I want to take a minute (or five) to talk about mental health.
If you’ve followed my revealing stories here or on the Kirschenbaum Productions blog, you know that I’ve had my ups and downs with depression and anxiety. After finally finding a therapist who took a more spiritual, “mind-body connection” approach, I was finally able to pull myself up out of the mire and find my way back to the optimistic, easy going person I naturally am.
But like many things in life, there are no “happy endings”. What does it take to maintain mental health in the face of obstacles, tragedies and overwhelming stress?
“Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday.” – The Princess Bride
I’ve never thought much about marriage. Though we’re taught as little girls to look forward to our weddings, to dream of white dresses and towering cakes—it just never did much for me.
A big part of it was that I didn’t have a very good example of what a marriage should/could be. My parents were ill suited for each other; there wasn’t much love (that I could see) and there was a lot of fighting. But deeper than that, there was an air of unhappiness, a malaise that hung just below the surface. I could tell they weren’t satisfied by their partnership—though I was young, I was perceptive.
“What have you done today to make you feel proud?” — Heather Small
When I think about all the amazing people I’ve known in my life who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) I am awed and feel slightly ashamed. So many of these people—deemed as “other” by a large portion of mainstream society—are so open with who they are, so secure, so … proud. There really isn’t a better word to describe it.
And yet I ask myself—have I ever been proud of who I am, really? It seems like most of my life I’ve found things to be ashamed of; shortcomings, flaws, imperfections. Why has it always been so hard to embrace who I am?
I thought a lot about what to write for this month’s blog post. May is mental health awareness month, and though I wanted to contribute something meaningful and personal, I was also afraid. Afraid to fully open up and share the truth about my past struggles—and then it struck me.
This is why we need a month dedicated to mental health, this is why we need to raise awareness: there is still a stigma against mental illness and yet many, many people experience it. Suffering in silence, sweeping it under the rug, afraid to make their struggles known.
To be fair it is everyone’s choice on how honest and open they wish to be about their mental health, but I think if more people had the courage to stand up and talk frankly then maybe we would be able to chip away at the stigmas that keep mental illness in the dark, piece by piece. And so here is my contribution, my chip in the wall.
Baby steps. It’s taken years to even get to where I am, but still it’s inch by inch, crawling away.
Now I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t blame myself for the choices I’ve made and the mistakes and complications that often follow.
I’ve always felt like there were moments in my life where I could have done something differently and things would have turned out better, or I’d be in a better place right now. If only things had been different—if only I hadn’t invested in my own production company in college with my then close friends, if I hadn’t set out with something to prove on my first big film set and injured my back out of silly pride, if I’d stuck with one of my various diets while I was in high school, if I’d taken care of myself rather than abusing my body…if and if and if, never ending.
I didn’t know I was different right at first. It wasn’t until I moved from Florida to Chicago, from Chicago to Detroit that I started to realize I wasn’t like other children my age.
My difference wasn’t incredibly significant, on the surface you probably wouldn’t have noticed it, but as the other children spoke of their families that had lived in the same area of suburban Michigan for decades, as they spoke about Irish or Polish pride, showing me traditions I had never heard of or been a part of, I started to realize the truth: I didn’t fit in.
Much of my life has been spent struggling with my weight. It’s only been the last couple years that this has changed. Though I continue to work towards better health, the real challenge has become one of forgiveness: the struggle to forgive myself, and perhaps most importantly, to forgive my mother.
It sounds ridiculous, even accusatory saying I need to forgive her for my weight problems—like I’m trying to avoid responsibility. It is my body after all; I am responsible for how I treat it, the foods I consume, the exercise I do. I can’t say my mother was force-feeding me that extra serving, or telling me to stay indoors reading and writing stories while my friends were outside running around playing soccer.
No, in that sense it has nothing to do with her. But in a way, I realize now, she is partly responsible, and I know that all I can do is forgive and move forward.