Originally published in the Chillicothe Gazette, September 27, 2020

by Sheena Brown

Somehow it’s October. I’m pretty sure it was March was a few minutes ago, but here we are. There is a comfort that comes with fall. Cozy sweaters, bonfires, and pumpkin spice lattes (yes, I said it). Though this year, the comfort is a bit thinner with a sharpened edge just beneath the surface. There is no forgetting that this is not other years. There is something unsettling in our midst, though it’s not as straightforward as Michael Myers or the Freddy Kruger of my youth.

Of course an unseen virus infecting millions the world over is terrifying, but so is what it is doing to us—as a nation, as a human race. Clustered thicker than fake spider webs or leaves piled under trees, is the suffocating feeling of anxiety and depression. October 10th is World Mental Health Day. This is a day to recognize the struggle and raise awareness about resources and the need for them. Right now we desperately need them.

I’m no stranger to anxiety and depression, having lived with those tricky companions much of my life. Though, for the first couple of shadowy decades, I had no name for my experience. I had no understanding of why, while making a peanut butter sandwich, I may start to feel a sweeping panic stealing my breath. I had no idea why a news article combined with a newly-acknowledged ache or pain could throw me into an 8-hour internet dig for my own diagnosis. I had no idea why, on occasion, heart palpitations ranging from mild to severe would land me in the ER with no apparent cause.

It wasn’t until I was 30 years old that I finally found a name for, and some relief from, the condition that I had deemed a mere character defect. I spent years thinking that I was too sensitive, overreacting, or simply that there was something wrong with me. Turns out I am healthy, mostly. I may be chemically imbalanced, but overall a relatively smooth-running human. As my doctor and phenomenal therapist explained, you wouldn’t simply will your body to make more insulin if you were a diabetic. Why then, was I so convinced that I could will my brain to make more serotonin?

I, like many people, thought I could “handle it on my own.” I only needed to meditate or sleep more or lose weight. These are all healthy life choices, and can DEFINITELY help, but I needed support beyond what I could give myself.

So in this, the most intense October in recent history, let’s acknowledge that mental health is health. People are experiencing new levels of anxiety and upset, new depths of loss, and stress of all intensities and incarnations. There is more than meets the eye in our midst.

If you or someone you know need mental health assistance, call the Crisis Hotline for Ross County at 740-773-4357, the United Way-operated 211 support line to get linked with resources in our area, or the National Mental Health Hotline at 1-800-622-HELP (4357).

Be kind to yourself and know that you are not alone.

Sheena Brown is a clerk for the Chillicothe and Ross County Public Library.