I was clenching my jaw, and I wasn’t sleeping well. So, I signed up for a psilocybin study.
Psilocybin is a mushroom that has been used for hundreds of years to help people with numerous mind and body challenges.
It’s worth a try, I convinced myself, as I walked to Dr. Q’s office.
A rather large desk filled the space between us and stacks of books and paperwork were piled so high around him, making it nearly impossible for me to read his body language.
My hands shook. My mind raced. I wanted to know if it was OK to get help.
“Dr. Q, have you ever taken psilocybin?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
Why not? I thought, Is it a bad idea? Is it scary for him too?
Shifting the conversation, he leaned forward and asked, “Has it occurred to you that you have come from a family that suffers from mental illness?”
Those words hung in the air like a thick cloud of dark gray smoke. My body went numb. My heart sank. I could barely breathe.
Illness? No, it had not occurred to me, and frankly I never wanted it to occur to me. The fact that my parents drank heavily every evening, suffering from “isms” of all sorts, was somehow easier to accept… probably because I could abstain from those substances, but I could not abstain from genetics, nor could I go back and create a new beginning.
There were certain challenges over which I had no control. These challenges laid the foundation for the anxiety I experience to this day.
Too anxious to even process what Dr. Q said, and feeling entirely too vulnerable, I opted out of the study.
I continued searching for and exploring various modalities to help with my anxiety. Some of these include:
- Al-anon (a twelve-step program for friends and family members of alcoholics) meetings
- Medication for anxiety
- Time in nature
- Reading spiritual books
- Daily gratitude practice
Then, one morning in early May, as I sat on my meditation mat, listening to the brief lesson offered at the end—
Since it’s mental health month, today we’re going to talk about signs of depression.
Once again, embarrassment surged through me as I was reminded that I had this thing… that carries a stigma in our society.
I’m doing everything I can to help myself over here, I wanted to shout out to the world, as if shouting would somehow help me to hear myself.
Son of a bitch, I thought, as I remembered a brief interaction I had with one of my neighbors.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m struggling,” I said, flatly, “That’s why I do all the things you see me doing on social media. The adventures are a beautiful distraction,” I said, feeling unsure if I overshared.
“I had no idea you were struggling. You seem to have everything together,” she said, and then shared a little about her own struggle with anxiety.
So, yes, I struggle. Even with all the things I do to help with anxiety. Why is that? If there were a simple answer, it would be that my brain (for a whole variety of unimaginable reasons) was primed, from a very young age, for anxiety.
Panic attacks can surge for no apparent reason, exhausting me and making it tremendously difficult to do my work.
Wow, Misti, that sounds tough, you might be thinking… but what can I do to help? And, why are you sharing this in such a public format?
Well, first of all…
It is #MentalHealthMonth, and frankly, sharing is a part of my healing journey.
Chances are, you can either relate personally, or you know of someone who has struggled with depression or anxiety.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression, globally. Anxiety and depression are two sides of the same coin.
The third, and most important, reason for sharing a part of my story with you is to offer a short list of actions you can take to be of support to someone who is struggling.
- Listen without trying to fix. “The answer monster,” as Michael Bungay Stainer refers to it in his book The Coaching Habit, is our impulse to fix the situation. The Answer Monster is exceptionally difficult to tame, especially when listening to someone you care about who is struggling to get through the day.
The morning I began writing this article, I was struggling with feelings of dread and fear of loneliness. As I cried my eyes out, Yvette, my wife, listened generously, and then said these magic words—“What you’re feeling makes sense, I’m sorry you’re struggling, and we’re in this together.”
“Misti,” Terrance, a leader in the entertainment industry, said to me after reading this post, “A few years ago, I had an employee who suffered from depression. When I noticed he was struggling, I would invite him into my office, and close the door. As he shared, he cried. All I did was listen and hold a space for him to be ‘not ok.’ A moment for him to not feel so alone.”
Simply listening is more powerful than you know.
- Be vulnerable. One of the gifts of this pandemic is the normalization of mental health challenges. Everyone is struggling with some element of this pandemic, making it easier to connect through our shared experiences.
Two weeks into the pandemic, I reached out to Rich Sheridan, CEO and co-founder of Menlo Innovations (a company well celebrated for its culture), hoping to hear some reassurance that everything was going to be okay. I could never have imagined how healing (and connecting) it would be to hear—“Misti, I’m struggling over here. I have no idea what’s going to happen. I’m scared too.”
In a world where many leaders are pretending to be “Ok” or “Strong,” it’s difficult to believe that our “not okayness” is, in fact, okay. Sharing your challenges gives others permission to share their own.
- Instigate opportunities for connection and contribution. Depression and anxiety are directly correlated to negative thought patterns (habits of thought around one’s sense of worth and ability to adapt and learn) and is often acquired early in life.
When the brain is locked onto negative thought patterns, it can be remarkably challenging to reach out, put your name in for an opportunity, or to work at building relationships. Yet, it is through relationships, and borrowed belief, that we find healing.
Offer encouragement, ask for help or advice, acknowledge and appreciate good effort, and remind others of how talented they are.
A mind that is challenged, supported, acknowledged, and rewarded stands a greater chance of staying focused and progressing, leaving less time for negative, fearful, thoughts to take hold. By intentionally checking in, encouraging, and helping others define and achieve success, you are helping them to feel connected and supported. A real recipe for mental wellness.
The stigmatism around mental health is real and can lead to painful isolation. Sometimes, everything is not OK. Sometimes, we need the support and care of others to get through. Reach out.
If you found this post to be helpful, please share it.
Here’s to your greatness,
Misti Burmeister has facilitated communication that results in trust and connection for nearly 20 years, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Make sure your communication is coming across the way you intend, visit https://www.MistiBurmeister.com