This year during Mental Health Awareness Month I happen to be reading I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, Joanne Greenberg’s revolutionary novel about a teenage girl’s courageous journey to reclaim her sanity.
One of the most notable themes in the book is the tenuous distinction between the “healthy” and “mentally ill”. Throughout the novel, the heroine’s capacity to sniff out dishonesty is startling—and refreshing. One of her biggest pet peeves? When others judge her for her loose grip on sanity when she can tell they’re hiding their own mental illnesses and insecurities. This sounds painfully familiar.
We have a lot to learn from this story—a novel published in 1964 that could easily debut today and be heralded as “timely”. Since Rose Garden’s release, the stigma of mental illness has been mitigated by more awareness and compassion in the culture at large, but there is still a lot of work to do.
I’ve battled my own personal demons in silence as so many of us have. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I sought out the help and support I needed to get a better handle on my anxiety and OCD. In the early ‘80s (when I first presented with symptoms) there wasn’t a national dialogue on these issues, so I wasn’t diagnosed with OCD until my late twenties. Like a lot of kids with OCD, my rituals and ticks were the butt of family jokes. For years, the internal narrative that streamed in my head was pretty ugly, and I faced it alone. Once I learned there was a name for my cycle of intrusive thoughts and compulsion to conduct a host of daily rituals, I felt a sense of relief—I wasn’t alone anymore.
We all have a path to feeling healthy. Mine? Therapy, honesty, and a good sense of humor. Once I claimed the problem, it was much less scary—it had a name, and it was manageable. I can talk back to intrusive thoughts, gain perspective, and even kill catastrophic thinking by learning to laugh at myself. I learned how to help myself through trial and error, opening up to those closest to me, and then thanking those people for their support and patience.
These days the struggle is less intense than when I was younger. During periods of high stress I can backslide into my old neuroses and rituals, but it’s also easier to get back on track. We’re all wired differently and cope with the hand we’re dealt in unique ways. We have to find ways to achieve balance.
This month, I wish all of us mental and spiritual wellness. And peace.