Redefining Strength

Redefining Strength

How do you define strength? Do you define it as “sucking it up” and “pushing through”? I define strength as allowing yourself to be vulnerable with another person, even though you may not know how the person will respond, and sharing your story with him or her.

I believe in moments of vulnerability.
I believe in uniting others by providing space for that vulnerability to linger.
I believe in the deeper level of understanding that is the outcome of that vulnerability.

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“Depression, the Secret we Share” by Andrew Solomon; a TedTalk

“The opposite of depression is not happiness; it’s vitality”- Andrew Solomon

This is an amazing video about depression, both the humanistic experiences of depressive symptoms and the medical/psychiatric realms that interact with the mental illness.

While you watch this, please keep in mind that Solomon’s descriptions of depression are his subjective experiences of living with the illness. However, the stories he shares about what other people have experienced and the research he mentions can be generalized as a way to provide hope and to remind ourselves about the courage that exists in all of us.

Social Workers.. Should Not, what?

Social Workers.. Should Not, what?

This quote hits the core of social work in a minimal way, in my opinion. As the governmental shutdown continues and the number of vulnerable individuals increase, (due to the amount of poverty, oppression, and covert discrimination that is embedded within our society’s systematic functioning), we, as social workers, become even more critical in providing empowerment and hope to those we interact with daily. However, changing peoples’ lives also occurs by advocating for individuals on a community and macro level. The part of this quote that I disagree with is, “When we are no LONGER able to change a situation…”. As social workers, we CAN change situations by effectively touching the lives of our clients and advocating for, and with, our clients at a communal and legislative level. Social workers SHOULD NOT allow our society’s current financial and political situation impinge our ability to remain effective. Social workers SHOULD NOT accept the current situations of their clients or the system that perpetuates a person’s unfortunate circumstances. We, social workers, have the skills and capability to change not only the lives of our clients, but also remain influential in the communities and greater environments of our clients.

Two Mental Health Resources to Check Out

Mental health is a topic that isn’t going to go away.

The needs for mental health services will not disappear; nor will they be silenced by the stigma that is prevalent in our society.

I was to bring attention to two resources that encourage the sharing of personal stories about mental illness and mental health. The two resources are OK2Talk (ok2talk.org) in California, USA and Walk In My Shoes (walkinmyshoes.ie) in Ireland.

Ok2Talk is a resource for pre-teens, adolescents, and transitional age youth (18-26 years old) that provides the opportunity for them to share their stories and experiences of mental illness with the world. Reading the stories, you will notice the strength, resiliency, and courage of these young people. This site is a wonderful example of the implementation of the Recovery Model that I have discussed in previous blog entries. Hope is threaded throughout all, if not most, of the stories shared. The knowledge that one is not alone in the battle they are facing with symptoms of mental illness, or even the daily struggles of a young/emerging adult, creates a sense of community among the writers. OK2Talk also provides access to immediate counseling services through their hotline 1-800-273-TALK and providing a link to MentalHealth.gov. MentalHealth.gov provides a larger database of hotlines and resources for those seeking help.

The agencies that are supporting this amazing resource of recovery for our current and younger generations are The National Association of Broadcasters (NBA), Mental Health America, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), California’s Mental Health Movement: Each Mind Matters, Bring Change to Mind (bringchange2mind.org), Active Minds, and The Entertainment Industries Council, Inc.

The second resource is Walk In My Shoes in Ireland. Even though this resource isn’t based here in the United States, the site reminds us that the prevalence of mental illness is an international issue. Similar to OK2Talk, people can submit their personal stories of living with and managing a mental illness. This resource includes stories that are from youth and adults. In addition to sharing stories and fostering a sense of community, as does OK2Talk, Walk in My Shoes also raises awareness about hearing and learning about others’ experiences with mental illness by encouraging people to walk in shoes that are not necessary theirs; hence, walking in someone’s shoes.

Regardless of age, socioeconomic status, sex, gender, or race, mental health issues and one’s path towards recovery is a universal experience. Begin and continue the discussion about mental health and mental illness.

Mental illness impacts the family system, too!

A diagnosis of a biological ailment, such as cancer or diabetes, is easier for a family to understand in comparison to a mental health diagnosis.

