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Recognizing that mental health is health

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In honor of May as Mental Health Awareness Month, The Sopris Sun has run a series of columns by regular contributors. To conclude the month, we are honored to share a column written by Aspen Strong Executive Director Angilina Taylor.

I grew up in Santa Barbara, California, a child of divorce. My family was middle class with a “work hard, play hard and always show up” type of attitude. Saying “I love you” out loud was like coughing up a hairball, tough to get out but it had to be done sometimes. Love was always implied, expressed in the form of gifts, laughter and food on the table every night.

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When it came to our problems, they were ours – we didn’t need help solving them. “We are tough,” was the answer I commonly received when confronting any external issue. When it came to the internal issues – I had a tumultuous living situation, my stepmother and I couldn’t find common ground – arguments were frequent and intense and the words exchanged were cutting.

We were masters of Brushing it under the rug while the pink elephant in the room grew larger and larger until the next explosion occurred. Mental health wasn’t part of our vernacular, we weren’t raised with it; we didn’t know it. It was foreign and it was scary. The first therapist I ever spoke to was school-appointed, I was nine years old and he told me, “I know talking to me isn’t like whipped cream with a cherry on top.” And I thought, what a tool, and chose to not speak.

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This served me in many ways, never taking no for an answer. I elbowed my way up the corporate ladder. The BS of the male-dominated footwear industry didn’t phase me, it was a challenge I was happy to meet. For all intents and purposes, I was a successful Director of Footwear Design traveling the world and building products. It was my dream, yet I was never quite fulfilled. 

On the other hand, my lack of an emotional toolkit and the ability to process my internal make-up has been my achilles heel. Always appearing tough has led to bottled up emotion and a variety of internal struggles; years of untangling and then understanding the complexity of my childhood traumas. I can’t help but wonder if we had the tools, would things be different?

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In 2008 my brother became sick with schizophrenia. The day we decided to commit him for the first time was one I will never forget. Three police officers entered our home, and eventually pinned him to the ground: two taking his arms, one his legs, all the while holding a taser to his face. As he was being wheeled away on a stretcher, he wailed, “Please help me, Mom! I don’t have my super powers!” A piece of all of our hearts broke that day, and unfortunately they have never been repaired.

It was through his struggle and that insight into mental health that I began to focus on my own state of mind. Through his lived experiences, I have learned the absolute breakdown in care for these people who are suffering, they are lost, alone, scared and crave the connection of a life they once lived. They are sick and they cannot advocate for themselves, so we must. 

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It is for the little girl in me that did not have an emotional toolkit to get her through, and for the parents that were not equipped to handle our issues. It is for my brother who lost his super powers and it is so that my sons and their generation of friends are well-equipped to have pride in expressing themselves, to know their voice and to live their story out-loud. This is why I have committed myself to the work of Aspen Strong.

Behind our movement to break mental health stigmas, we encourage people to share their stories. The more we all tell our stories, the more we realize that EVERYONE has one. Everyone has an internal battle they are fighting. Maybe with vulnerability and openness we can find compassion and kindness for one another and start giving each other a little bit of grace!

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Our resources, from a screening tool, toolkits and a provider directory, are at your fingertips from the comfort of your own home. Our instagram page @aspenstrongfoundation is inspiring and packed with local mental wellness happenings and inspiration. We provide education and outreach in various forms for workplaces, classrooms, and the community. Our mental health support group, which meets virtually on the second Wednesday of every month, is an easy place to come to talk, listen and be supported. We are now growing initiatives to support teen and Latinx populations.

We have joined forces with MTV and Mental Health is Health to normalize, connect and inspire! We are activated and motivated to support our community in the growing need for mental health services. Mental health and addiction are two of the biggest issues facing mountain towns and ours is no exception. If we know this, how can we join in creating change?

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As we exit the marathon of COVID, it has left us all with scars. But, with all loss, comes new beginnings and I hope this is a new beginning not only for our valley but for a global movement to recognize that mental health is health.

If you are interested in supporting Aspen Strong, we could use your support. As so many organizations suffered from COVID-related issues, so have we. Donations can be made at aspenstrong.org/donate If you would like to volunteer, join our board or collaborate in any way, please reach out to me at director@aspenstrong.org

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Tags: #Angilina Taylor #Aspen Strong #Mental Health
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