Walk With Me© & Mental Health Awareness Month


“Success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life, as by the obstacles which one has overcome while trying to succeed.” Booker T. Washington

I love the month of May and what it brings – nicer weather, flowers blooming and more to come. What’s not to like? Well…maybe the little black flies that appear at this time of year, so small and yet they pack a punch with their bite and the resulting sting and itch. But the beauty of the month far outweighs the negative.

May is also celebrated as Mental Health Awareness Month. In of itself, the simple title sounds great…and yet, within this time of recognition and awareness, there is also the darker side of mental health. The stigma and discrimination that is still so prevalent, especially those two words that cause me [and others] a lot of discomfort – “mental illness” or “mentally ill”.

I came to dread those words back in the early to mid nineties, when the horrors of my childhood abuse came back to ‘visit’ me in 1993. I became grief-stricken and overwhelmed by the terror associated with my early life. I was numb with shock and pain and deeply depressed because I was finally dealing with the unresolved sadness, hurt and losses associated with my childhood years. The flashbacks associated with that time frame seemed to roll on in an endless loop – having to ‘watch’ and revisit all of the sexual abuse memories I had worked so hard to suppress was overwhelming and it brought great suffering. Labels were placed upon the experiences I was having now, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] and Major Depression…and yes, within those descriptions came the many treatment providers letting me know that I was “mentally ill”, and life as I knew it was over. My life, as they were prescribing, would be one of over-medication and the belief that I would never be able to work again. Hmnn…a person becomes sad, frightened and overwhelmed because of these horrible life experiences and that means you are destined to a life of nothingness? Wow! How sad and oh-so wrong to believe that. Please know, there were some wonderful mental health treatment providers who did not espouse these hurtful views to me, but sadly, many of them were part of a “mental health” system that did believe in these warped thoughts.

Mentally ill” soon took on an even more ominous role for me as a parent embroiled in a divorce. The words nasty and bitter do not give justice to what was to ensue. My ex-wife, my partner of twenty one years, the mother of our five children wanted out of the marriage…okay…but why did she have to stoop so low as to use the terms “mentally ill” over and over again in all of the court proceedings? Those two words and my diagnosis of PTSD and depression and the history of my childhood sexual abuse was enough to ‘scare’ the judges and marital master into keeping me away from seeing my children. There was never a history of violence or abuse directed at either my ex-wife or our five children…but now she wanted to end the relationship and start anew with someone else and cut me out of our children’s lives. And the easiest way to do that was to use that nuclear bomb of “mental illness”…And to throw in for good measure, let the court know that I was sexually abused as a child. No, there were two nuclear bombs thrown in those court proceedings and the trail of destruction they left still reverberate to this day upon our children and me.

This blog post is not meant to be a rehashing of my past and a place for me to vent upon some injustices I experienced. If it was only my tale of woe, so be it. But these types of stories and events are taking place all the time. The stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness has a profound impact upon so many people. Many of whom are afraid to seek treatment due their mental health concerns because they know of the ramifications it can cause in all facets of their lives. Fearing and blaming the person who is mentally ill or the victim of child abuse still runs rampant in our society. The news media feed us a daily diet of violence committed by someone who is/was “mentally ill” and there is still a false assumption that those who have been abused as children grow up to re-victimize others. In some cases that is true – but the majority of us don’t. The majority of us labeled mentally ill, Do Not wreck violence and mayhem upon society.

Eradicating the false beliefs and myths surrounding mental illness would go a long way in helping people who do need assistance. But it will not do anyone any good if it is based upon fear and distorted assumptions.

I have shared why the words mental illness and mentally ill send a bit of a chill down my back…but please know I am not with the ‘word police’. I don’t like the words because of the affect they have had upon my life. I have friends and know of others who do use the words mentally ill and mental illness, but it is based upon compassion and caring. And I am not anti-medication, if it helps someone, great. I am against over-medicating.

There is so much more to all of this than a simple blog post can tackle. The bottom line, stigma and discrimination still runs deep and too many politicians, some treatment providers and the media use these words to gain themselves political favor, money and coverage – all of which is negative and only causes so much more pain, isolation and fear. These types of people perpetuate and create fear where it doesn’t need to be. The world is full of stories and experiences of people who do struggle with some mental health concern or a trauma or abuse from the past and yet they do incredible things helping others and themselves via their creativity, advocacy, education and so much more. I share the stories and resources of some of these folks and organizations via my website and in the Surviving Spirit newsletter and website. I only scratch the surface to the countless people out there doing good things and living healthy productive lives on their terms.

Please do take a look at the lyrics for Walk With Me© posted below. A song of mine that helped to express my anger, sadness and hope regarding my mental health concerns.

Your thoughts and ideas…..???? please let me know…

Thank you & Take care, Michael Skinner

PS. Related articles – “You don’t look mentally ill”    Striking a Chord – Anchor Magazine    College Essay About a Hero: by Alisa Skinner

Walk With Me© – Michael Skinner Music – Listen – 2 minute clip – Track # 7 – http://mskinnermusic.com/music/album-train-tears/

When you look at me, what do you see
Have you judged me by the lack of a smile
But come with me, step into my shoes
Can you walk with me for one mile
Then perhaps you’d see, another part of me
I’m also a man who likes to sing
I too have hopes, hopes and dreams
To be more than what’ve you labeled me

Chorus –

So open up your eyes, clean out your ears
Learn to listen, listen to learn, and then you’ll hear
And then you can get past your stigma and fears
Of what has caused you to treat me so callously

2nd Verse

Can you take a chance, can you try to understand
That I’m still a man, who has some plans
Who falls to his knees, from agony
That can cripple me, But it’s only a small part of me

I’m not a child to be patronized
With all of your fake smiles
I too have hopes, hopes and dreams
To be more than what you have labeled me

Repeat Chorus

3rd Verse

Your prejudice and fears, are quite clear to me
And no double talk hides that from me
Intelligence and insight, still resides in me
So come down from your throne, throw off the robe
That gives you such abusive power and control
Can you sit with me, can we talk for a while
Do you think you could walk in my shoes a mile

4th Verse

I’m not impressed with your titles and degrees
Compassion and understanding do more for me
Can you show me, show me your humanity
Instead of talking down to me
Can you sit with me, can we talk awhile
And then I know you could see me smile
And then I know you could see me smile
And then I know you could see me smile