If you follow me from Twitter (@TAYLOR_does_IT), you know there are two things I care deeply about.

  1. Relationships
  2. Mental Health

I know. The title alone is confusing. I promise there has a point to it. Just stick with me and it will all become clear. Let me start by saying, I am not a therapist. I am just a guy that has been around the block who wants to help in any way I can. Even if it’s just by encouraging others. If you have something that is going on, please talk to someone. A friend, a family member, a professional. Please don’t keep it inside.

Mental Health really is a silent time bomb with an unstable trigger. We will always struggle to some extent. I do say we because everyone has struggled with an issue at some point and still think about it from time to time. You are probably thinking of a specific issue you struggle with right now as you read this.

I want to tell you a true story about two students, and an adult to give this all perspective. The first story follows a young male in middle school. He is on the wrestling team, football team, plays baseball, and even sings in the choir at school. The catch is he never gets to play because everyone else has already matured and he is a late bloomer. He is constantly picked on at school. He is very quiet and keeps to himself all the time. He goes home every day and spends most of his time in his room. He even locks himself in his closet many nights, fills his floor with clothes, and lies down on them to feel like there is something around him so he doesn’t feel so alone. The boy is silently struggling with self-esteem and understanding why “he is here”. The boy never shares his silent struggles with others.

Student number two is a high school athlete. He has an enormous amount of friends. He has had girls that chased after him although he kept a steady relationship. He excelled in football and had an offer to play college football. He was friends with everyone, making sure everyone felt like an equal. He always had someone to hang out with. Even though the boy had tons of friends, he always felt alone. He wanted to tell others about his silent fears of failure and not being good enough. But, he kept it all inside because he didn’t want to damage the image he had created.

Last, we look at an adult. This guy joined the military after he got divorced. He had bills to pay, and a young child to help take care of. He needed something to make him feel a part of something. He followed in the footsteps of his uncle and both grandfathers that had already served. He was deployed within his first two years of being in the Army and spent all of 2005 in Iraq. Believe it or not, he got to go with his best friends, and this made him actually enjoy much of being deployed. There were hard times, but still great memories. When he returned home he dealt with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He had to adjust to being a civilian, how to respond appropriately to others, and how to deal with the demons inside of himself. The guy always had people to tell him to “get over it” and “it will be ok”.

Ok, here is where it all comes together. They are all the same person. In fact, they are all me.

When I was first asked to write this blog, I originally wanted to tell the difference between who I was before and after I matured and how mental health affected me. I wanted to tell people what signs to look for and where they can get help.  

The “middle school me” is the typical kid to watch out for. The one you are afraid will do something to themselves. The “high school me” is the one everyone says is going places and doing great things. The “army me” struggled with how to deal with what was happening at present and the past.

I have had friends kill themselves because of depression, PTSD, and other mental illnesses. There were times that I didn’t see the signs and other times I did notice something and intervened. There was only one thing I could point to, relationships.

THE RELATIONSHIPS

Mental health affects each and every one of us.  You can try to prepare for it, but it doesn’t always work. I still struggle with things sometimes, and that’s ok. I am still growing and still working through it. My wife, Leslie, knows me. Because of our relationship, she will stop me and talk to me about what I am going through. I don’t even need to say a word and she already knows we need to talk to help me get through something.

If we truly want to change the script when it comes to mental health, we need to focus on our relationships. This isn’t just with our kids, but our coworkers, bosses, parents, siblings, etc. We have become a society that wants so badly to help with mental health, but not deal with it ourselves. We are glad to help everyone else, but will never tell someone else our issues. This is why relationships are so important. When we truly know someone and invest in their lives you can avoid the “awkward silence” that people can attach with mental health issues.

We MUST build a culture that encourages opening up and sharing. The only way I have gotten through some of my struggles is through sharing. We all struggle with something. It isn’t too big, and it isn’t too small. Everyone’s load is different and it impacts each person differently.

Know that your situation and everyone’s situation around you is real. Your struggle has a great impact on you. Also, know that by sharing it, you can have that same great impact on someone else to help them keep fighting.

We all need someone to inspire change for us. I encourage each of you to be that for where you are. Here comes the most important part of all of this. Knowing how important this is, please take time to take this final self-assessment.

  1. When was the last time mental health was discussed in your workplace?
  2. Do people feel open to discuss mental health issues in your workplace? Why or Why not?
  3. What has your workplace done to address the mental health needs of their students/staff/employees? Why or Why not?
  4. What have you done to inspire change?
  5. What have you done to address what you are going through?

I have built many relationships around me to keep me Mentally Strong. I have my family, coworkers, friends, and God. My faith and support system helps my keep negative thoughts and depression at a distance. I heard someone say  “your brain is a muscle, you always have to work to keep it in shape”. The way you communicate and information you take in are the weights that build the muscle of the mind.

#smashthesilence

RESOURCES

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration – https://www.samhsa.gov/

Crisis Call Center – http://crisiscallcenter.org/crisisservices-html/

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Alabama Department of Mental Health – http://www.mh.alabama.gov/

Mental Health America – http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/

 

Taylor Armstrong

Vestavia Hills City Schools

IT Systems Specialist

@TAYLOR_does_IT

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