 

           My parent’s diagnosis of depression was not clearly explained to my sibling or me. I did not understand that it was the dark depths of my parent’s depressive episodes that kept them in bed—not that they didn’t love me. I did not understand there was no dinner some nights because the depression suppressed my parent’s appetite—not because they didn’t want to feed me. I didn’t know that when my parent had a migraine, it was because of the depressive symptoms—not because I was talking too much. I also did not realize that when my parent felt ill, and therefore missed a day or two of work, that those missed work days would enhance the financial stress my parent, and thus I, would experience once the following paycheck arrived in the mail.

 

I was not alone in these experiences.

 

          A mental illness affects 1 in four American families. This statistic makes sense once we take into consideration that 1 in 17 American adults have a mental illness diagnosis, such as depression, an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Many more people may be undiagnosed, for a number of reasons. These statistics include fathers, mothers, grandparents, sons, daughters, and siblings.

 

These statistics do not include the very children who are both directly and indirectly impacted emotionally, psychologically, and sometimes physically within the family.

 

          As an adolescent, I associated my parent’s behavior with how much they loved me. If I had knowledge about what depression was and how it would be affecting my parent at a younger age, the information would have enhanced my understanding of the illness and increased my compassion for my parent. Being able to identify my parent’s depressive symptoms in my adolescent years would have allowed me to differentiate between the parent I truly loved from the depression I began to despise.

 

 Mental illness also impacts families on a broader scope regarding how the family interacts with systems such as employment and pharmacology, to name a few.

 

           The days my parent didn’t go to work, due to not having the energy or ability to get out of bed, prevented the paychecks from being the same amount as their fellow employee. A smaller paycheck meant less money for food, school supplies, and the requirement to decide paying the mortgage or the electric bill. Although the smaller paychecks allowed my sibling and I to spend more time with our grandparents, I soon began to rely on them for meals and laundry soap.

 

          The smaller paychecks also impacted my parent’s interactions with the pharmaceutical business. After paying the necessary bills and buying groceries, some times there was no money available to purchase their antidepressant medication. The missed days from work also increased my parent’s stress level. The consistent high stress levels my parent experienced also negatively impacted their physical health; a high release of cortisol over time decreases an individual’s immune system efficiency. Hence, my parent would also become physically sick and miss more days from work. This cycle could not last forever. 

 

          Mental illness, such as depression, also impacts the relationships within the family. As I nurtured a level of understanding and a compassion for my parent, I witnessed the dismantling of some relationships within the immediate family. The relationships suffered from a lack of knowledge in combination with combating communication styles.

 

As I attempted to demonstrate, mental illness, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, impacts the family. Even though matters within my family are not perfect, I am glad to say that they have improved over time and from an immense amount of understanding from all members involved.

 

          Mental illness affects each family differently and similarly. Each family is different because each family is its own entity. The similarity is in the process; the process in which families adapt to change and challenges by building resiliency. The ways an individual comes to accept a diagnosis (physical or psychological) does not end with the individual.

 

Rather, the process continues with the family. The individual does not progress towards recovery alone; the family moves towards recovery together, as one.

 

A diagnosis is not an end-all; it is an opportunity for the family to grow.

 

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Strength: What is it exactly?

I’m not talking about strength in the physical sense, like when someone lifts 300 pounds. The kind of strength I’m questioning is internal strength.

What is internal strength? How are we able to identify it? Does an individual, or group of people, gain this type of strength through experiences? And if so, what kinds of events or situations does a person have to experience in order to have achieved internal strength? Or can this type of strength be purchased through material goods?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. But what I do know is that, I see internal strength everywhere. Internal strength can exist in anyone regardless of age, sex, race, or class. I see an immense amount of internal strength when a person admits their mistakes and when someone has survived long-term struggles like oppression, trauma, pain, and heartache. Internal strength, in my opinion, is when a person asks for help and guidance. I identify internal strength when I see a person take a leap of faith into the unknown, such as when the leap is motivated by a desire to follow their dreams or to listen to their heart.

 I witness internal strength the most is when I look into my mother’s eyes.

Internal strength is a mysterious thing. This intangible entity is typically not self-prescribed. The people who truly have this internal strength, 9 times out of 10, wouldn’t say they do. Internal strength is a characteristic that others use to describe another.

I can say my mother has this internal strength; but she wouldn’t agree.

My answers to the questions I asked in the beginning of this entry are simple:
                    Internal strength is when an individual overcomes any and all obstacles without losing sight of who they are and without losing hope for what the future holds. I am able to identify internal strength when I see it because I was somehow socialized to believe that this internal strength does not exist in everyone; it comes from a special combination of events, circumstances, and amount of growth. Internal strength, in my opinion, cannot be bought.

Resiliency is the demonstration of internal strength.