My problems and lack of understanding regarding mental health continue to this day. And I am certainly not alone with any of these thoughts. When it all started over 12 years ago I was full of denial. The fear of being mocked and ridiculed by family and friends kept me in a state of existing but certainly not living to the fullest extent. Once I understood that my emotions were becoming unmanageable I sought out the help I was sure I needed. Four psychiatrists, countless psychologists and an endless supply of medication kept me just above the surface of a total breakdown. But I was still not able to live in the truest sense of the word. By that time it had become very obvious to those around me that I was depressed. It was certainly not a chemical imbalance like many professionals love to say but rather the simple fact that I had been dealing with issues for years…That I’d done everything in my power to keep those issues well hidden and the bubble had finally burst.
On a side note, I did a little research last year and managed to contact all of the pharmacies I dealt with to get a total number of meds that I was on during that 11 year period. 26 in total…at the highest rate of 10 different types a day. And people wondered why I slipped into cocaine for a couple years. It leveled me off from being a walking zombie. I’m not saying it was a wise choice, but I certainly had a reason for doing it. Also, I suffered far worse side effects once I stopped the meds than I ever did in my worst moments of quitting cocaine cold turkey. I know there is a place for medication, but that is the one subject I get very sensitive about…One that I continue to examine and write about to this day.
I have certainly mellowed out over the past few years, but I will never forget the steps I took to make sure everyone could hear my frustration loud and clear. I’m not justifying the things I said, but the reasons why they were said in the first place. There is a big difference between an excuse and a reason. Recent experiences have made me come to this realization. Years ago I made sure to tell anyone who would listen that one day they too would understand why, where, and when the emotions started to take control over my better judgment and eventually others close to me would one day have to deal with a lot of these mixed emotions that I was dealing with on a day-to-day basis too. Something about chickens coming home to roost. Those days have arrived in spades, where others are reaching out to me in desperation, fear, and anger… Searching for the answers to all the same questions I once had only with no one there to ask. When you need to reach the light it seems more common and reasonable to arrive there once you have spent a lot of time in the dark. And in the past ten to fifteen years of my life there has been a lot of darkness. Even though the light I find myself in now is far from where it could be, at this moment good enough is enough. The goodness in my life is cherished with more pride and joy than most people would ever want to embrace because unfortunately in this day and age, more often than not, it seems that an individual’s goodness is more about quantity over quality. I realize that the times, “they are a-changin.” Perhaps I am just a crabby old fart about the many things I don’t understand about the world we live in. But I’m no longer a young man on the cusp of becoming something more than the sum of my parts. I am just learning to adapt because the world is not in a hurry to adapt to my wants and needs. Nobody said it would be easy, but nobody said it should be that hard either.
I used to write a regular column for a mental health magazine, and it was such a great opportunity. But after a couple of years, I lost the passion for it. I kept thinking, “What can I say that hasn’t been said before? What makes my story any more important or as relevant to the thousands upon thousands of others dealing with their own demons on a daily basis?” The answer can be very simple, but understanding what it truly means is another story entirely. Understanding the answers has been my mission for several years now. The answers have always been there…I have been more than capable of accessing them, but understanding what they really meant was a realization that I would not be able to embrace and appreciate until recently. Once those moments occurred, the emotions that were once out of control became totally manageable. Sometimes it takes a person on the outside to make you realize the mistakes or misconceptions you are having about where you belong in this world.
