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**This blog post is dedicated to all the affected families and

the entire First Nation community of Attawapiskat Canada. **

 

People in crisis are often mandated to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They are then left to their task which they must be able to do. It is an expectation.

If they seem and are unable, there is often puzzlement and irritation by the mandating party and their cohorts.

“Why the hell can you not!” What is wrong with you?!” “He/She is just lazy and doesn’t want to…they just want to wallow and feel sorry for themselves.”

Mental illness and other invisible illnesses are often overlooked and have a myriad of stigmas attached and those affected often suffer in silence for fear of being stereotyped and not wanting to suffer the ignominy often associated with the illness.

People often refuse to be medicated because this would somehow make it real and they would find that intolerable.

Those who suffer feel it to be a weakness on their part and that they are “broken” and asking for help (medical or otherwise) would validate this.

Where I grew up I believed mental illness to be glaringly obvious by all the “mad people” I saw living on the street; dirty and unkempt, several shades darker with not having bathe in years. Most were naked and unperturbed with genitals and breasts hanging out. They were not beggars, they just ate from the garbage or ate what some kind soul gave to them.

This was how I saw mental illness…in what I thought was the only form.

I would try to talk to the ones who didn’t look so threatening…I was thought “crazy” by my friends and the people who walked by. I was always curious as to what cause them to become ill.

At that time I thought causative agents could only be traumatic life events, I did not take into consideration heredity or other factors.

On many occasions they were lucid enough to tell their story; often disjointed but nonetheless coherent.

As I grew older, I understood. I met people who had jobs, friends and families but had periods when they locked themselves away because they could not be around people as they were so socially anxious. People who could not take care of their hygiene, not because they were “nasty” or “dirty” but because by themselves they just could not muster the energy to clean themselves.

People who perpetually wanted to die.

I met people who would get so lost in sleep it seems they are almost never awake. The ones who would eat to feel and those who would eat nothing.

There are those who lose themselves in drugs and alcohol to dull pains that they are unable to explain.

My mother is way past her retirement age and refuses to retire because her passion for working with and being a part of the healing of the mentally ill is everything to her. Some call her Mom and have adopted me as sister.

Mom is my hero.

There is constant work by individuals and organizations to try and bring awareness to mental illness and its challenges and to bring visibility to this invisible illness.

Mental illness does not show its severity with broken bones or bloodied and bruised. Many don’t ever realize or believe that someone is ill until there is an incident of self-harm, suicide or attempted suicide; or until someone suffers a publicized episode.

Even with the many programs to shed light on this illness and its ramifications, many are still in the dark.

As individuals, and citizens of the world, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and to as best as possible be in tune to what mental illness is and how it can present. Let us keep an eye on those around us and help them heal. Let us understand that a bad mood is different from a depressive episode and that while you can snap out of your “blue mood” and pull yourself up by your bootstraps; but forthe person battling mental illness “bootstraps” is an insult.

There is so much shame associated with this disease that some will never tell, not even their physician.

Within the black community it is especially “secret”, families are afraid to acknowledge mentally ill relatives because they’re “shame”. As a community we have come a long way since I was a child and exposure to other communities has helped us to be more forward thinking in our outlook.

I hope we all come to the place where we are more aware, more accepting and more dedicated to identifying ways in which we can support and help the ones suffering to heal and live full lives.

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