I took a deep breath before my final tumbling pass, thinking I looked just like my favorite Olympic gymnast, Kim Zmeskal.
As I hurdled into the center of our living room, I was very aware of my audience. My out-of-town cousins were visiting and I was sure they would be blown away by the incredible performance of my made-up floor routine. I stretched my arms by my ears, just like my coach taught me, and launched my 12-year-old body into a powerful round-off backhand spring.
I even amazed myself as I felt my feet hit the floor with power to spare.
My momentum carried me back into the living room wall, and my arm swung back and hit the wall with force. I landed in a heap in the corner.
Loud laughter tumbled out of me. Embarrassment instantly colored my freckled cheeks.
Trying to scramble to my feet, I caught a glimpse of my arm and froze.
“I broke my wrist,” I said far too calmly. But when the sound of those words reached my ears, the panic started.
“I broke my wrist!” I screamed.
My living room gymnastics routine, which I was sure would end with applause, ended instead with a tear-filled trip to the emergency room, being put under so doctors could set my bones in place, months with a heavy cast that went up to my armpit, time off of gymnastics practices, and several follow up appointments.
But despite the setback, I was back to my flipping self by the time competitions came around the next season.
Bones break. But they can heal when they are cared for correctly.
What if we started seeing our mental health in the same way?
Over the last several years I have been battling depression. That, coupled with the anxiety that I have battled my whole life, culminated in the perfect storm in 2020.
“My brain is broken,” I said to many people close to me to try to explain.
Often, they would try to argue with me, probably feeling uncomfortable with those words. But this was the best way I could describe what was going on between my ears.
Before therapy and medication, my thoughts were scattered. They were irrational. I couldn’t focus. Despite being tired all the time, I couldn’t sleep. My brain was not processing information the way God designed it to. It was broken. Just like when my arm could no longer function, because it was broken.
After my living room floor routine debacle, my arm was very obviously broken. Instead of a straight line, my forearm was shaped like an S. If I had tried to keep living life as normal, I would have been in constant pain. My arm never would have healed correctly. The function of my arm would have remained limited. And I would have had to quit the sport I loved. But since it was a visible, physical injury, my parents rushed me to the emergency room to get the professional help I needed immediately.
No one cocked their head to the side and said, “My arm hurts too sometimes. What helps me is taking a walk.” Or “You should try taking more vitamins.” Not a single person looked at my deformed arm and asked, “Have you tried praying about it?”
No, as soon as my family saw my arm they jumped into action. They knew I needed help, and so did I.
Sadly this is not always the case with mental health struggles.
There is no way to look at someone and see their mental illness. There is no fever to treat, no bone to set, and no open wounds to suture. But none of that makes the illness any less real. Yet often when someone is struggling with their mental health, they are met with platitudes and self-care suggestions.
Before my primary care physician diagnosed me with depression, my brain was so broken that I didn’t even recognize the extent of the brokenness. I knew I didn’t feel like myself, but I kept trying to snap out of it. I worked to will myself to feel better. Then I felt guilty and self-loathing when I didn’t. It was a spiral that kept burrowing deeper into darkness.
I am so thankful that at a routine check-up, my doctor asked the typical mental health screening questions and quickly recognized my “broken brain” as the result of my honest answers. She stepped in immediately to help.
If you are struggling with your mental health don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Today, resolve to take one step toward a healthier you. Then tomorrow take another.
Here are a few suggestions of what steps you may start with –
· Set up an appointment with your primary care doctor. (Just as if you had a physical illness that needed to be treated.)
· Tell a trusted friend how you have been feeling.
· Research coping mechanisms that could help you get through the hardest moments, then try one!
· Look for a therapist in your area or through an online service and reach out for an initial appointment. (You may have to schedule weeks out if that is all that is available, but do it! Delayed help is better than no help.)
· If you have an urgent need to talk to someone or you are having self-harm or suicidal thoughts, call 988 to reach the national suicide and crisis hotline. 988lifeline.org is also a helpful place to find resources or helpful suggestions.
If someone in your life is struggling with sleep (too much or too little), motivation, self-harm thoughts, overwhelming emotions, or feeling numb, resolve to recognize these as signs that maybe their brain isn’t working as it should be. Please refrain from treating mental illness as a weakness that can be overcome with positive thinking or even prayer. Although both have their place, neither will address the root issue of the actual illness.
Here are a few suggestions of how you can help –
· Help them seek medical attention. (If it is an urgent crisis call 988, or 911.)
· Ask if you can help make phone calls to their primary care doctor or a therapist. (Sometimes the process of figuring out what services and providers are covered under insurance and who would be a good fit, is so overwhelming it feels paralyzing.)
· Offer to run errands for them, or help with tasks around the house.
· Keep checking in on them, even if they refuse your help. Let them know you care and you are there.
Mental Health matters. For me, therapy and medication were necessary to begin to help my brain heal from its brokenness. My only regret is not reaching out for help sooner. At the time I thought I should be able to will myself to heal. But just like my arm could not have healed properly without medical attention, my brain could not either.
It may feel like your brain is broken, but there is hope. Healing is possible. There is light, and life, and love beyond this season. Reach out. Look up. God created you. He cares for you. He does not want you to feel like this forever.