See no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.
And in case you were wondering, the proverbial “evil” would be my dormant mental health issues.
Growing up in an upper-class family in Des Moines, Iowa, mental health was an afterthought — sandwiched in between tennis matches, gawky Homecoming dance photos, and college football Saturdays. While I struggled with perfectionism (presaging a later struggle with OCD), my mother glossed over my mental rigidity.
“You just have high standards, Matthew,” she soothingly reassured to me and — perhaps — herself.
See no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. And, honestly, I understand and empathize with my beloved mother.
You see — talking about mental health is uncomfortable. I finally disclosed my mental health struggles — the tormenting thoughts, the depressive malaise — to my parents while in college. Stammering and stumbling, the conversation resembled Rick Perry during his ill-fated 2011 debate. And just like the esteemed Perry, it was tempting to mutter “oops” after my fumbling self-disclosure.
Like many self-conscious teenagers, I sought parental affirmation. How would they react? Would they openly acknowledge my mental health struggles or distance themselves in stony silence?
The answer: a steely acceptance. While my mother could not understand my mind’s tumult, she — the ever-pragmatic matriarch — discussed testing accommodations and counseling appointments. My father, more laconic than loquacious, acknowledged OCD’s biological component. More than expecting my parents to fully understand OCD’s stranglehold on my synapses, however, I appreciated their acknowledgement.
Although my parents will never be confidantes in chief, their (relatively) non-judgmental response strengthened my resolve. Instead of lamenting my mental health misfortune, I now chalk up OCD/depression to a biological oddity. And believe it.
I am lucky. Some mental health consumers suffer in tortured silence for years — even decades. Fearing derision or ostracization, they swallow the tongues — and their self-worth.
While somewhat understandable (who really wants to acknowledge depression’s vice-grip?), silence is deadly. It isolates, fueling additional avoidance strategies. You hope — even beseeching to a merciful God– for a reprieve from the all-consuming thoughts and feelings. The sad irony: By seeking an escape, you further confine yourself, shackling yourself to an invisible, unbearable tormentor.
When depression’s blue wave crests or OCD’s compulsions batter, it is critical to have a support system in place. And it starts with your parents — but it doesn’t end there. If you are apprehensive about disclosing mental health struggles to the parentals, there are other resources: school counselors, help lines, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) staffers.
The temptation to retreat into a self-indulgent cocoon is real. I have been there, staring helplessly at the bedroom ceiling. At 11:30 AM. And, truthfully, crawling under the covers continues to tempt (see yesterday). But, in reality, the covers are a figurative metaphor, blanketing you from self-help.
Regarding your mental health, you can run (even to your bedroom), but you cannot hide. And unlike you, the depressive/obsessive thoughts don’t have a curfew; they can and do appear at any times. And, sadly, they don’t care if you aced your latest homework assignment, mowed the lawn, or helped Granny Smith with her groceries.
You know who does care? Your support system. Even if that conversation is more uncomfortable than those dated Homecoming photos.