Lift the Hat. Lift the Stigma.

by Mark Zaugg 10. January 2015 14:27



Hey Mack,

I never knew you personally, but I'm learning a lot about you in snippets of stories.  There's no doubt that I like you a lot.  We have a lot in common, I'm sure we'd be great friends.

Let's start with the hat.  I started wearing a hat to stop my ears from getting sunburnt all the time.  I love wearing a hat now.  You loved yours, I get it!  It's comfortable, it's convenient and it becomes part of your identity.  Your hat is yours, my hat is mine - the same but different too.  From here on out, I'll always have just a tiny thought of you when I put mine on.

Earlier this week I got watching #CHHSLetsTalk gather steam.  My daughter attends Crescent Heights, I admit I feel a solidarity where I'd otherwise feel no affiliation at all.  My hat's off to Brett Rothery, too.  What we saw this week was a crucially important conversation with some of the most affected of us taking part.  I had an opportunity to get involved.  I RTed a pledge from Zach Laing pretty early on, I tracked it as it gathered momentum and was really curious to see how a pure tweet dedicated to Mental Health Awareness would fare.  In the end, I was proud of the campaign and I'm proud of Brett for putting in the time and effort beyond mere clicktivism.  I matched what he raised, Ryan V. matched as well.  The three of us totalled a $321.00 donation - that's pretty okay in it's own right.

But this is my real donation.

I don't know everything about Mack, but I intimately know my own story.  It hasn't always been great.  Barring the best, most caring doctor I've ever known and some supreme support from my Dad and a few very close friends I would have not survived my fight against depression.

It has come and gone over the years.  Different rounds have been very different fights.  Today it's never soul-crushing and overwhelming the way it has been in the past.  I've got better coping skills now and I've got experience as to how things turn out given time and effort.  I can feel the difference between feeling bummed out and feeling depression set in and I've learned the first thing to do is talk about it with someone I trust.  The dread, the worry, the suffocation and hopelessness that used to paralyze me becomes less significant when I talk with someone who knows me and has an external viewpoint.

At my absolute worst, I needed help from my doctor.  I got lucky, he found a medication that worked for me and I stuck with it - even when I didn't feel I needed it - until I actually did not need it any longer.  I know that should I even need it, I have a tool I can rely upon again.  I'll be happy if I never need to, though.  I don't want to have to fight that hard again.

A few years back, when I started climbing out of my pit, I had went to visit my doctor.  I needed to refill my prescription and was back into financial issues at the time, but I knew it was more important to stick with my treatment so I rode my bike down to see him.  It was a longish wait that day, when I got in we went through our usual questions as how I was doing.  At the end of the visit he commented on me riding my bike - I had caught pneumonia previously and riding helped strengthen my lungs and get healthier.  He caught me with a very unexpected question, "Did you notice the guy who just left?"

Well, no, not really.  I was somewhat self-absorbed that day.

"He's fighting the same thing you are.  You know what he said to me when he got in here?  He said, 'There's a guy in the waiting room with a bike helmet under his arm and a smile on his face.  I want to be THAT guy.'"

I hope that guy knows that both him and I are in this together.  It's why having this conversation about mental health is so important to us all.  It's that outside perspective that matters so much!

It's also one of the many reasons I ride a bike.  It's entirely good for my physical and mental health.  I curl in the winter for the same reasons.  Going for neighbourhood walks (especially taking a borrowed dog for a walk) does the same thing.  Taking the time to care for myself physically helps me mentally.  Another tool in my belt to help myself, learned from another man's viewpoint of me.  Everyone's tool set is a bit different, we could use a hand finding what works for each of us.

Time with my friends means everything.  People who care, people who spend the time to talk, to touch base and keep life in perspective.  We all need friends like that.  We need to have these conversations on social media to change the world, but we need to have these conversations in person to change our circumstance.  Take the time to have those conversations, it will literally change our lives for the better.

So Mack, we never got to have this conversation together.  I'm sorry we didn't, I bet you had some really interesting insights that would help me.  Maybe this conversation will be someone who's not you and not me, but is in their own way just like us.

The most important part is that we start the conversation and never stop talking about it.


One parting shot: The downside of posting this to my blog is that it's publicly known and will never go away now.  There was once a nurse for an insurance company who was probing and intrusive and generally stigmatized the fact that I have "a history of mental illness."  She can kiss my ass.  This is about me, not about her, not about insurance, not about anything other than making each other's lives better.  It doesn't have to be a life sentence, it doesn't have to be an everlasting unchanging problem, it doesn't have to be anything more than one of life's experiences many of us go through.

Let's ditch the blame game and get back to healing and making life richer and more fulfilling - even those times when there are only lows, really lows and very, very lows.  The stigma just gets in the way of making it better.  Life usually does get better.

Lift the Hat.  Lift the Stigma.

My hat's off to you, Mack.

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