Mental health is a tricky beast.
In the men’s facilities there is a ton of shame around having any sort of mental health struggle and little to no care or concern given to someone who is hurting. It is seen as weakness.
Here at WCCW talking about mental health issues is very much so normalized. I regularly hear people describe something as being triggering, or share that they are going through a rough patch, and the response is universally one of genuine concern.
This week has made this very clear to me.
Since coming to WCCW I have been blessed with an amazing circle of friends. One of them has the anniversary of her crime this week and she’s struggling with massive feelings of guilt, shame, and inability to process the events that led her to prison. This is a common problem for people in prison. For everyone around us it’s just another day, but for the person whose anniversary it is, it’s the worst day of the year. Because of this, once I consider a person to be a real friend, I make a point of asking them two questions:
1) What’s your B-day?
2) What’s the anniversary of your crime?
Essentially, when do I have an excuse to celebrate how awesome you are, and when do I need to show up with all the love and support I can find.
Now, back to my friend. The big concern I had was that she hasn’t, in the past, had a positive caring friend group to lean on. So I was unsure if she had the ability to accept the gift of care and concern we we offering and whether she could turn that into resilience. I watched her struggle to keep her shit together while wrestling with her personal demons while also struggling to let herself be loved on by her friends. Of course, her feelings of shame were a big part of this. Shame isolates. It tells us that we are not worthy of being around other humans because we are monstrous. It tells us we are not worthy of love. It keeps us from being able to accept help exactly when we need it most.
Thankfully, my friends and I are all extremely skilled in being annoying little blighters when we want to be, so we bugged the crap out of her with cutesy heart hands, yummy snacks, and lots of hugs. We gave her space, but we also stepped into that space every couple of hours to remind her that she is loved.
Afterward we talked about what helped and what didn’t. Thankfully she didn’t have to go to suicide watch as she has previous years. But it was a fight and a half. She still felt alone in her struggle with her feelings much of the time, but she didn’t feel isolated. And that’s an important difference. Each and every one of us have to face the darkest of the dark inside our own heads alone. No one can fight that battle for us. However, we can lean on the strength of our friends and family, we can seek professional help from therapists and psych meds, we can rest and find peace from our spiritual practice, and we can be kind to ourselves, seeking out things that help us feel better. This is where resilience comes from. Sometimes it’s easy and not something we really need to think much about or put much effort into. Other times it’s a full time job.
Something to think about the next time you celebrate your friends, family, and loved one’s, is when do they need people to give them all the care and concern in the world?