Monday, July 16, 2012

Window seat

Have you ever experienced a situation where what was below the surface was far greater than what you had previously thought possible? Like an iceberg with only it's tip exposed.

Just last week I learned of The Siwe Project, a foundation dedicated to providing support and alleviating the shame of mental health issues within the black community worldwide. When I blogged about it I was thinking about someone I know who seems to be dealing with PTSD but has so far declined to seek treatment or help.

Little did I know that four days after that blogpost I would be faced the reality of mental health needs within my own family tree. A history of insufficient resources, misdiagnosis, defense mechanisms, and silence.

Upon hearing of the in-family situation I booked the first flight available. I can not fully articulate the shock and bewilderment that accompanies seeing/hearing a loved one agitated/confused/combative/frantic.

It was overwhelming. 

Not only were the person and their spouse reluctant to seek a mental health evaluation, but even after several more traumatic episodes they felt everything was under control and the concerned family members were the one's not seeing clearly.

Searching for advice I contacted some elders. I learned that what I was seeing had been indeed seen before. The paranoia, denial, highs & lows were all common threads of this condition. But I also learned that after receiving the initial medical attention long term stability could be achieved through therapy, diet changes, and stress management plans.

But all those words and pleas to seek help fell on deaf ears.

Left with no alternates I departed for home feeling saddened and defeated. No solutions, no management plan. Just failure and uncertainty.

I boarded the plane tired but restless, so I pulled out the book I had brought along: The Story of Buddha: a graphic biography. I had no hope that anything, let alone a graphic novel would assuage my heart and mind.

Inside this book was the story of how Buddha, as the world knows him, came to be. His questions about life and the answers he found.

At one point in the story Buddha, then a Prince, stumbles upon an old man weakened and neglected. And he ponders on the fact that youth only ends in death and infirmity during old age.

What then was the purpose of life?

After much seeking he concludes that life's purpose is to live each day one at a time, basking in a glow of gratitude versus sinking into a sea of cravings. He concluded that life is suffering. But it is also beautiful in and of itself.

When I first heard of this principle of accepting life as suffering I was extremely repelled. I felt the purpose of life was to mitigate suffering. To work toward the life one wants. Accepting suffering felt like accepting defeat.

But sitting on that plane with a throbbing heart-ache and depleted energy I realized I cannot control members of my family. I cannot make every one's life manageable. I cannot make other's accept reality.

But I can minimize the harm I do. I can find pleasure in loving my family. In being a wife. In being a student. I can stop striving and stressing and fighting to be successful and instead enjoy the day I am in.

Seek the beauty that is already around me. See the little blessings that rest in the atmosphere.

In my window seat I found peace. 

Will I still advocate for appropriate mental health help? Yes. But I can do so from a place of peace. This is life. There is no getting around it. And it is hard.

But still, I am blessed to have been born a human.