Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Feeling Dark Inside? It's Okay to Ask for Help

Yep, it's DARK at 5 PM.

The long and early nights of late Fall and early Winter can trigger other kinds of darkness for some people. They have a really hard time with these seasons.

Sometimes people can feel "dark" inside themselves during any season, even in the noonday sun. The darkness lasts for whole days, weeks, months....

And there's no shame in admitting it, and seeking psychiatric and/or psychological help. Yet people in general, and especially my fellow men, too often fail to get help. They don't even try to get help. Often they don't want to admit that they need help.

Now let me be clear (especially to my digital homeboys): I totally get why you feel this way.

I didn't know that there was "no shame" in acknowledging the debilitating and dangerous reality of mental illness. First my whole life had to crash. and. burn. Then I got help, not because I found the strength to do it, but because I was such a wreck that there was nothing else I could even pretend to be able to do.

I came apart. I'm grateful that there were people in my life who knew what needed to be done to begin putting the pieces back together, so that I could start to move forward with help, on a different kind of path, a difficult path, but one that has opened up beautiful and unexpected possibilities.

In the process, I learned a lot. I learned that there is no shame in getting help. 

We are all broken on so many levels, in so many ways. Sometimes our very strengths, the specific places of our particular talents, are also broken places. The physiological aspect of our humanity is fragile and often besieged by more than we can bear without sustaining damage. Today, we know very little about the sheer neurological stress of being immersed constantly in an artificial environment of immense technologically "extended" powers of perception, engagement, and mobility.

The human organism is resilient but also limited and subjected to affliction. Women sometimes understand this better than men; if nothing else, they live with monthly cycles that can be accompanied by various difficulties but in any case cannot be ignored. Men (especially young men) can more easily fall into the illusion that they are complete masters of their bodily reality, including emotions and psychological processes. They are confident that they can overcome obstacles.

And they are ashamed when they fail to do so.

Certainly women and men both are called to self-care and self-control, to the task of overcoming difficulties and weaknesses in order to live more fully.

Nevertheless there are times when you simply cannot overcome an obstacle. You cannot even deal with it ... at least, not on your own. Whether it be physical or "mental" (neurobiological, trauma-induced, whatever), you are afflicted beyond your control. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Illness, including mental illness, affects the lives of countless people. It's just another way of experiencing the fragility of being human.

But you don't have be alone with the burden of it. It's okay to talk about it with someone you trust. It's okay to ask for help.

Don't do what I did. Don't wait until you crash. 

Don't live in denial or self-medicate or over compensate with a frantic blur of external activity. You may "look great" to other people, but the affliction just gets worse, and does damage not only to yourself but also to those who are closest to you. You can't do it without help. The crash will come sooner or later if you don't try to get help.

Trust me, you don't want to crash.

I survived. Too many people, however, don't make it. It becomes a catastrophe that radiates terrible pain and trauma to everyone who cares about them.

When you are struggling with depression, bi-polar disorder, or some other crippling mental disorder, you must be brave. But the brave thing to do is not to hide it or bury it or try to "tough it out" by yourself. The brave thing is to open up, get help, fight for the help you need to stay alive and to live deeply for your own sake and for those who love you and need you.

You are needed, wanted, and loved.

Faith can play a role here, not as a substitute for necessary treatment and therapy, but as an impetus to face something beyond your control, to persevere in seeking help, and even to begin to "discover the gift" that is being fashioned for you (and for the world) by the Redeemer whose power transforms our fragility from within.

And always remember that the Lord will walk with you and give you the courage to be vulnerable, to find him through the help of others, to take the risk of being human.