Perhaps it will be more than a day, maybe it will take a month or even a season, like Christmas extends way before Thanksgiving. A decision of this sort was made 70 years ago to declare May as Mental Health Month, to strive for it and perhaps to honor all who suffer through these otherwise universal invisible diseases and to remember those who served to help us face what impacts our own mental health.
Lots of Mays have gotten by without much notice. This year is way different and how we are dealing with our world is giving us pause to reflect and examine feelings we are experiencing. Perhaps nothing has changed for you. But for many life has gotten complicated, and perhaps lonelier. Some of us are observing for the first time isolation from friends, and family with no end in sight. Others are proceeding undaunted into a world that may expose them to COVID19. What emotions are going unspoken are carried inside, behind doors, and behind masks. These emotions can weigh on individuals and bounce back on others. How we feel toward others who believe like we do, and those who do not can and many times be stuffed and never spoken.
All sorts of organizations like the KRESGE Foundation (Sebastian Kresge, whose goal was to promote human progress) hosted a webinar introducing "Mindfullness." Their trainers demonstrated how to "be present where we are." Lisa Susteren, the author of Emotional Inflammation, an expert on the psychological effects of climate change explained: "how we think drives how we feel" and understanding our emotions is real "pay-dirt!" She suggested we take the energy of our emotions and redirect them into positive actions.
May isn't the month that one of my Mental Health Heroes died, but it is the month I will honor him. My favorite mental health professional friend of all time was born 70 years ago. Dr. Steve Abernathy was a friend and a professional who practiced in Ottawa County for a couple of decades, practiced in Florida and returned to Oklahoma to proudly work with a local tribal health center.
There are countless people, who got a brand new life after working with Steve for as little as one session. He was absolutely the best diagnostician ever. He could figure out how an individual got to where they were, what was wrong, and how to find the path to recovery quickly all while showing empathy with a side of joy.
May as a mental health month is hurting without this man living on this earth. He died 11 weeks ago, at the beginning of the shut down and like many others was not allowed to have the funeral and loving support of friends for his family.
His daughter wrote a tribute to both her parents,
"When I was little, my parents worked Disaster Relief with The Red Cross because my dad is a psychologist and my mom has her Masters in mental health. They worked the OKC bombing, tornadoes, hurricanes.. and now my dad is working with them again, despite how tired and in pain I know he must be. Providing mental health services to those who are scared and losing everything is so so important. Thanks Steve Abernathy and Melissa Ramsey Abernathy for showing me my whole life that helping others is such a valuable thing. Proud of you."
According to Mental Health America: The number of friendships you have early in your adult life and the closeness of those relationships can influence your well being 30 years later. My well being got a great start having a long time friend like Steve Abernathy. We all need those kind of friends who can read your mind and like you anyway.
Steve brought empathy in the door with him and believed in the good in each of us and found it. One child he helped years ago wrote to thank him not long before he passed. What a way to honor him, to have that grown up child remember those kindnesses and make the effort to say it. We must remember how much we can do with so little effort, and just go ahead and do it.
Steve also brought his past with him every day and never allowed it to stop the healing he would provide for others. He like some of us had physical pains, and long carried grief and regrets that surely must have provided the stimuli to help others work through theirs.
Melissa, his wife who survives is another champion mental health provider and my friend, a veteran ROPES Course Instructor who I hope will know we valued this man and what he shared, his ability to love us all.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim