You Must Not Quit

With the recent suicide of Chester Bennington, mental health once again shows us how dominating and fatal it can be. I am always saddened when I hear such news, but this one hit home. Not because I personally knew him, but because growing up Linkin Park was the first rock band I had ever listened to and loved. Their music and Chester’s contributions were like no other and helped me as a late teen/early adult deal with the ups and downs of life. Songs so powerful it rang true with hope.  His music spoke for so many in pain and the importance of persevering. Additionally, Chester had the courage to talk about his trauma filled past and battle with addiction. Tell me how many public figures or artists have had the courage to do so? Not enough of them if you ask me. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and trauma survivor, my career and personal life have been dedicated to fighting the stigma of mental health and substance use disorders – particularly in minority communities. As a society, we’ve deemed mental health and addiction as a sort of “weakness” and that people who suffer from it nothing but “lost causes”. The truth is, mental illness nor substance use disorders define the person nor their character. It is a disease just like cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure, which must be treated and managed. It is a disease that impacts a person mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. The hardest lesson for me was understanding this. Since adolescence I have suffered from depression which stemmed from unresolved child sexual abuse. I grew up in a world where tears were seen as weakness and within the minority community, it was almost impossible to acknowledge mental illness or the need for treatment. Where your past was something you needed to just “get over”. Why? Because no one wants to be seen as “crazy”, angry, or weak. The world has taught us that mental illness is the same as wearing a scarlet letter in modern day. What I learned through therapy and challenging my own beliefs is that weakness belongs to those who refuse to acknowledge there is a problem. Allow me to explain.

When you deal with mental illness or substance use…even though no one desires these ailments…they become your way of life. Just like watching the series finale of your favorite television show. You wonder what your life without that dedicated hour that belonged to the show will be. A sort of anxiety settles in (pun intended). Same goes for mental illness and drug use. When you’re used to “living” with your illness, anything else…even happiness..seems like an impossibility. And sometimes, people have internalized that they truly don’t deserve a healthy life. If drugs were the only thing you knew that helped you cope with past trauma, depression, or some other illness, it’s the only tool in your toolbox you have. Not to mention that physiologically, your brain chemistry completely changes when dealing with mental illness and/or addiction. Think of your brain as a bunch of wiring. The wiring is purposeful and what helps your thinking patterns and how you perceive the world. Through mental illness or substance use, the wiring completely changes. To regain your chance at a healthy life, you must unravel the current wiring and rewire the brain to adapt to your new way of life. That’s why therapy and/or medication are critical. Think of them as the wire cutters and wire casing when completing new wiring (brain patterns). It takes a tremendous amount of strength and courage to face your mental illness and/or addiction and pursue help let alone choose to pursue a new life with many unknowns.

My message to you is if you are suffering from mental illness or substance use disorders…your diagnosis does not define you. You deserve to live a healthy and productive life. Fighting against your illness will be the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do, but I promise you’ll come out stronger than before – trust me, I know firsthand as a trauma survivor and past substance user. And even if you’ve relapsed multiple times or feel that you’re at the end of your rope, this is the time when you need to fight the hardest. You deserve to be here. You deserve to get help. You deserve to feel great. You deserve to be treated with respect. Surround yourself with people who will support you, do the opposite of what your illness is telling you (i.e. if your illness tells you to ignore your best friend, make sure to send her a text or respond to her attempt in reaching you), think of the times when you weren’t struggling with a mental illness and the emotions that accompany it, get help. Most importantly, believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, borrow my belief in you because if I was able to come out on top I know you can. I know you can do this, your life didn’t start out with these issues and they don’t have to end with them. Here’s to you taking that step to reach a better you because you are possible, you matter. Much love and hope.



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