Despite him dying when I was only a toddler, I remember small details about my grandfather, his house, and his habits that most of my family cannot.
I remember sitting in my crib within my living room, not yet old enough to even understand the concept of age, staring at a painted lamp that is still there to this day and nodding off to sleep. I remember going to Disney World at the age of 2, getting my left pointer finger crushed in the back of my stroller when my older brother Nick decided to lean on it, my mother and I got escorted to the nearest doctor by a local restaurant owner and, upon immediately deciding that the finger was indeed not broken, returning to his restaurant and receiving a complimentary troll-shaped cookie complete with different color icings made to look like paint that I could decorate it with.
The one thing I will never be able to remember, no matter how hard I try, is the moment when I stopped experiencing happiness as I had known it my entire life prior. It must have been somewhere around age 9 or 10 because by age 11 this new change in my emotions was in full swing.
Not a single thing in my life at that point could be plucked out and deemed bad it seemed. I was only in fifth grade. My family life wasn't bad at all. In fact, I was fairly close with all four of my older siblings, both of my parents, and even was very close to my living grandfather. I wasn't horribly bullied at that point, nor was I ever really in the spotlight in school for any reason. I had a good group of friends that I saw and spoke with frequently, as well as a best friend who I spent countless hours with after school. Monetarily, although we were by no means ever well-off, my family had not yet hit financial hardship and my parents made sure my siblings and I lived without much want.
Despite all that, I arrogantly felt as if I had the privilege of being the world's most unhappy child. There were just feelings I couldn't shake, feelings that later in life I would grow to recognize in the eyes of men who had just been laid off and stripped of their pensions and women who had just miscarried. I tried my hardest to ignore those feelings. Since nothing seemed to be causing them, my diseased mind deemed them invalid. So day after day I would feign smiles and become less and less enthused with physical possessions or day-to-day pleasures. Every night I'd lay awake on the bottom bunk with my brother above me as I sobbed quietly, making sure he didn't hear, and tried to figure out what was wrong with me. It wasn't too long before those night time thoughts turned to wishes for death.
While there were no visible warning signs that my friends and family could have possibly observed, the situation was obviously very serious. I've written articles before about what came next. I don't fault anyone at all for the experiences that resulted from these feelings. My friends and I weren't truly old enough to fully grasp the concept of mental illness, and my family had no reason to suspect anything was wrong, especially since things like depression don't usually present themselves at such a young age. Still, I wonder if things may have been different if someone had taken the time to double check and make sure I had been feeling well lately.
If there is a single thing you take away from Mental Health Awareness Month as it draws to a close this year, I ask that it be that you start checking up on your friends and family frequently.
Even when all seems to be well, there could be things lurking just beneath the surface that you may not be able to see. Your call, text, visit, or general show of concern could be the only thing that helps these emotions result in treatment rather than tragedy. It never hurts to reach out and ask.