancer, arthritis... but mention a mental illness? People don't know how to react. And that makes those suffering with mental illness ashamed. And that is WRONG."

Two things I want you to take away from this column. First, I'm OK - make that great. Don't worry about me. And second, when someone trusts you enough to reveal they are suffering, just listen. A kind heart and nonjudgmental space is a healing salve for the weary soul.

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Becky Andrews, mental health, Telling Tales
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