January is historically a time of new beginnings, where we all make resolutions to eat healthier, to exercise more often, or finally organize the closets. However, just because we make a resolution it doesn’t mean that we will follow through. In fact, according to U.S. News and World Report, 80% of people who set a resolution don’t keep it. A couple of years ago the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation suggested choosing a word for the year instead, as a theme for how you wanted to live the next twelve months.
If I had to choose a word, it would be perspective. As a survivor of trauma and PTSD, one of the things I want people around me to have is a better perspective on how mental illness and invisible illness affects our loved ones. Too often, we are quick to judge, which only makes the person who is suffering feel worse, and can cause them to keep everything to themselves, instead of putting on a face of happiness they don’t feel.
We all know stifling our emotions is a bad idea. But do we think about how our words or actions are causing the people around us to stifle their feelings? It’s not just ordinary people—it’s healthcare workers and teachers and other professionals. Maybe it’s well-meaning, or maybe they don’t understand the depth of need in a person with PTSD or other mental illnesses. In 2013, the American Journal of Public Health found that 70% of people with mental illness receive no treatment.
Think about that number for a second. If you are in a group of ten people who all have a broken leg, imagine sending seven of them home without so much as a band-aid. That’s what’s happening in the world of mental health. Kind of gives you a different perspective, doesn’t it?
The Latin roots of the word perspective translate to “look through.” If we look through the stigma, look through the roadblocks, and look through the façade too many people put on so they aren’t judged harshly, I bet we will see an entirely different world. One where people who are suffering from an invisible illness feel empowered to speak up, to ask for help, and to make a difference in the people around them. Where 70% of the people who seek help actually get it, and get resources that change their lives.
I had to demand answers, and go from doctor to doctor to figure out what was wrong with me. Most of them dismissed me. It was my dogged determination to get better that finally gave me a diagnosis and treatment plan. How many people see one doctor or five doctors, and end up discouraged because no one will listen or believe them? It’s our job this year to have a different perspective of those around us, and the battles they are waging, whether those battles are obvious or not.
When you encourage others, you in the process are encouraged because you're making a commitment and difference in that person's life. Encouragement really does make a difference.—Zig Ziglar
If you are one of those people who have struggled and found a way to look through your illness and the stigma around it, I hope you reach out to others. I had to become my own advocate, and in doing so, learn to be proud of how far I had come, rather than embarrassed by how far I had to go. Now, I can speak directly to others about what I am feeling or going through and not feel shame or embarrassment.
Don’t make a resolution this year. Instead, change your perspective in 2021. Look through the hype and stigma and embrace those who need to be hugged. Or talk about your own struggles. I guarantee there is someone else going through the same thing who has been waiting so long for you to open that door.
For more about my story, please pick up my book, You’ve Got Some Nerve: The Battle Back from an Invisible Injury.