It’s been a little over half a year when I decided to take a short leave of absence from work. For Mental Health Awareness month I’m bringing back this entry that I wrote, privately, to myself on Google docs.
“You’re not alone.” If you’ve ever been in a situation where someone confides in you something that they fear or are ashamed of, chances are they want to know that they are not alone. Being alone makes you feel like it is somehow your fault that you are in a situation, but if we can see it as normal and part of being human, it somehow lessens the pain that we feel.
I’ve been in plenty of situations where I’ve had to say that to others, and to myself. I recently took the step of asking for temporary workplace accommodations for a short-term disability related to adjustment disorder. Adjustment disorder is a group of symptoms, such as stress, feeling sad or hopeless, and physical symptoms that can occur after you go through a stressful life event. For me, it’s a bit more than just feeling stressed on an one-off instance, and a little less than post-traumatic stress, but it’s a very treatable condition. For me, getting a new job, moving to a new city, having one of my cats suddenly pass away, getting married, and then working a tough schedule over months would be stressful events for any person on their own, let alone combined in my situation. It all just got to be too much. And so now, I’m looking to rest, adjust, and get a fresher perspective on how to manage stress.
It helped that the people I met along the way all responded with compassion and shared stories of their struggle along the way. And some shared the relief and happiness that came from finally taking steps to take of themselves. If I hadn’t been so lucky, I would have felt like I was all alone. But to have people say small things like they’ve been in therapy before or that they have felt anxiety too, it was good to know that I was not the only one. I am smart. Most people are, and can understand the logic that out of millions of humans, they are probably not the first ones who have had this type of struggle. Yet it is one thing to think about the idea abstractly and quite another to hear someone you respect and trust admit to their vulnerabilities. That is not to say that you must always share parts of yourself, and indeed that is not appropriate sometimes, but for the most part, showing that you too are human means that you are ready to lend that person a helping hand.
I’m always reminded of this story from The West Wing, one of my favorite shows. In this episode, Josh Lyman, struggling clearly with PTS(D) from almost being killed, is confronted by his boss Leo McGarry who sees someone in trouble. Leo tells Josh this story to let him know that he is here for help:
This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out.
A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?”
The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?”
The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
Then a friend walks by.
“Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.”
The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’re not alone.