How many people can relate to feeling unmotivated for work in the morning? It’s as though you have to give yourself a pep talk and weigh out the pros and cons of going in. Your five seconds away from calling in sick and then you decide to go in because you do not want to let down your employer. Or do you know what it’s like to have irrational fears and worries? You overthink every little thing and the thoughts that are driving you insane cannot be dismissed. Can anyone relate to constant changes in their mood? You feel extremely happy and motivated and then sad and unenthusiastic. If you answered “yes” to any of these scenarios, I want you to know that you are not alone and if you are fighting this battle alone I strongly encourage you to seek help from a loved one and/or professional. You DO NOT have to suffer in silence. I was honored to interview my brother and friend, Christopher Merchant, about mental health and identity. Before I share with you our interview, I want to give you a few statistics I gathered during my research on mental disorders.
Mental disorders are common throughout the United States, according to medicinenet.com, “An estimated 22.1% of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.” It goes on to read, “4 of 10 leading causes of disability in the U.S. and the other developed countries are mental disorders – major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive compulsive disorder.” There are millions of people in our country with a mental disorder but that is not your identity. It’s great to know why you’re experiencing abnormal mental, emotional and physical feelings and/or pain, so that you can get treated. Some people need someone to vent to, while others may need prescribed medication. You can still function as a regular human being, I repeat, this IS NOT your identity. Maybe you can use this experience to help other people experiencing similar things. Far too many people are harming themselves, committing suicide or harming others because they did not get the proper treatment they needed. Again, I’m glad I had the opportunity to interview Christopher, I believe his story will help empower so many people.
Chris stated that he was not surprised with the number of people with a mental disorder, stating, “Everyone tends to keep it private in families, however, the stigma is getting better as time changes.” He had gotten to a point where everything felt extremely overwhelming and stressful, causing him to attempt to overdose on pills in hopes of killing himself. By the grace of God he was not successful and he is alive today to share his testimony. Prior to going to the mental hospital to get the necessary treatment, he admitted to fearing the unknown, scared and embarrassed. He was embarrassed because his previous job, the one he had prior to quitting the day he attempted to commit suicide, was assisting youth with behavioral and mental problems. It was his responsibility to pinpoint problems and solutions for certain behaviors. Chris then goes on and says, “Society puts a lot of pressure on people. The [mental] facility helped him with the ‘no one’s perfect’ mentality.” He now wants to educate people and give people knowledge on what it means to be black, gay and have a mental disorder. After talking to licensed therapist and a psychiatrist, he was diagnosed with PTSD (he was already aware of this), depression and Manic Type 1 Bipolar disorder. The staff assigned to assist Chris at the facility helped him see the abnormal behavior his bipolar illness caused. With Chris’ permission, the behaviors included: a lack of sleep, hyper-sexual activity, strong impulses, doing things without thinking it through, shopping constantly worry about money and spending money on shopping and sporadically leaving town alone. He was dangerously living life without acknowledging the consequences that came with such behavior. Chris’ failed relationship also contributed to his depression. Like most of us, he desires to be happily married, unfortunately some of us experience a few unpleasant relationships before meeting our life partner. Fortunately with deep self-reflection and maturity, he was able to accept what went wrong in the relationship and let go of the toxic ties and find self-worth within himself and not in another person. He is fully aware that the diagnosis do not define him, he wants to enlighten people who are quick to judge and be a voice for people suffering in silence. Chris said, “Who you surround yourself with, like-minded and positive people, allows you to do better.” He loves helping people and believes in paying it forward. He chooses to block off negative people and accept the man that he is.
About 20 minutes into the interview, I then go on to ask him how he would describe himself. He smiles and said, “FABULOUS…I’m just me. I don’t like talking about myself, however, I recognize that my personality can be strong, outgoing, easy to relate to and honest. He is now able to spot his triggers, he realizes that he is an empath and as such, he absorbs people’s feelings and emotions. Because at times a lot of people confide in him, it can be difficult to differentiate whether or not the emotions he has is from the people he encounter or his true feelings, but now he’s doing a lot better at it.
Chris enjoys art therapy and being creative. Having something productive to do throughout the day can really help you discover your passions and also keeps your mind from wondering. The facility he stayed a week at helped him tap back into his creative side. The facility was a blessing in disguise for him. He is grateful to have met the staff that were truly passionate about their jobs and friends that he still speaks to today.
During our interview, he was forthcoming about his seasonal depression. Usually during the gloomy and cold months (January, February and March) the depression arises. He noticed that during that period, he lacked interest in baking, art and reading, which are all things he enjoys doing. Having a lack of interest in hobbies you love is a sign that you are not happy and that you should talk to someone you trust about what’s going on in your life. “Don’t’ be afraid and get to the point where you feel really low and end up doing something drastic. Think about your loved ones, take a step back and put yourself in their shoes and know that it’s okay to get the help you need.” Be open to receiving help. I’m sure there are so many people who want to support people going through different struggles, but the person in need has to be open to receiving the support. Chris closes our discussion with, “I want people to live in the present moment and slow down. I believe I had to go through this. It was a life lesson. It taught me to stop, breathe and take time for myself.”
I always enjoy speaking with my brother. He is intelligent, thoughtful and has a kind-heart. His desire to help people in this world encourages me to become a better person. He is constantly setting goals for himself and currently has a bucket list. The top three on this list are to meet Ellen DeGeneres – he says that she inspires him and loves when she says, “Be kind to one another” at the end of every show. He believes that everyone should take those words deeply to heart. Number two on his bucket list is to have a non-profit: Outreach Mobile Unit to help provide the essential daily needs for the homeless and low income families throughout the community. He’s working towards the goal by feeding and distributing hygiene care packages to the homeless. Lastly, tapping back into his creative side, he wants to learn how to play the acoustic guitar.
It was such a pleasure talking to Christopher about overcoming obstacles in life, uplifting people, and setting life goals. My prayer is that Chris was able to shed light on a topic that is so common for people throughout the world. Please know that God gave you purpose and with Him you can overcome anything!
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11.
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment below ways you or a loved one is handling a mental disability, or how you’ve helped a loved one experiencing it. I am a firm believer in keeping God first and I believe he blesses us with loved ones and trained professionals to help us in our times of need.