Mental Health Monday
Every Monday I encourage others to share or explore the hashtag #MentalHealthMonday. I want there to be an open floor for people to talk about their mental health. Their struggles and their triumphs. Mental Health should be as easy to talk about as physical health, but the truth is that it isn’t. We often talk about mental health only when it pertains to mental illness. I want you to know that’s okay, but I also hope this encourages others to talk about it even when illness isn’t involved. I didn’t start focusing on my mental health until I felt ill. No matter what brought you here today, it’s okay. I’ve learned, even if there is no illness, you should care about your health.
This week’s #MentalHealthMonday post is more of an origin story. You don’t have to agree with the way I talk about my mental health, because that’s not what this is about. This is about me sharing with the people who want to know and need to know that they are not alone. This post could be a trigger for people who have dealt with traumatic loss. If that could be you, this might not be the right post to read.
I used to share this story often, but after a couple years I started to realize that the more I talked about it, the more I held onto the pain. This story is not a secret, and I do not shy away from talking about it at all. I have just learned to talk about positive memories of my Grandpa, instead of how we lost him.
In February of 2015 AJ and I had only been dating 4 months. I was in Fresno visiting him for Valentine’s day. Because of his crazy work schedule, we decided to celebrate our first Valentine’s on the 15th by going out to brunch. After brunch, we went to his parent’s house where I was going to spend the day hanging out with our nieces while AJ was at work.
AJ had just kissed me and gotten in his car when my phone rang. It was my mom, and when I answered she asked if she could talk to AJ. Since he was already in his car, I told her he was at work. She then asked who I was with, and then if she could talk to Tammi, AJ’s mom. My mom had never met Tammi at this point, so I knew that was a red flag. I handed Tammi the phone, and I stopped AJ before he pulled out. I told him I thought something might be wrong with my dad. (You may know my dad was in a farming accident in 2012, so that’s where my mind went.)
Tammi whispered ‘okay’ into the phone, and then handed it to me. The next words out of my mother’s mouth forever changed me. “Tara, it’s grandpa. Grandpa has been killed.” I remember hitting my knees right there in the driveway. I got up and ran into the house and dropped to the floor again. AJ came up behind me and grabbed me while I was screaming into the phone. All I remember saying is, “It’s not ok! It’s not ok!” I was so confused. What did this mean, how did it happen? All I remember is screaming. Everything after that is a blur. Before I knew it Tammi, Ivan (AJ’s dad), and AJ had gathered all my things, got me in my car, and AJ was driving me home. My second family emergency where I was 2 hours away from home.
Once I had gathered myself a little, I called my mom back, she told me someone had shot my Grandpa, and that man was still on the loose. That was all anyone knew. It made absolutely no sense to me. I was so angry, I was confused, and I was broken to my core. I didn’t know how this was possible. Not my family, not my grandpa.
Through word of mouth, 500 people gathered to celebrate my Grandpa’s life. He was an incredible man who touched many lives in his 79 years. I got my intense love for animals from him. He was kind to ever person he met, including the man who took his life. He never got to see me become a farmer, he never got to see me get married, and he will never be able to show my children the love he showed me. But there is a little bit of him in so many people, and I will forever be thankful for that.
I still to this day hear new, wonderful stories about my grandpa, that I never knew before. He was one of a kind, and the world was a better place with him here.
February 15, 2015 was the day I felt mental illness start to grow. It took me a couple years to realize that I needed to care and nurture my mental health the same way I did my physical health. I struggled with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. I thought I could deal with it alone, but I couldn’t. And there is NOTHING wrong with that.
I’m thankful to all my friends and family who have supported me through my journey of mental health. I have learned to ask for help and to not be shy about what I deal with. I’m so much better than I was a couple years ago, but I do still have bad days. And like I’ve been saying on repeat – it’s all ok. We are all our own people, we will deal with struggles throughout our whole lives. Even people who seem to have perfect lives, have struggles. The important thing is to know you are loved. My Grandpa’s love for me will always trump my pain of losing him.
Thank you for taking the time to read this story. If you or someone you love are dealing with mental illness I encourage you to speak up and reach out. There is help out there. People who will not judge you, people who will do their very best to understand you and be there for you. You are not alone my friend