I’m not one of those people who tends to fling myself wildly into trendy causes or mass events. I don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (because I’m not Irish and I don’t get wasted anymore) or Cinco de Mayo (because I’m not Mexican and I don’t get wasted anymore), I don’t donate money to anything claiming that they’re “stopping global warming”, and I kind of have emotional qualms with Talk Like a Pirate Day. (Honestly, why are we promoting pirates as a cool thing!?! I just don’t like glorifying people who were into raping, murdering and robbing people. If anyone who claims to be a pirate fan actually ran into a pirate from any era, you’d be none too happy about it. ::Sigh:: /tirade)
But this year a new grassroots event has sprung up and caught the attention of millions of people [thanks to the magic of Facebook-word-of-mouth] that I actually stand behind and am more than willing to support and perpetuate. To Write Love On Her Arms is a group who initially started out to earn money for a friend who was struggling to pay for her rehab bills after dealing with depression and addiction. They began selling t-shirts with the words “To Write Love On Her Arms” (which was the name of a short story one of them wrote about depression, addiction, self-mutilation and suicide) and found that the story and their cause really spoke to a lot of people. From that, they have worked to create an actual day dedicated to promoting awareness about depression and the other associated issues in which they ask participants to simply write “love” on their arms as a means of showing support for victims/survivors of depression.
Alright. I know this is something that a lot of kids are doing because cutting has somehow become a weird social trend in teenagers (BOTHERSOME) and because this group of people are relatively young and can make cool stuff like t-shirts and get popular musicians and celebrities on board it’ll have a very fad-style following at the beginning. So I know I’m totally flinging myself on a youth-perpetuated holiday that may be trendy as hell and very well may fade if the organizers get tired of working for the cause. (I pray they don’t.)
However, as someone to which every issue of TWLOHA’s mission applies, I feel that this sort of awareness-promoting holiday is long long overdue. I mean, we have an entire month for breast cancer awareness, which, while necessary and beautiful, doesn’t apply to nearly as many people as addiction and mental illness does. The truth of the matter is, there’s no reason the old stigmas of mental illness still exist. Because nobody knows how to publicly discuss it like any other health problem, our society has become completely schizophrenic about it, overmedicating some people who are just suffering from real life, while those who desperately need help don’t seek treatment because they’re still under the impression that it’ll make them appear crazy. Sadly, the latter of these two types aren’t inaccurate in their predictions as there are still tons of people from slightly older generations who perpetuate said stigmas constantly. (When my husband and I were talking to a health insurance agent before we got married, I calmly told the agent that I had a long history with depression and had been hospitalized twice for it. He kinda chuckled nervously and asked my then-fiance, “You sure you want to marry her?” Yeah, we didn’t buy shit from that guy…) There’s just not enough information being discussed in logical, mature settings to change the mindsets of those people who don’t bother to understand mental illness and addiction and so, we’re left with those ignorant outsiders believing that depression is just something people need to “snap out of” or addiction is “all about self-control”, which adds a whole new layer to the struggle of those who suffer from these very real illnesses.
When someone tells friends and family that they have cancer, nobody tries to tell them that it’s all in their head; they rally around the friend, actively helping them seek treatment or earn funds, etc. This doesn’t happen for mental illness patients. When people are hospitalized for mental illness, there are no cards and flowers, there are no fundraisers to help pay for medical bills, there isn’t an outpouring of love and concern. Friends and family of the mentally ill are often so confused and clueless as to how to go about dealing with these people that they say nothing at all out of their fear, which only adds to the victim’s belief that they’re not worth the time and energy to save. A lot of times, they take this a step further and criticize the judgment of the victim/survivor, telling each other that this person is doing what they’re doing for attention or that they’re too crazy or unstable to be bothered with anymore.
This is something I have experienced firsthand. I experienced being belittled and ignored when I expressed my very real symptoms of depression to those around me when it started in my pre-teen years and I felt the confusion and ostracization from those around me each time I was hospitalized. These outside influences and social mentality allowed me to continue believing that my self-destructive behaviors and self-loathing beliefs were based in truth. It allowed me to feel isolated even further from the people who were supposed to love me unconditionally. It allowed me to feel hopeless and it took the momentum out of my new actions for recovery. My story is not unique.
So I’m adamantly in favor of this holiday, organization and entire movement. I don’t care if that makes me look like I’ve mindlessly climbed on board some new trend; this is something my heart really stands behind.
There have to be more discussions about how to care and show love for the people who suffer from this very real problem. Mental illness education has to be put on the health class curriculum in schools. People have to start listening to facts and changing their minds about depression and addiction to create a society that supports and promotes recovery and hope. This movement has to happen if there’s ever going to be any sort of hope for the mentally ill.
As an Addict and Mentally Ill Patient in Recovery, this is something I both need and want to see succeed.
Today I’m painting “Love” on my arms. I’d like to invite you to do the same.