Welcome to the May edition of the Voice. Nationally, May is Mental Health Month, and this year’s theme is “Pathways to Wellness: Leading Full and Productive Lives." True wellness is more than just the absence of painful symptoms; it is thriving in all areas of our lives —mentally, emotionally, socially, and physically. Oftentimes arriving at such wellness takes a lot of work.
Recently, I heard that “change happens on the outside and transformation happens on the inside;” it reminds me of a phrase from a long time ago: “change is inevitable, but growth is optional.” I think they kind of mirror the same concept. Maybe this is really hitting home for me because recently someone close to me called. She has a forty-year-old son who is currently in a substance abuse treatment facility out of town and he called and asked her to send money for antibiotics. She wanted to know if I thought she should send it to him. I told her no and the reasons why I didn’t think it was a good idea. Later she called back to let me know that she had told him she couldn’t help him anymore, and she asked him not to call her for money again. I know this was very scary for her and a big step, even though she believes ultimately she will be helping him. Her decision to take this stand required a whole new mind shift for her. Making that kind of change is scary territory. I’m really proud of her.
It makes me think about our clients, and how we ask them to change, to grow, and to transform every day. Sometimes we act as if this is no big deal, or even wonder “gosh, why haven’t they done it already, what’s taking them so long?” But we are asking them to transform their lives, to have completely different habits, thought patterns, sometimes completely different friends and living situations. We’re asking some of them to take medication that most of us would be hesitant about taking, and we’re asking them to take it every day for the rest of their lives. Some people may minimize this and grumble, “Why can’t people just do it?” The truth is it is far more difficult than “just” doing it.
During Mental Health month when thinking about transformation, whether in people with a serious mental illness, less severe disorders, or those with other behavioral health issues, let’s remember that transformation takes time and patience and it can be a scary thing. I kid around sometimes and say, “Everybody loves change as long as somebody else is doing it,” or “Change is great as long as everything stays the same.” We really are asking people to change their whole lives. Could you do it?
We’re asking people in treatment to spend time looking at issues they have usually spent many years avoiding—whether avoiding them through the use of drugs and alcohol, or living on the streets, or some other way. Some even try to avoid dealing with a serious mental illness by refusing to admit that it exists. Quite simply, many have gone to great lengths not to look at those issues. We ask them to make a complete change and walk through the fear, and look at those painful areas of their lives. More times than not, they step up and do it.
I often see this kind of courageous transformation in our staff too; especially our staff that used to be clients and are now employees—and great employees, at that. Not only are they clean and sober, or stable on their medication, but they are showing up every day, they are responsible and committed to helping other people change their lives, and they are providing for their families. To me seeing how far they have come is really inspirational. I’m a “normie” and I don’t know that I could have made those transformations. I’m not convinced that I could have gone through all that they have and come out the other side as successful as they are. Oftentimes, they come through all of this, yet they are very humble and grateful, and have this profound humility, when they are so unbelievably strong.
What’s more, we have had countless clients who have experienced horrific lives and cruel pasts, homes where there was abuse of all kinds, including homes where alcohol and drugs or mental illness were rampant, and they have come through it to successfully raise their families; they are good neighbors and good employees. It truly speaks to the amazing power of resilience.
This May I invite you to join me in taking the time to appreciate the courageous change and transformation in the lives of those recovering from mental illness, as well as those who are facing other difficult challenges and circumstances with a spirit of resilience.
With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.