There is an elephant in the room. It’s enormous, with purple spots and flashing neon tusks, and it won’t stop trumpeting as loud as it can. Somehow, everyone manages to ignore it. Talking about it makes people uncomfortable and it won’t go away, so they pretend it isn’t there. If you do talk about it, you’re immediately silenced in a multitude of ways. Some people will tell you that you’re exaggerating and it’s just a tiny little elephant and you’re perfectly capable of pretending it isn’t there. Others will say that it isn’t appropriate to talk about the elephant. Still others will insist that since the elephant isn’t bothering them, it can’t possibly be bothering you, or at least they don’t want to hear about how it’s bothering you. Don’t talk about it. Don’t acknowledge it. Look away. Grin and bear it. Oh, the elephant is standing on your chest and you can’t breathe? You’re just not trying hard enough. You could push it off if you wanted to. Why are you crying? Surely not because of the enormous hole in your chest where the elephant gored you with his tusk. Just stop bleeding. Try harder. Just ignore the pain and you’ll be fine. Keep smiling. Keep pretending.
The elephant’s name is Mental Illness. The unwritten rules of society and the stigma attached keep people from seeking help. This is as true for people in the public eye as it is for those of us fighting our own battles in private. One of the first questions asked when someone loses the battle is, “why didn’t they ask for help?” Society teaches us early on that we can’t ask for help because that would mean talking about the elephant in the room. So we force a smile and learn how to hide the fact that we’ve been crying. “I’m tired.” “I just don’t feel well.” “My allergies are really bad today.” “I’m fine.” Always, always, “I’m fine.”
The last time I was able to see a therapist, he wanted to hospitalize me. That was several years ago. The problem with temp work, which I’ve been doing for quite a while, is that even if you get insurance, it doesn’t cover mental health. I’m finally insured again. Part of me worries I’ll get the same reaction. I just keep thinking, “I don’t have time for a psychotic break. I have a job and school.” That’s the other thing you learn. It’s not just that you shouldn’t talk about it, it’s that self-care is selfish. Everything, everyone else has to come first. I know I need help. I know I’m unwell.