Happy May! (Mental Health Awareness Month)

I just wanted to take a couple minutes of your time to share with you what the month of May represents, Mental Health Awareness.

As you probably already know from my blog, I have decided to donate some of my money based on my ballhawking adventures.  It isn’t a ton of cash, but so far I have a total of around $60 that I will be donating to NAMI.org.  NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Illness – has declared May the month of awareness for all mental illnesses and want to help people become aware of their own mental health.

We often worry about our physical health, which can show obvious and immediate impact on our quality of life – a broken bone is easy to diagnose and the pain is easy to place.  Mental health issues are much trickier to pinpoint and can often go undetected or fester below the surface until it’s too much to handle one day.

My Story (I’ll keep it brief):

I still remember the first time that I had a large panic attack – it felt like a heart attack, like certain death.  I was worried about my physical health, but little did I know that it was my mental health that had manifested into such a physical sensation.  These episodes came and went, and for a while it was nearly daily.  it started to affect the people around me and my work; I never knew if I would be able to make it through the next 30 minutes without having an episode.  My mind was fixated on this doom and worry, but I didn’t know that this cycle only gave my anxiety more power.  After going to the doctor and taking a test to show that it was not a physical issue (no heart problems), I decided to go see a therapist.  I got lucky, since I was able to do some research online and found out that my symptoms could also be anxiety/panic-related.

***NOTE:  Do NOT self-diagnose your illness, whether physical or mental.  You can take your symptoms and get ideas for what it could be, but then share all of those symptoms and results with a doctor.***

I started going to therapy quite regularly, bi-weekly if I remember correctly.  I told my family about what I was going through and what I was learning and they supported me.  I realized that the more people I told and the more I talked about my issues and shared myself with others, the better I felt.  The hardest part, and it added a little bit of short-term anxiety, was telling friends.

…But they are FRIENDS for a reason, it’s because they care and do want to talk to you.  Sure, you probably have certain things you like to talk about more (me, I like sports and music talk), but I found out that some of my closest friends (and family!) have also dealt with anxiety or other mental illnesses either directly or with other people they are close to.  This was a relief to me, since I could finally share something about myself to those that cared; I rarely did that, if anything, I was always crazy without saying anything about myself at all.

Once I was able to feel comfortable with myself around family and friends, and once I realized that some of them were fighting the same fight, I decided to give something back.  I knew the pain and the fear associated with a fairly standard diagnosis of anxiety, so knowing that there were people in worse shoes than mine that needed help made me realize that this was a sort of calling for me.

Enter NAMI:

I decided to take my campaign to the blog-o-sphere.  I didn’t have a huge audience, but at least wanted my voice out there on the off chance that it would reach someone who needed it.  Since I was not ashamed and I was trying to be open and honest, I figured what better platform than a public e-journal like this?  Now, I understand that most of this blog is about chasing balls, but there are also sprinklings of who I am, and when I am not catching baseballs I like to include those personal stories, so it’s not strictly a 100% baseball blog.

I was able to fuse ballhawking and helping others by donating a certain dollar amount for each piece of memorabilia I bring home from a baseball stadium.  As I said above, I am at around $60 now and hope to reach triple digits before the year is over.  One hundred dollars isn’t much, but when you consider that it is from just one person, it can really add up.

If you look back at some older entries, I tossed around a few ideas for “charities” (“causes” seems more appropriate now) that I would donate to that helped those with mental illness – people like me.  After much research and investigating, I found out that NAMI was a very strong organization and had a higher percent per dollar that went directly to the organization’s cause than other organizations.  NAMI is a large organization that, as the name states, is national and reaches a wide range of people on the “mental illness spectrum.”

What May Means to NAMI:

NAMI has a campaign right now (of course to raise donations, but more importantly, awareness) that looks like this:

It’s Time.

…And they are trying to spread a basic message, “You’re Not Alone”:

That video is just one of many stories that are shared through NAMI.  Though there is much pain behind each story (and there will always be future struggles), I also get a feeling of pure JOY when I see someone kind of like me that is dealing with their issues and telling a success story.  It’s a hard fight, but the steps and help that NAMI provides in just spreading awareness alone proves to be the biggest win for most people that are trying to figure out why they feel the way they do.

