Cover image of upcoming June 2020 issue of Blank Spaces, in which my story "Floccinaucinihilipilification" appears
“How are you?”
Many of us respond with “I’m good,” when at that moment, the truth is that we are feeling discouraged, stressed, or sad.
Last week was Mental Health Week in Canada, and May marks Mental Health Awareness Month in the US.
While I can say with confidence that I am “good” and have developed coping skills to help myself and others through difficult times, I was not as lucky in my early twenties. Back then, I suffered the anxiety, stress, and isolation that grows from dealing with a stalker ex-boyfriend. I felt the pull to wallow in helplessness, to stay in bed. I was afraid to talk about it with friends, afraid to spend much time with friends in general, afraid to date someone new. There was always the threat that my stalker would reappear. I learned to sleep with one ear open, not to answer the telephone, to discard unlabelled mail. I rushed from my car to the nearest entrance, and I never forgot to lock the front door. I lived alone. I found a sense of safety in quarantining myself.
While quarantine is the correct decision for an epidemic, the isolation I experienced for a decade due to an abusive relationship was not. I wish I knew then what I know now. It is our connection, our relationships, and commonalities with others that matter. Connection keeps us sane. It can give us a sense of belonging, or bring joy through a shared purpose.
It is a well-accepted fact that humans are social animals. Our brains are hard-wired to build connections. Without them, we suffer. Social isolation doesn’t just feel bad. It can cause depression, anxiety, and physical health problems. The good news is that loneliness is not a permanent state. It can be undone. All it takes is someone to reach out and someone to listen.
I’m still learning and growing as a writer, but what I know for certain is that my best writing has come out of being honest, vulnerable, and unafraid. Raw emotions shine through, regardless of whether you are relating to someone close to you, or to a stranger. Whether the story is fiction or nonfiction. The reader knows when the writer feels and believes their own words.
All art, including poetry and fiction, can be an opportunity to open up conversations. Sometimes these conversations are sensitive or even painful, but vital nonetheless. By sharing our feelings, we can help to destigmatize these topics and hopefully let others know they are not alone, perhaps even reach individuals who may not otherwise seek help.
One of my first pieces of work to be published was a poem reflecting on what depression feels like when you are breathing it day in, day out. The issue happened to fall near World Mental Health Day. (“And the Wheel’s Go ‘Round and ‘Round: A Salutation to Depression” –La Piccioletta Barca, Issue 12)
It seems fitting that my first short story to appear in print (Blank Spaces Magazine, June 2020 Issue) examines the thoughts and feelings of a child who has been made to feel worthless. Stories can explore a survivor’s spirit in the face of difficult circumstances, and share the belief that hope can be found. As a character in my story suggests, we have the choice to believe in the possibility of something different. That belief will then help us to take action to make things a little better for ourselves or others.
So I encourage you to act. Show compassion and be caring to someone who may need help, but not know how to ask. Reach out to a friend if you need to talk. As I mentioned in my last post, this pandemic has resulted in the growth of a #CareMongering movement. We all know this is not new; caregivers have been around for a long time. You know who you are.
May you continue to find ways to nurture your inner caregiver. There is no better feeling.
#GetReal #MentalHealthWeek #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth