I mentioned in my last post that I’d just returned from a safety conference, and mentioned how these things normally go. (Hint: Zzzzzzzzz)
This week’s conference, however, was decidedly different. And it, along with some events over the weekend, kicked me right in the feels.
The conference started with two dynamic speakers. First up: Tony Crow, founder of INJAM.
“Tony Crow worked for TXU for 20 plus years. During this time he attended numerous safety meetings. He heard and knew the list of safety rules. THey were so ingrained that he instictively followed them….
“But on February 15, 2003…Tony was accidentally shot. He was totally blinded for life.”
(You can read more about Tony’s story here.)
What the above doesn’t tell you, however, is that Tony was shot by his 17-year-old son.
On the way to the hunting spot, Tony and his son passed a truck with passengers who were obviously hunters. Tony remarked to his son that, due to the amount of orange they were wearing, they were OBVIOUSLY not locals. He chuckled as he commented that they must be from the big city.
He regrets that comment to this day.
While they were out hunting, Tony told his son he was going back…and on the way, he saw one more quail. He made a game-time decision to go after it, changing direction from where he told his son he would be.
His son, thinking his father was elsewhere, saw the dog point. And he shot.
He didn’t get the quail.
He shot his father.
In the face.
Instantly and permanently blinding him. Forever.
Think about that for a minute.
- You’re suddenly blind. Permanently.
- Your son – not even an adult yet – has to live with the knowledge that he pulled the trigger.
- Your life has changed forever. As did the lives of your wife and son and family and friends and coworkers. In an instant.
- You could have prevented it.
Tony was an ordinary guy. And one day, a terrible, terrible thing happened.
Tony turned his tragedy into a non-profit, and now tells his story nationwide. He reminds us all that safety is never off the clock….and that accidents hurt so many more than just the injured party.
INJAM – It’s Not Just About Me.
And you know what? He’s right. And I realized that this applies to so much more than safety – it applies to mental health issues, too.
Selfishly, I looked at myself first. I stared down my food issues and disordered eating for a good, long while.
Can I really pretend that I’m only hurting myself?
Do I really think my coworkers don’t know exactly what I’m doing?
How can I possibly believe that this doesn’t impact my children? My husband?
While my daughter, thankfully, seems to be very well-adjusted, how can she NOT be impacted by having a mother who weighs and measures her food? I’ve tried really hard, of course, to keep my issues from her…but let’s be real here – teenagers are not idiots. True, they often appear to not be listening, but they have a well-honed radar that quickly targets the very things you hoped they’d gloss over, like how much you really spent on those boots, or how much you actually drank in college.
What is she actually hearing? What am I teaching her?
My son has, on occasion, called me “bony.” That shouldn’t be a good thing. Yet, I can’t help but feel flattered. How twisted does one have to be to view this as a compliment? (Not very. I betcha $5 at least six of you reading this feel the exact same way. Fess up, ladies.)
Side note: I should add that my son is freakishly strong – like Bamm-Bamm.
When he first started kindergarten, he loved wrestling the upper-classmen. It was nothing for him to take out a fourth grader. I remember when he was seven, he was carrying around his 13-year-old cousin – who, at the time, weighed about 90 pounds or so. Now, he’s super helpful when his dad needs help moving a piano, or when my daughter is feeling lazy and wants Doritos, but doesn’t want to leave her room – she then gets a piggyback ride up the stairs.
Coworkers? I don’t want to flatter myself by pretending anyone pays that much attention to me, but….
I manage a small team at work, and it’s just common knowledge that I don’t really eat. I don’t get invited out to lunch anymore, because I never go – I’ve turned down too many invitations for them to continue to bother. When we have work meetings, I bring my own snacks – or just slug a bottle of water. When our CEO was new, he held department meetings, providing lunch during the meet-and-greets. I brought an apple.
“What, my food’s not good enough for you?”
(I’m still there a year later, so I guess it wasn’t complete career suicide.)
And then there’s my husband.
I know he and I have had our issues, but you know what? He does a lot of stuff really, really right. He’s working so hard at fixing “us.” And my contribution? I’ve been trying to silence the voices inside my head that cut me down – or at least, not give them a megaphone by repeating what they say out loud.
If a candy bar falls to the floor, and no one eats it, did it really fall? And does it still have calories?
<looks around innocently>
What candy bar? <omnomnom>
So, we’re not talking about it. Inwardly, I’ve decided to sweep it under the rug, at least at home.
My logic, as flawed as it may sound: I’ve mentioned before that over the last year or so he’s been doing a lot of research and reading to shore up and quantify his beliefs. For awhile, he was pretty angry about the whole thing. This came to a head about a year ago. Since that time, he’s gradually begun to let go of the anger, and we’re starting to talk more. Slowly, and carefully. Gently pulling back the bandages to see if the wounds have started to heal.
But I still don’t like it very much.
So I figure that if he can explore spiritual stances I will never agree with, I am certainly free to diet, exercise, and lose as much weight as I want, regardless of how much he claims to not want me to.
Makes sense, right? I perceive some of his anger as unhealthy and damaging. He’d say the same about my eating habits.
We’re even. Size invisible, here I come.
But since it’s not just about me…let’s talk about other stuff. When you hear “mental illness,” what comes to mind?
Do you think about the recent workplace shooting in Kansas?
Do you connect this term with the random rambling, scraggly homeless person you see on the street?
Do you remember yourself, or a relative, struggling with postpartum depression?
Do you recall a relative or friend who self-medicated with alcohol, drugs, or food?
More importantly, did you TALK about any of this? Or did you pretend that the issues – or the people themselves – were invisible? If you did discuss it, was it in hushed tones? Behind closed doors? Was it…scandalous? Embarrassing? Humiliating?
Cherokee Doll wrote the other day about the stigma, shame, and guilt that mental illness can bring.
“The stigma surrounding mental illness is well known and remarked upon. Although there is a wider movement to de-stigmatize mental illness and other invisible illnesses, the fight is only beginning. Victim blaming of the mentally ill is widespread, casual, and accepted. Rarely do people bother to stop and put themselves in the shoes of the mentally ill….
“No one would speak to a cancer patient that way.”
Her post illustrates so well some of the challenges with mental illness, and highlights the hurdles we as a society haven’t been able to clear.
Somehow, instead of mocking, shaming, and creating memes for social media, we need to find a way to help each other climb over the obstacles and clear the hurdles together.
“…I am VERY painfully aware every day of my life how much pain me and my illness have brought to those around me…just know that I already inflict enough of that guilt upon myself. You don’t need to throw it in my face too. I have spent a lifetime blaming myself. No need for you to jump on that bandwagon too. I hate me more than you ever could.”
How can we help each other heal?
Extend a hand. Lend an ear. Hug often.
You may not be able to pull someone out of the darkness – we’re not mental health professionals, obviously – but you’ll give them something to hold onto.
Hope. Love. Understanding. A reminder that they aren’t invisible, and you know that they still exist…and they matter.
It helps to heal. And healing helps all of us.
Because mental health issues impact ALL of us.
It’s not just about me.
The next speaker was (spoiler alert) a man by the name of Frank DeAngelis. But I’ll talk about him in my next post.
(to be continued)