February 12, 2013 is a special day here in Canada. Sponsored by telecommunications giant, “Bell Let’s Talk Day” is celebrating the third year of a campaign that is a long time coming. I am not a mental health expert but as a motivational speaker, I am constantly focusing my attention on matters of the heart and the head and where the heart’s function in our romantic lives may never be understood, the head needs some help. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental health still exists but as I can relate, we have come light years in our perception of persons with a disability and we need to do the same for this incredibly important subject.
Frankly, I have always felt that the power of our attitude is underestimated and that isn’t just me singing from my own hymnal. In case you don’t know, I was born without arms in 1960 and pretty much written off by experts, even to where my birth family gave me up before I was a week old. But as my story goes, I was taken in by Hilda and Jack Law who were part-time foster parents and would become the only Mom and Dad I would ever know. Even more remarkable was that Mom was 55 and Dad was 53 when I came home with them and although my Dad was an incredible man, my Mom was the most amazing person I ever knew. I feel strongly that all my success is because of her. True, I did a lot in overcoming my obstacles but Mom gave me the intangibles. One of those was my mind. I believe my mind provided a huge benefit in stoking the attitude that lit a fire under my butt. There were times I believed I could do “anything” and I am completely aware of how fortunate I was in having such a loving and supportive family.
It probably would be no surprise to know that my mental health suffered at the hands of those who didn’t see me in such a positive light and as anyone with a pulse is aware, that is the focus of all the “bullying” discussions in current affairs. “Suicide attributed directly to bullying” is a much too frequent headline these days and even worse….inaccurate! While bullying does exist and does have an impact, teen suicide is about mental health, as are all suicides! But this blog isn’t about bullying just how it affected me as a young person so I can relate.
Ironically, my depression was spiked by the frequent visits to rehabilitation hospitals for 14 years until 1977 but again, Mom helped me cope by constantly nursing my mental health. My real hit came in 1996 when my beloved mother, Hilda, died. Even though she was 90 and lived a long and remarkable life, I felt her loss like a sledge hammer to the head. Odd isn’t it? Nobody can teach us how to handle the death of a parent and generally speaking, not to mention thankfully, we don’t have to use that experience too much. I expected sadness and went through the predictable stages of grief. I also expected depression but always thought it was a simple descriptor rather than a medical condition.
In another irony, my Mom and my wife, Darlene are two of the strongest women I have ever met and since Mom was awesome and calling me on my bullshit, so is Darlene. With the passing of my mother, Darlene gave me a ton of slack but after six months and keeping in mind my son was 10 at this point, she finally sat me down one day and literally stated “Enough”. Unfortunately, it sparked a pretty ugly argument that ended with my screaming “Fine! I will go to my doctor but it won’t help!!!!” I was wrong.
I have been fortunate in so many ways in my life and having a great doctor was one. He applauded (literally actually) my coming to see him, explained the chemical imbalance that my funk had created and prescribed an herbal treatment including St. John’s Wort that broke the cycle and was profound in my recovery…at least that’s what I thought. Again, I am not an expert but knowing what I know now, the herbal cure may have corrected my chemical imbalance, my focus on getting better was all attitude and although I have gone through a bout here and there, I have handled them. Even when my Dad died in 2001, my grieving was much shorter lived and the learning from my Mom’s death was huge.
The greatest thing about Let’s Talk Day is just that…Let’s Talk! I had to get help going to the bathroom until I was 28 years old when I had my clothing adapted to fix that little challenge. Imagine asking sometimes complete strangers to help you go to the bathroom…it was brutal. But I did it. So Can You! Let’s not just talk but let’s work together to remove yet another stigma in our world and in the process, make that world a better place to live. It is possible…I should know!