Here are things I still hear from people who oughta know better: people who like to wave the banner of inclusivity and consider themselves to be kind.
“She’s off her meds.”
“He’s so bi-polar.”
“Why doesn’t she get help?”
“I just don’t get why he would do this to us. What did he have to be depressed about? He had it made.”
Today I was reminded of the 2022 death of Stephen Laurel “tWitch” Boss. His autopsy results have been released indicating that he had no alcohol or drugs in his system when he ended his life in December. I expect this comes as a surprise to many who would assume a star like he was engaged in regular abuse of both. But actually, for tWitch, it would have been better if he HAD been taking medication; it is our collective loss that he wasn’t. At least not in December.
But his rejecting medication was certainly not something for others to comment on with derision, as people often do for the less-famous. Medication that supports mental health is not easy even for doctors to prescribe. There is a lot of trial and error and sometimes the wrong medication makes things worse until the right meds are found. And, the side effects of mental health medication sometimes make it as hard to take as to reject.
Tina Turner, the legendary rock star who died yesterday, suffered horribly from PTSD. I don’t know if she took medication or how consistently she took it. Nonetheless, she gifted the world with music we are richer for having. Similarly, tWitch left us with videos of his dancing. Both left us with memories of their beautiful smile and compassionate examples of living.
May is Mental Health Awareness month. My hope is that we will use this opportunity to practice talking TO people grasping for better mental health, rather than talking about them. I say this in part because in January, I was diagnosed with Bi-Polar 1. I have long known that I am neurodivergent. I had been taking meds for ADHD for more than twenty years. What I didn’t know was that my ADHD diagnosis was incorrect. As a result, the medication I had been on for two decades, actually was making my manic-depression worse. And trying to lead a congregation through the pandemic and then guiding them forward into the post-pandemic church was more than my mental health could handle. Fortunately, with the help of an intuitive therapist and attentive psychiatrist, I was able to get on the right medication. My biggest regret is that I did not have this medication sooner.
I have undying gratitude to those who continue to walk closely with me as I draw closer to fine. To those who never walked away. To those who accompanied me in the process of healing in the same way as you might drive a loved one to chemo or to physical therapy.
I have written this not because it was easy, but because I owe it to my siblings who walk this rocky road. The more we talk about it, the more others will know what is helpful and what is not. People with mental health challenges NEED you to tell them, in loving ways, what you see them doing. Because we are not always able to see patterns that indicate we are in need of additional or different therapies.
Here’s an example of what I mean. One wise friend said to me last fall, “You just seem so sad. It hurts me to see this in you.” Those thirteen words helped me realize my medication wasn’t working and started the process of getting me to this place of healing today.
If someone you know is “off their meds,” the best response is not criticism or judgment; it is curiosity and compassion. They might need you to talk to them gently about what you are witnessing so that they can get better.
Speaking up in a supportive way is not invasive. It is both helpful and necessary.
And, as Tina Turner reminds us in song, what’s love got to do with it?
mental health has never had the urgency it deserves in this country , especially with all the gun violence we’ve been experiencing lately . there was a time in life when I needed this kind of help . I am grateful I received it . thanks for your own candor about this . I will always be in your corner ! There is a photo of you Marie and me that was taken right before you left F.E.L.C. hanging on my wall and will continue to as long as I am here . It is an inspiration to me every day . As for people who judge others’ behavior , remember but for the grace of God …….