On Elephants in the Room
I come from a family that doesn’t talk much about elephants. Don’t get me wrong. We aren’t averse to wild animals and will even watch Animal Planet from time to time. We love images of Lord Ganesh, the Indian God who represents overcoming obstacles and throughout my childhood, his pictures and likeness were always on display in our family home. We aren’t very quiet and talk about other things, including other animals, what Oprah is doing, or our very differing views on Obamacare. In fact, we are loud and can sometimes be the family that gets rude looks from other restaurant patrons who are trying to eat their Wonton soup in peace as we laugh too hard, or say something that makes the person next to us snort out their egg drop soup out of one nostril.
Yes, there were times where we are that family. And trust me, egg drop soup should never come out of a nasal passage.
Save that for the dim sum.
We also pray a lot. Well, not so much me. But my family does. My brothers and sisters and I are split on that one, most of us falling more into the observer category as we have stood on the sidelines and watched our parents’ passion for God, prayer and Hindu ceremonies fill up their busy social calendar, all of which revolve around being very social with God. If there is an empty wall or corner of the house, my mother will try to fill the void with a picture of Krishna or another Hindu deity. This is what I saw most of my life.
But just because we laughed too loud over fried rice or my parents prayed really loud (and my Lord, so frequently), it didn’t mean that we have always known how to talk about what’s beneath the surface of things. Big things. Things that deeply impacted and affected us and framed us as we got older, never really leaving us. This is because we don’t like to acknowledge elephants.
I don’t think my family is an exception. I have spoken to other friends and relatives and have discovered that the big, fat elephants in the room are often ignored in their homes as well. As outsiders, we always have words of advice about how to potentially approach these elephants with the family. But at the end of the day, nobody really wants to end up with too much elephant poop on their shoes, so when it comes to our own families, we find ourselves retreating, often leaving the elephant untouched.
The problem is that when we quietly retreat from that elephant, no matter how quietly or gracefully we do it, when we choose to acknowledge it, it just is so much freaking bigger. Surely, someone will address the elephant in the room now, you think. After all, before it only took up the family room, but now it’s starting to fall over into the living room and how is everyone still able to ignore it?
“Hello! Am I on crazy pills here? Why the fuck are we not talking about this, everyone?” I want to yell. But I don’t, because that’s not how things work in my family. So I would find words that tiptoe around elephants and that solve nothing and were worth little.
In my own life, my own elephant has been my battle with depression and a struggle with mental health. It’s been there since I was young and while I tried to find ways to get help or talk to people, I didn’t know where to turn. Though they have come around over the years, my parents took a long time to acknowledge that perhaps my problems might need something more than a healthy Indian diet or bhaat (rice) and daal (lentils) to fix it.
Mental health is a funny thing. I think we have made huge strides in starting to approach that elephant as a society and maybe even a little bit in my family. But we have so much farther to go. A friend of mine, Peggy, went through a terrible trauma in her own life. She can’t really grieve for her losses because she has too many people counting on her and so, in her words, “I put my grief in a jar.” She stores it away where nobody can see it. But it’s there.
My family does that. We leave our grief in a jar and sometimes hide it away somewhere hoping it won’t come back. And praying that the damn elephant will be gone when we return.
But he stays. And he sometimes brings friends.
I don’t always discuss mental illness, but if you know me, you know I am not quiet about it either. It’s a very large reason I participated in the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk for suicide prevention and is a reason I stay as honest as I can about this on my blog. I think mental illness affects more of us than are willing to say. It isn’t always about ourselves – it could be our parents, our siblings, our friends. Whoever is confronting mental health issues doesn’t do it in a bubble – it impacts the fiber of every family and every relationship they will face. Meaning that the net has expanded exponentially.
A close friend of mine, Jennifer Killi Marshall, and author of the blog, Bipolar Mom Life is putting her own struggles with mental health out there. She has written openly about her diagnoses of Bipolar disorder and how it has impacted her and her life, but she has also offered hope by discussing her recovery and offering support and honesty to those who struggle with the stigma of being what people in the past (or yeah, maybe even today), just a little crazy.
Call ME crazy, but the people who are acknowledging the elephants? They aren’t the ones who should be labeled as anything.
Maybe we can acknowledge that they are pretty brave though.
Jennifer will be putting together a show called “This is My Brave – The Show.” The title was inspired by the Sara Bareilles song, “Brave” and the lyrics:
Say what you want to say
Let the words fall out
Honestly, I want to see you be brave.
Jennifer and her Assistant Producer, Anne Marie Ames, will be casting the show with a series of speakers, musicians and poetry slammers who can talk about their battles with mental illness and who are devoted to removing the stigma associated to discussing those elephants.
Stomp. There they go again. Those elephants are there. And this show is bringing them to the light.
Jennifer needs help funding this show – there is a lot that goes into this and any help you can provide through the Kickstarter program she is trying to fund would be an enormous help. If you believe in mental health advocacy, consider donating. She is about 40% closer to raising the $6,500 she has pledged to raise to logistically pull of the show. She needs some help to get there though.
Help me help her get those elephants the attention they deserve. Help fund this show.
Help us stop the stigma around mental health and let’s be brave together.