I do not suffer from mental illness, but I love people who do.
When I first heard of this #HoldOnToTheLight project, I was excited to support it. The most important people in my life suffer from anxiety and depression, but I cannot imagine a blinding anxiety attack or a paralyzing depression. In fact, I cannot remember a time when I didn’t believe things would be okay. The thought of losing that part of myself terrifies me.
I am not suggesting that those of us who don’t struggle with mental illness somehow suffer a much as those who do. But for many of us, knowing how to help is difficult. Do I keep telling her it will be okay? Or is that only making it worse? Do I encourage him to believe that his anxiety is misplaced or unnecessary? Or do I agree that it is scary, even if, to me, it isn’t? Or are all of my ideas for “help” useless, or worse, harmful?
My biggest fear: what if I make it worse?
When I love someone, I want them (yes, I use the singular they and them) to be happy. When they have problems, I want to be part of their solutions. When they suffer, I want to comfort them. When they hurt, I want to heal them (and then find the person/thing that hurt them and have words).
But for those of us outside looking in—for those of us trying to help—it can seem impossible. Our culture doesn’t make it any easier, either. If my person had a broken leg, a nasty little voice in my head and heart wouldn’t whisper, Why can’t they do this? It isn’t that hard! If they just decided to [whatever]they could. Even when I know—in my heart of hearts and in my brain—that no one suffering from mental illness chooses to do so, I still sometimes get frustrated or angry.
And then, once I’m frustrated or angry, I hate myself. How can I be angry at something that this person didn’t cause? How could I be such an asshole?
Caring is exhausting. Knowing that it is an uphill fight for a person I love and that there is nothing I can do to take the burden from them is painful. If I let exhaustion take over—if I allow myself to get too tired, to spend too much energy in too many places, and ignore what I need—then I will be a shitty partner, child, friend.
I cannot fix the problems.
Accepting that is devastating. When I know that I would do anything to make the suffering stop, but there isn’t anything I can do, it is nearly impossible to not feel helpless and hopeless.
So for those of you out there who, like me, may have found this cause because you want so badly to help someone you love, you aren’t alone. It is okay to get tired, to get frustrated, to get cranky. It is okay to get angry, too. It’s okay to take time to recharge, to focus on your own needs and not neglect them.
We know that depression and anxiety seem an impenetrable darkness. We know that they are lonely and frightening. We know that they lie.
We struggle to help our loved ones hold onto the light because we do not want to face our darkness without them, and we will not let them face their darkness alone. Even on the days we lose our tempers or our hope, we will not lose our grip on the light.
We do not suffer from mental illness. But we love people who do.
About the campaign:
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors, or reach a media contact, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/276745236033627/.