It’s much like being an addict or an alcoholic… Many will be the first to tell you that you need to make a change but understanding why the change needs to happen is key. If you force someone off to rehab or AA knowing full well that it’s for your peace of mind rather than the greater good of the person who is fighting the good fight and suffering more than they should be you’re already starting in a losing position. I’ve seen it more times than I can count on two hands and lived it almost as many times. Those days are long gone for me. And it wasn’t the system, a mysterious mythological figure, or crossing my fingers that got me through the hardest of times. I did it because I knew it was the right thing to do, and I had all the tools needed to get me through the darkness and into the light. Many times in the past I was made to feel guilty about the path I took because so many had told me that I didn’t do it the right way… The right way being “their way.” There were times when I started to doubt my own confidence and judgment because I didn’t follow the same beaten path as others told me I should have, and I was wrong and they were right. It becomes very hard to do the right thing when you have constant criticism from the outside telling you otherwise. That’s when the right person can come into your life that understands the struggle…Someone who’s been there rather than an ignorant soul who is too busy spouting off about another’s struggle they’ve only read about on the internet because than haven’t got a clue how to think for themselves. Sometimes we all have found ourselves believing everything we read instead of thinking on our own. The shame of not knowing is what keeps us in a state of limbo. I have lied so many times in the past about every embarrassing aspect of my own life that my opinion means something because I have lived it…. Keeping up with the lies and coming up with a foolproof bull**** story that you must stick to for days, sometimes years, is a very dangerous game to play. But once any kind of truth is realized you become free in a way that no fantasy can compete with. No matter what the reality is today, it’s never the bummer that it used to be. But the truth is not always pretty… It can be discouraging, ugly, and totally void of any hope. But the end justifies the means.
I sought out help with the CMHA about five years ago. I was apprehensive at first, but once I settled in, it was much easier to open up about my struggles, and I was on the road to a healthier and happier me. At that point I had been two years clean from cocaine, and a year off of all meds. As you may know, those are the times when you feel you are invincible, but you don’t realize how vulnerable you still are…You are a work in progress, with much work still left to be done and many answers you have yet to fully understand. There is a lot of shame, guilt, and embarrassment attached to mental illness. For as much progress and awareness that has been made in the field of mental health, there is still a very heavy stigma attached to it. As I spent more time with the people at CMHA, I realized that I didn’t have to be afraid of that stigma, because they weren’t there to judge me. They were there to listen. They cared deeply, and still do.
So these are the salad days for me…When I can remember how bad it got and how well and fine-tuned I was when I came out the other side scarred but smarter. And I certainly would not have gotten this far had it not been for the support I received from two specific people in the CMHA community. I don’t need to name names, but they certainly know who they are.
Inspiration on any level is what drives me to think that I can do and say great things in the mental health community. I am hoping to get involved in the speakers bureau sooner than later, because I do feel I can contribute a lot of positivity about the very sensitive subject of mental health. This is what I like to refer to as “Learning how to smile.” My four year culmination of random thoughts and constant opinions that seems to fall to the wayside far too often only to rear it’s glorious little head when my ambition and passion defeats all the fear. There are days when I can take control of it and some days it aggressively takes over me, and that’s when the fun needs to take over. Whatever makes your motor move forward without fear, doubt, or shame, do what needs to be done. Be the kindest person you can be, or be mean. But keep your heart and mind pure…Express it with unmerciful honesty and confidence border-lining on arrogance. Anything less is nothing but a compromise which rarely works in your favor. Compromise only works with the best intentions, but it’s just another victim…A fabrication of the rotten truth. And if others judge you for the choices you make or the words you say, let them. They don’t want to learn, and you can’t make them listen. But those who listen, cherish them, but don’t rely on them to think for you.
My opinions are my own. The only thing I can judge or trust is my own common sense regarding what I know about people like me. And, right now, feeling and acting a little weird is the best way for me to get that kind of stuff done faster. It’s not for everyone, but that’s the point…To find what works best for you. When I reached out to the CMHA, I got the guidance I was looking for, but I knew the answers and the choices were up to me. I had to figure it out, but I needed a point in the right direction. And the hardest part of all is reaching out and making that first step. I did that a long time ago, and I am a better person for it. Now, I am sort of part of the team. Being a part of the client and family advisory committee gives me the opportunity to help others in understanding the struggles, the fear, and eventually, the answers to many of the questions we all have from time to time. I am looking forward to helping out as much as I can, and one day getting more involved in the CMHA community…but for now, good enough is most certainly enough.
– Sean Hampson