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The attention just encourages her

d. sharon Pruitt24, flickr, creative commons

“People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bull. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.” ― Jim Morrison

Drama queen. Melodramatic. Overreactive. Attention Seeking. Attention —- (insert your nasty moniker of choice). We’ve all heard them before. Thrown around when a person is annoyed or frustrated with another person’s behavior; I don’t think most people even realize that this too is a form of stigma. You’re invalidating the experiences and opinions of someone. They don’t realize that the message behind those words is so potentially detrimental to another person.

It’s a cultural thing in a way. We’re often taught from an early age to “buck up”. Hold things in, put on your big girl pants and get over it.. Because if I can get up every morning and deal with what life throws at me, why the heck can’t you!?  We’re not taught that anxiety means a lot more than just “hey, this is kind of uncomfortable for me.” Or that depression is so much more than “I’m pretty upset right now.” Or even that the slightest random little thing can become a trigger, which is a bigger deal than just being something you don’t like to be around. These feelings can be all encompassing, to the point often of being crippling, and need to be understood better.

I’m here to say that I am tired.

I am tired of being told that I am not allowed to be depressed because someone somewhere in this world has it worse. I am tired of being told that I am overreacting to something simply because it is a big deal to me, and not to the other person. And most of all, I am tired of being told to stop being so “attention seeking” when I react.

All human beings are social creatures. Some more than others, in a variety of different forms and methods. We operate as a species from such a wide variety of life experiences that it is foolish and ignorant to take someone’s emotions and decide they are invalid. Some seek attention through “negative” means because they have never known any other way. Some are just plain fed up with not getting attention through more socially acceptable methods to the point that even negative attention is better than nothing.  That doesn’t make them a “bad” person. Just a person who copes with things differently than you, and that can with time and effort be guided in the right direction.

Instead of shaming or stigmatizing people,  what we need to practice is support. If a person is making an effort to reach out to you, through whatever means that may be, at least it is an effort. At least this person recognizes they may not be able to get through something all by themselves.  I’m not talking about those whose lives thrive on creating chaos around them, that is entirely different, although still valid. They too are still human. I’m talking about the girl who in a moment of loneliness and desperation makes a suicide threat because she legitimately feels like nobody cares. The person struggling with circumstantial and perhaps other mental hurdles, who is venting because if they don’t get it out somehow they feel like they might explode. The person who is so tired of being constantly bombarded with neverending optimism from others that it’s starting to feel condescending.

Listen folks: sometimes LIFE SUCKS. This is a fact, and that is ok. It is ok to be sad, or angry or any other number of emotions. When we arrived here on this earth what was the first thing we did? We CRIED. Because we were small, helpless and frighted, and needed support. Because we were alive, and part of being alive is to feel.

So the next time someone in your life is having an emotional reaction to something, I want you to do something for me. Don’t offer advice unless they ask,  don’t tell them “Oh I totally understand” if you’ve never been where they are, don’t patronize and say “It’s ok” because in that moment, no it is most certainly not ok.  All I want you to do is listen.

Brittany Bell is our guest blogger.  She is a 24 year old youth advocate at Youth MOVE Massachusetts who is studying to become a youth counselor.  She hopes to bring awareness and support to the learning disability and mental health communities by sharing her experiences.

 

A worthwhile way to spend a day

people at conference 2012Friday marked the 3rd anniversary of the PPAL Conference and this year it was a celebration. More than 500 of us got together to celebrate the work we do, whether as youth or parents or professionals with our own experiences of the system from the inside. I can report that I came away completely invigorated and I can’t wait for next year.

There is power in a room full of people pulling in the same direction. When I was growing up, we hid mental health needs as much as we could. There were after school specials about cutting and teen pregnancy and health classes to tell us not to drink or smoke, but the real support for kids in crisis was pretty thin. This conference room full of people today, all there to talk about children’s mental health and family support, represents a huge change.

We go through life being told the limits of every situation, but the unofficial theme of today could have been, “Know that you are not limited as you think.” The featured presenter, Marvin Alexander, President of the Board of Directors of Youth M.O.V.E. National, shared his story of being hospitalized for the first time at seven years old. While that sounded like an inauspicious start, he stood in front of us as a mental health professional explaining the details of how youth can and should be included in their own processes. He overcame his difficult start and inspires others to do the same. In short, he made it!The keynote speaker, Fletcher Wortmann, was equally inspirational, but his style was completely different. He walked us through his battle with crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder and was emotional about admitting that he still battles. The fact that he went through a lot of treatment and still went on to graduate from Swarthmore College gives me ammunition for the families I work with who are afraid that their children will never get to college because of the mental health support they get. This young man lives with a mental illness, and is choosing to live his best life anyway.

Youth were well-represented this year. I don’t remember being as conscious of Youth M.O.V.E. at last year’s conference. Good stuff. I was reminded of one of those inspirational posters you used to see everywhere. “Don’t walk in front of me. I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me. I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” We were reminded that we need to walk beside youth, when it comes to their mental health care.

Grace H. Scott is a Family Partner with Riverside Community Care.  Growing up, she helped hide her mother’s mental illness.  Now a mother of three herself, including one child with a complicated duel diagnosis, she does what she can to challenge the secrecy and stigma associated with mental health needs.  In that vain, she wants it known that she has Chronic Anxiety Disorder herself and has experienced depression intermittently.