In the United States’ healthcare system, a group of people that are very often overlooked are caretakers – the people who make sure that doctor appointments are met, medicines are taken, food is cooked and eaten and that patient morale is kept up.
When it comes to the mental healthcare system, caretakers take on a whole new meaning and a whole new position, such that they need a new name – supporter. Because mental illnesses are different for each individual person, each individual supporter takes on a completely different role. It may involve cooking food, or making sure medications are taken, but more often than not, it involves being a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or a solicitor of advice.
I would not be where I am today without the supporters in my life, and I know there are many others who feel the same way. I wanted to take the time to write this post to thank you for the very often thankless work you do and to remind others just how important and needed you are.
I’ve struggled with mental illness for many years so, when asked to describe it, I often tell people that these diseases (more specifically depression, because that’s what I deal with most often) are diseases of silence. In the wee hours of the morning, on the bus, soon after parting ways with a group of friends, any place there is quiet, one is suffering. Personally, one of my coping mechanisms is conversation – when I’m distracted, even by simply listening to other people talk, the depressive thoughts aren’t so deafening and certainly less defeating.
So thank you to all the people who didn’t chase me away when I inserted myself into your conversation, or rambled on endlessly, or stood away at a distance eavesdropping. You are my biggest network of supporters and you didn’t even know you were helping.
While listening to others may be easy for me, speaking up is often very difficult, especially when it’s about what I’m struggling with. One of the lies I constantly contend with is that I shouldn’t have to rely on others, that I’m burdensome to them and that I should keep all of the negative emotions within and my struggles a secret.
So when I finally bucked up the courage to talk to you, thank you for not running away. I don’t know how difficult it was to hear what I had to say, or think of advice to give, or what sort of effect it had on you emotionally. I know what I felt, and I know it was a hard burden for me to hold, yet I can only imagine what it did to you. But even still, you were there for me – I will never, ever, be able to repay that kind of debt.
In the end, it was because of the supporters and their infinite amounts of love, faith and trust that they placed in me that I didn’t give up. It was because they reminded me of my worth, the worth that all of us have in equal amounts, no matter where we live, what kind of car we drive, what diseases we have, if we have a college degree, or what we look like. People who struggle with mental illness are especially susceptible to forgetting that they possess this worth just as much as the person sitting next to them in class or on the bus possesses it.
As I said before, I can only imagine what being a supporter must feel like. I know what carrying a mental illness feels like and if you feel anything like I feel during my weakest moments when I’m struggling the most, then you have a heavy burden to bear. I can’t help but think about the people in my life who have worn this burden for my sake and feel nothing but a deep gratitude for what they have done for me.
Thank you for believing in me, even when I wanted to stop believing in myself.
Emily Ahlin is a chapter leader at the University of Pittsburgh and a member of the Active Minds Student Advisory Committee.