The Shame We Don’t Discuss
Fatigue is a complex condition that is sensitive to several influences, not the least of which include stress and anxiety. A person does not have to suffer the intense level of anxiety brought on by an illness such as cancer or by conditions such as post-traumatic stress to know the distraction and sometimes debilitation anxiety can produce. Nearly all humans experience circumstantial stress and anxiety to some degree. Stress and anxiety also worsen compromised health conditions, creating additional complications. The problem intensifies when a person addresses such discomfort with addictive substances, which ultimately develop dependency.
Early on in my convalescence, I noticed the lack of information nearly everyone had surrounding head injuries. It also wasn’t hard to miss the high level of discrimination that matched the ignorance. The level of processing and tolerance it takes to understand people’s biases just compounds the stress most survivors experience. While each injury is unique, closed head injuries do not typically lead to insanity. stupidity or even aggression, as is often characterized.
People with closed head injuries can still be cognizant and perceptive, despite compromised interactions with others. Most brain injured find themselves laughed at and patronized, even though they can still distinguish many nuances of thought, and genuine concern from criticism. With respect to the sophomoric ribbing that typically accompanies the condition, one’s illness is never a joke–unless you’re the one not suffering it. Ironically, one might ascertain that the common misconceptions forced onto the victims might more persuasively be reflected back onto the unenlightened.
Fortunately for me, I learned at a young age the value of calmly addressing both the anxieties of myself and others. From the beginning, this premise influenced my response toward the effects (that is, once I broke my own initial, and realized I wasn’t going back to work the next week, as I tried to do). I never hid what had happened to me, nor did I or do I carry any shame. I know, perhaps better than most people, that what happened to me can happen to anyone. The Center for Head Injury Services states that in the United States, a head injury occurs every 15 seconds. According to the Brain Trauma Foundation, traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death in children, adults and the elderly. If you have never experienced a serious concussion, you want to keep it that way, if you can.
With these thoughts in mind, I recommend viewing this Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview with Patrick Kennedy about alcohol, mental illness and his family, as outlined in his new memoir entitled, “A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past And Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.”
Although my struggle has not been exactly the same, there are enough overlaps among the stigmas. As Kennedy points out, the problem centers around what we all know, but are reluctant to talk about. His coming forward has caused a rift in the Kennedy family, he says, because they “do not want to be associated with a medical illness. That should tell you something about the shame and stigma that still surrounds these issues.”
Similar to concussion or perhaps more so, all individuals and families are in some way affected by mental illness or addiction, if only secondhand through their relationships with those who share the curses. Especially notable is what Mr. Kennedy has to say about the shame and impact that accompanies these lifestyles, and how it is time to stop hiding from what makes us uncomfortable, and start discussing what we can do to make things better for all concerned.
With so many mentally ill and addicted people unwilling to receive help, it is often up to friends and loved ones to offer support and encouragement…or to suffer the frustration of not knowing how to help. Kennedy also emphasizes that “there is hurt to keeping this secret; if you don’t talk about it you’re in trouble” in part, because of the delusional nature of these illnesses.
What about you? Here are some journal questions to explore:
- Are you open to discussing your problems with a trusted friend or family member? If so, who would that be and why? If not, why not?
- If you are not able to do #1 above, what makes it difficult? How did this come to be, and how can you change things so that you are freer to speak authentically about your feelings, needs, and concerns?
- If you are not able to discuss problems, what do you to cope with the stress and anxiety?
- Is there anything you feel you need to help you improve and move toward better, more fulfilling health? If so, how can you secure these things?
- If your health doesn’t feel compromised, what about your work, your social life, your relationships?
- Are you as healthy and as happy as you want to be?
- Write a script of what you want to say to yourself or someone else about a feeling or a need. Include others and what you imagine their responses would be.
- Ponder some health goals for the coming year. Include mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual health as well as physical fitness.
Following is some video coverage of Patrick Kennedy’s call for awareness:
You can see the 60 Minutes interview from Sunday, October 4, here:
This is Day 6 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue
© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com