“Just because my illness is not visible to the eye does not mean it does not exist.”
From True Blue by Tracy Monteith
I met Tracy, the author of True Blue several years ago. We met through a mutual work friend who told me, “You need to meet Tracy. She has quite a story!” She certainly does.
Tracy came to my office to share her draft of True Blue. She was calm, professional and genuine. As I read the draft later, I was reminded that what we see of people is often very different from what they are living. The quote above is from True Blue. Tracy is one of the many people courageously living with mental illness. Some days with mental illness you feel “normal” and confident; other days you just want to escape, or protect yourself, or maybe you have no idea what to do. Tracy shares how her faith, music, poetry, and the support of others has helped her live life well with mental illness and other life impacting events – situations you may have also experienced. 1 in 4 of us are living with a diagnosable mental illness.
True Blue is by Tracy, with her husband Tom (co-author), about their discovery of clinical depression and the early symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and living life with mental illness. Tracy and Tom share their very personal experiences with vulnerability and directness. Tracy shares about her childhood, the glimpses of what the future would hold, and as a young couple at the beginning of their relationship to the present. This is the story of their lives with the incredibly impacting overarching experience of mental illness. Tracy and Tom share practical tips for supporting a person or caregiver of someone with mental illness, what not to do or say, what is helpful, and stats that are sobering and beg us to ask the questions – with so many living with mental illness, why does there remain such a stigma? How do we change our families and communities so that those living with a diagnosis, or those living with someone with a diagnosis are supported so that we all can live life well?
True Blue is a book for all of us because whether or not we have a mental illness diagnosis ourselves we probably know at least one person experiencing symptoms of mental illness. Tracy and Tom tell their story of major depression, but True Blue is just as applicable for other diagnoses.
Everyone has felt “blue”. Really, it's normal to feel "blue" or "in a funk" at times in our lives. We should expect to experience it. Being “True Blue”, as Tracy describes her diagnosis of major depression, is different.
Feeling “blue” can be part of healing – as in grieving a loss. Feeling blue has similarities to diagnosable depression but it is not the same. There are several different categories of depression and symptoms are part of the criteria used by professionals to determine the category. Being diagnosed can be scary, a relief, confusing, you may feel heart-sick, etc. Mental illness, whether diagnosed or not, impacts all areas of our lives.
In clinical depression, also named major depression, we may experience depressed physical systems but we may also experience increased symptoms such as agitation, irritability, eating, sleeping, thoughts of fantasy to the point of psychosis, foggy thinking, etc. We may experience less of some aspects and more of others – this can be confusing, and it requires a lot of energy to manage – trying to function in life “normally” can feel overwhelming. If you are feeling overwhelmed, sad, confused, please talk to someone – a friend, faith leader, family, mental health professional. Tell someone. I understand the thought can be almost paralyzing. You and people around you may need support. Take care of yourself, and others, by seeking help.
Additionally, there is a special chapter by Tom for faith community leaders with suggestions for how that community specifically can help those coping with mental illness themselves and those that care about them. We created a study guide included in the book that can be used by individuals or with small groups to facilitate the discussion about mental illness. You can answer each question, or if using in a group setting, choose a few questions to discuss.
Have you wondered why you think differently than others? Have confusion about your feelings and concern about how you interpret situations and other people? Are you in a relationship with someone with mental illness? Are you afraid? Concerned? Ready to run from that person? Ready to save that person?
Read True Blue – you’ll discover a resilient woman, a supportive man, and hopefully practical help and inspiration to positively impact your own health, relationships, and community!