I am afraid to share this.
This past week has been a week of tremendous change, of division, of fear. There is nowhere to look and nowhere to go to escape it. The news is full of it. My social media feeds are full of it. Conversations I overhear at the grocery store, while walking down the sidewalk, in doctor’s offices—are full of it. Election 2016 has unleashed such hatred and anger that I sit here, trembling as I ponder our individual and collective futures.
I can’t breathe. I can’t move. I can’t hear myself think.
A few weeks ago, when the election seemed like it was an eternity away, I met a canine that wore “thunder pajamas”. His human parents said that the pajamas helped him with his anxiety and I have no doubt it was true; doggie tails only resemble windshield wipers when they’re propelled by peace, by happiness.
I wish I had my own pair of “thunder pajamas”.
I am sure this sounds suspiciously like putting my head in the sand or covering my ears with my hands and singing “la-la-la-la-la” repeatedly and at the top of my lungs. I promise you it is not. This…this is something very different…something that I don’t like to talk about…but can now see that I have to.
Do you remember seeing, amid the waves of political commentary and calls for activism this past week, blurbs prompting those experiencing mental health crises to reach out to professionals within their communities? Do you recall hearing statistics correlating the relationship between suicide rates and elections? Well, if you didn’t, I invite you to research it now.
Please know that there are individuals within your circle of friends, within your own families even, whom suffer from silent and stigmatized dis-ease. They may try to hide it, every day, all day. They may be so successful at hiding it, in fact, that you would never suspect that they have any form of mental illness at all. Because of this, you probably haven’t heard the pounding of their heart when you begin talking about politics. You probably haven’t seen the sweat breaking out on their temples when you ask them to take a stance on an issue, to join a protest, to sign a petition. You may even be frustrated with them for not voting, for not voicing their political opinions, for not taking sides. You may, in fact, have even said that they are part of this country’s problem.
I am NOT saying that everyone with a mental illness reacts this way to political change.
I am NOT saying that individuals with mental illness cannot fully participate in politics or social reform. Many do participate and are actively making this world a better, safer place.
But what I AM saying is that some of us living with mental illness need the space to adapt to this tremendous change. We need the opportunity to decide for ourselves whether or not we have the emotional resources to participate in political conversations and social initiatives. And what we need, above all else, is a circle that does not judge us harshly—and that honors and respects our decision—if we choose to delay that participation.
Silence is not necessarily apathy.
Silence is not always acquiescence or capitulation.
Sometimes, when “thunder pajamas” are not available, silence is a survival strategy in the battle against one’s own mind.
As you go about your week, please be mindful of the fact that suffering has many names, many forms. And please, please, please be kind to everyone you meet.