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The House Mental Illness Built

Houses can all look the same until you open the door to what awaits inside.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Today, Unfilled Spaces will be starting a series of posts to raise awareness and education regarding mental illness. This series will carry over into June due to the willingness of others to share their stories and expertise on this matter. We want to be advocates for reducing the stigma around mental illness and opening the doors for honest communication in the hopes these conversations can lead us to real solutions. Please feel free to comment on any of the posts respectfully. describes mental health as the following.

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

As we work through this series, we hope to increase awareness, communication, education, and help/resources while reducing the stigma around having these conversations.

At times we become numb to the meaning of words, so as a reminder, I have included some definitions from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

AWARENESS: the quality or state of being aware: knowledge and understanding that something is happening or exists.

COMMUNICATION: a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.

EDUCATION: the action or process of educating or of being educated.

STIGMA: a mark of shame or discredit.

HELP: to give assistance or support to (someone): to provide (someone) with something that is useful or necessary in achieving an end.

I love that the definition of help says useful and necessary assistance. Unfortunately, it’s easy to lose sight of that in the world we live in. We are a society that is good at heaping guilt and criticism on each other. Being mindful in the communication of the type of help we are giving will go a long way in reducing the stigma. What appears as inaction, tolerance, or lack of parental discipline, etc., from the outside world, for some of us on the inside, we are actually fighting the greatest battle we have ever fought to reach inside the very heart and mind of someone we love unequipped and unprepared for what lies ahead. The truth is, we can't be the experts on someone else's story, but oh, how we try.

In dealing with mental health, sometimes the obstacles seem overwhelming. Mental health recovery is costly. It costs time, money, patience, uncertainty, boundaries, dying to self, dying to wants, fear, and a plethora of other difficult choices. It can take days, months, or years to find a treatment that works. It can be finding a solution that works only to have to readjust a few months later. But, it is always there playing in the background, even on the best days.

A little about our story…… defines mental illness as the following.

Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.

There are four different people in our household and four different perspectives based on how we process information. I can only speak to mine.

Oct. 2, 2015, is a day that is etched in my mind forever. It was a night we all planned to go to bed early because our oldest son had a cross-country meet two hours away. It was his senior year, and we all loved this race. It was close enough for the family to visit, so it was special. We were like any family enjoying the firsts of many lasts in the life of one of our children as he prepared to go to college. Little did I know the next time I opened my eyes, this picture of what I thought my life and how I thought our future would look as a family would be shattered forever.

Strangely enough for me, I fell asleep early, which never happened. All of us did except for one. Around 11:00 pm, I was the first to be startled awake by the sound of men’s voices in our house. It was frightening. I shook my husband awake, and I could start to make out the words by then. “Where are your parents?” At that moment, it was as if I was watching a movie about someone else’s life. I watched this story unfold at a distance. It seemed safer to me. In this space, I could tell my husband what he needed to do in his confusion. Go here, don’t go there; they aren’t going to allow us to see her until they make sure we aren’t the cause of this. In this space, I couldn’t feel any emotions. All I know is that when I came too close to the woman (me) that I couldn’t recognize at that moment, I felt overwhelming confusion, anger, sadness, shame, and grief. I couldn’t make sense of the world around me. It was realizing your house is listed on a sheriff's call log with a suicide attempt knowing that it is public information in which you just came privy of yourself. What in the world? How did this happen? This night could have had a different ending. Thankfully, we still have our child with us. Mental illness is part of all of us now. It affects the four of us differently, but it doesn’t leave any of us untouched or unchanged.

Above is a glimpse of how the next seven years started. It is where we’ve experienced loss, grief, undoing, and all the emotions in between. It’s where some days I don’t even recognize who I am or whose life this is. It’s where we’ve experienced unconditional love, forgiveness, empathy, and a willingness to understand. It's where we have found compassion and the ability to listen. It’s where we have strength in our marriage to overcome obstacles one day entirely, and the next day wonders how we can make it one more step together. It’s where we have found the courage to speak up for those who can’t. It’s where I continue to struggle to accept this as my story, even though it’s not the one I would have chosen. It is brokenness, and it is beauty. It is a space where feelings coexist. And like I mentioned here in my unfilled spaces in my personal life, it is how God keeps me in the present. I am filled with doubt, despair, uncertainty, and fear if I look too far ahead. I am filled with sadness, guilt, confusion, and defeat if I look behind me. God is teaching me to be here in the moment as I continue to heal and trust Him with our story.

The first step can look different for everyone. It can be awareness, education, seeking help, the desire to understand, asking a person how they are, and meeting them in this space. It can be communication, encouraging someone to take that next step in a positive direction towards healing, and walking with them in that direction. What does it look like for you? We would love to hear.

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