So before I give my thanks – thanks that mean more than any baseball I could EVER receive at a ballgame – I want to leave you with this challenge.  This challenge is not monetarily based, but one of awareness and compassion:

  1. If you, or anyone you know, have been feeling a little off and not quite yourself, mentally, reach out to someone.  Maybe it’s just a small issue that you need to overcome or maybe it’s a mental illness that you have had all of your life, it doesn’t matter, find someone who will listen.  Talking is often the best support/medicine that can be prescribed.
  2. If you know of someone that has a mental illness, please, PLEASE, do not make them feel like an outsider or “crazy.”  We all have our battles, some greater than others, but even the most healthy person gets sick, and that goes for mental health, too.  We all fight small bouts of depression, anxiety, phobias, etc., so we all need to be there supporting each other.  The quicker we can lend a hand, the quicker we can help others overcome these obstacles.  Enough of the stigmas that compare mental illness to the “loony bin” or “psych wards,” mental illness sufferers do not need to be locked up and quarantined, we just need support.

 

MY THANKS:

This list could included HUNDREDS of people, since each reader and each story I have heard deserves their own thanks, but as I do not know each person or their name – and have limited space – I will name the major players in my story.

My wife, Jael – THANK YOU for helping me in every single way that you have.  I know how hard it was at times, and how much it hurt you as well, but you are the main reason why I got the help I needed when I did.  Without your support and push, I would probably have lived with the attacks and not sought help until much later (if at all).

My parents – Although my issues started when I was much younger, and I should have gotten help sooner, your support this time was crucial.  I didn’t know if they would be critical of me, if they would think I was odd, or what either of them would think.  But when i finally decided to just come clean and tell them my pain and what the doctors were thinking, I learned about family members with similar issues and I knew that my dad wanted me to get help – he had lost a friend to depression and I feel like he feels bad for not fully understanding just how hard his friend’s depression was.

My grandparents – Similar to my parents, I didn’t know how they’d react.  I was less concerned about their reaction, though, but when i found out that each side of grandparents had some familiarity on anxiety/depression, I leaned on both for their input and knowledge.  I was able to be convinced by one of my grandmas that medicine was not a bad thing, and she was able to tell me what worked well for her (a few didn’t work so well) and I am happy to say that she was right.  I always wanted to keep any drugs or medicine out of me (even Tylenol), so her story must have really meant something to me.

Friends – You know who you are.  I had one friend that had some brain trauma that resulted in some mental health issues and when he and his wife showed support (on the same day they announced to us that they were having their first born!) it felt AMAZING.  I also have another set of friends (soon-to-be husband and wife) that both deal with anxiety issues and were able to not only tell me their stories and offer the mental support, but one of them even walked 6+ miles from a Dairy Queen back to my house when I had a panic attack.  We don’t always agree with our friends – heck, it’s hard to agree with yourself over time – but supporting them through thick and thin is admirable.

YOU – Thank you for reading this.  I hope you take my 2-step challenge.  We all need someone once in a while, so thanks for being here for me (even if it’s just talking into the ether).  Remember, I am also here for you; if you need more information about NAMI or where to get support, don’t hesitate to ask.  i do not have all the answers (I actually have very few), but I can always try.

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8 thoughts on “Happy May! (Mental Health Awareness Month)

  1. Tony,
    This was really great to read Tony, thank you very much for sharing it. I know people who struggle with anxiety. Some are close friends/family and others I dont know very well, but none the less this was great to read because It made me think of them. This isnt meant to sound cheesy, but it honestly was inspiring to read this because it reminded me how important an issue it is to show them your support. Thank you Tony!
    – Paul

    • Thanks for the kind words, Paul! It’s amazing how many people we know that struggle with mental illnesses, but since it is kind of taboo to talk about them we sometimes don’t realize just how many people around us are affected. Thanks for your support both “on” and off the field. I wish your friends/family the best and thanks for being an ally!

    • Thanks, dude! I may not have wanted to do a 10k, but in a way, it was what I needed. The mystery of why things happen is profound, but not without reason. Seriously, thanks to you and Megan for the insight and allowing my mouth to gab when I needed it most.

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