It Isn’t Easy to Be Vulnerable

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I can’t get something out of my mind and I want to share it here with you.

I often write about my experiences as a speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)’s in-school mental health awareness campaign, Ending the Silence. I visit high schools and talk to students about the signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those symptoms in themselves or a friend.

Two weeks ago, my co-presenter and I went to a local school and presented four Ending the Silence programs to 140 freshmen.

The kids always leave an impact on us, but this time it was especially insightful.

A little background… following the presentation, we have a question and answer session. Some classes are really quiet and it’s hard to get the teens to participate. I totally get it. Anxiety, depression, bipolar, OCD, PTSD, eating disorders, and suicide are not easy topics to open up about. Especially in front of peers.

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But that day, we had questions like these:

What do you do if you think an adult you know has a mental illness, but they refuse to listen to you, as you’re just a kid? How do you make them to go to the doctor for help?

How did you try to kill yourself? (directed to my co-presenter, who speaks very openly about her depression, OCD, PTSD, and suicide attempt)

How do you know if you really have depression? Because all teenagers are anxious or depressed. Aren’t they?

I often wonder if the kids ask questions from personal experience or if they’re simply curious. I never know what impact our words have on them. I never know who we’re going to reach.

When the presentation is over, a few students usually stay to talk with my co-presenter and me. I know it’s hard for them to do that. Some don’t want their friends to see that they’re going up to talk to us. Some are too embarrassed. It takes courage to talk about problems — especially mental health issues.

It’s scary to be vulnerable.

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I’ll never forget the three who opened up to us that day two weeks ago.

There was a girl I noticed when I was in front of the class speaking. I can’t pinpoint why, but maybe because she looked like she was paying careful attention to what we said. She asked several questions during the Q&A, mostly about how to handle an adult with a mental illness. She walked up to my co-presenter and burst into tears. I didn’t hear what she said. I found out later that the girl’s dad has a mental illness and is abusing her.

At the same time my co-presenter was helping her, another girl came up to me. Her hands shook and tears streamed down her face, as she told me about her family situation. She said she has anxiety and panic attacks, and had a panic attack while I was speaking. She wanted to leave, but didn’t because she thought it’d be rude. I assured her it wouldn’t have been, and I completely understand. (I’m recovered from panic disorder and agoraphobia). We discussed how to talk about her problem with her mom, so she can get medical help. She gave me a big hug before she left.

Another girl came up to us, visibly shaking as she told us about her severe anxiety and panic attacks. She paced and it was hard for her to look us in the eye. She said her mom has anxiety too. They both haven’t seen a doctor because her mom says they don’t have enough money. We came up with some ways for her to bring up a conversation about mental health with her mom, and try to find a way to get help.

I never would’ve guessed that those teens are going through such serious, challenging times. It doesn’t show on their faces, on the surface.

That’s why I give the students this gentle reminder: Be kind. You never know what someone else is going through. Be there for each other.

It’s okay not to be okay.

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First image courtesy of here

Second image courtesy of here

Third image courtesy of here

Fourth image courtesy of here

22 thoughts on “It Isn’t Easy to Be Vulnerable

  1. How I feel for them. If you were not there speaking, I would hate to think how long they would have suffered in silence.
    I have seen my mum go through mental health difficulties from a young age, which did not help by other things regarding dad. So I can totally feel for them.

    How do you manage to hold back your emotions when they approach you like that, or do you show it? I would so feel for them, while giving them advice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your nice comment and for sharing. Mental illness can be so very difficult to deal with, for the person affected and also for their loved ones. And that’s a great question… usually I’m fine, able to talk to them without being emotional. This last time though, I started to tear up because I connected with the girl so much. I knew exactly how she felt, and wanted to take it all away from her. I gave her a hug at the beginning, and composed myself. But it’s hard because they’re telling us things they may never have even said out loud. Thanks again for your comment and kind words! xx

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  2. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone you don’t see every day, someone not part of the system. Thank you so much for being there and doing what you are doing. Remembering back 50 years ago when my mom was having nervous breakdowns, electro-shock therapy, and panic attacks (though we didn’t know what to call them) I didn’t talked to anyone about it and tried to suppress my own emotions. As a child and young adult, I resented her for being weak. Now, I’m finally learning to have compassion for my mother and also for myself. I can imagine how it would feel if someone came to my school and talked about anxiety and depression. It would be very scary to talk about it, but it would also make me feel not so alone.

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    • I truly appreciate your comment because I can completely relate. Thank you for sharing about your mom. My mom also had mental illness. She had anorexia and major depression, she was suicidal at one time. She also had shock treatments and was hospitalized. I never, ever talked about it with anyone. This was when I was in my late teens, and mental illness was never discussed. Not even with family. I didn’t know what was wrong with her, why she was that way, and I suppose wondered why she couldn’t “just get better and be happy.” Then when I was having severe panic attacks, she was the first one to notice and suggest I go to the doctor. It felt so good because my mom understood about mental illness and was not afraid to talk about it. It made me feel more comfortable about it and not alone. I haven’t thought about all that in a while. Thanks again for your insightful, kind words! xx

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are welcome. It’s interesting how strongly memories can come back to us. I do recall my dad telling us we had to be patient with mom after her shock treatment because she might have trouble remembering things. So many years ago. She got better after dad retired from the marine corps. I think she felt more secure knowing he’d be there.

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      • I’m glad you mom eventually felt better. It is interesting how the memories come back. I know I suppressed the memories of when my mom was really ill. It was strange, like I simply didn’t think of it for years. Like it was totally blocked from my memory. It wasn’t until the past five years or so that I’ve reflected on what happened, and remember more about it.

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  3. I am so glad you are there to talk about this hard topic. It really is time that people understand that mental illness is not anymore shameful than a physical illness. I will never forget the day I found my son (high school age at that time) sitting on the floor of his room in tears. His friend had tried to kill himself. My son was the guy in their group they all talked to about their problems and he didn’t know how to handle that responsibility. I told him if he could not talk to me or my husband then make sure to talk to an adult he trusted. I did call the school guidance counselor and let him know what was going on. I heard later they had a great talk.

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    • That’s so sad what happened with your son and his friend. That’s a huge responsibility, and so hard, especially as a teen, to be prepared to handle it. But thank God your son’s friend told him. And that you called the school counselor. So true what you said, mental illness shouldn’t be treated as shameful, shouldn’t be seen as more shameful than a physical illness. In both cases, the person is sick, needs help, and needs treatment. Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing that.❤️

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    • Mental health issues definitely used to be (and sometimes still are) swept under the rug, not talked about and not dealt with. And like you said, problems appear later. I’m sorry about your mother. Thank you for reading and your kind words🌷

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  4. Great post. I have spoken for NAMI a while back but have not done if or a while and would love to do it again. Thank you for what you are doing. It sounds like you are making a great and positive impact on many young people. Thank you. Much love and hugs, Sue

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a very important message. But how I feel for these kids. It must be so difficult living with someone who won’t acknowledge their mental illness. The work you do is inspiring and life changing Jenny. Thanks for sharing 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Miriam! I appreciate that so much. I know, I really feel for the kids who truly don’t know where to turn. Because there’s help out there, but it might seem nearly impossible to them to get that help.

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