One night 4 years ago this past June, I was walking down the street of my neighborhood at two in the morning with a 911 operator on the phone with me, saying everything will be alright.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 43.8 million or 18.5 percent of adult Americans suffer from some sort of mental illness. These illnesses can range from depression to schizophrenia, PTSD and anxiety. When unaddressed, these diseases not only hold the potential to destroy people's lives but cost the country a whopping $193.2 billion in lost earnings. There can be no doubt, that the loss of life untreated mental illness brings is devastating, and in many cases entirely preventable. So my question: why don't we prevent it?
I was a lucky one. The afternoon before my midnight walk, I had spoken to a therapist and said I was feeling like I might hurt someone and then myself. I can't be sure if that's what made me call the police as my feet fell hard against the road, but in retrospect, I can't deny it helped.
I was one of the lucky ones, but there are so many who aren't. Looking back, I can't truly pinpoint when things got so bad that I thought ending my life was the only option, but I think I can say why. I felt like there wasn't a single person on the planet who understood me, and I didn't want there to be. In my mind the only thing worse than the pain I was in, was the idea of putting a portion of it in somebody else's mind. So I kept it in, bottled everything up, until I could only see black and shadow, not a hint or hope of light. Eventually, as these things go, I imploded.
I firmly believe that if I had articulated what my headspace felt like, rather than hide behind a facade of bravado and smiles, things would have turned out different.
The question remains: Why? Why didn't I tell anybody how I was feeling until it was too late? Why do mothers, fathers, husbands, and wives, suffer in silence as their mind keeps replaying their worst nightmares? Why are we quiet? We take care of our bodies when they're not in peak performance, why not our minds? The answer, I believe, is quite simple: fear.
It is fear that causes us to stay silent. The fear of being thought of as weak, an attention-getter, a faker. The fear of being judged by others, who look only skin deep and see nothing. You know, those people who would call us crazy. It's all in your head, they'd say. Well of course it's in our heads, but everything about how we see the world around us is in our heads. It makes sense that when something is not okay in the powerhouse of the human body then the perception of the world becomes skewed.
Society doesn't like pain or weakness. It's easier if all that unsavoriness was just swept under the rug. No one ever sees mental illness for what it truly is and so no one knows how to react when it comes out. I was so scared to talk about the cloud that pressed down over my eyes, because I couldn't look at the outside world and see people that could actually relate to me. Some nights, when I feel particularly introspective, I think about other kids like me, the 14-18 year olds who feel that there's nothing left. When in reality the world is waiting for them.
It's in these times late at night, that I wish I was more visible, more open about what I've been through and where I am now. In the matter of mental and emotional being an unnecessary barrier in society, if mental illness became a country-wide dialogue we could all understand each other, and that understanding helps so much.
If more people understood, what mental illness is and the effect it has, it wouldn't be as stigmatized. Less stigma means that there would be less fear hovering in the air when someone goes through something like I did. Less fear would be fantastic, because if we are not focused on our fear, but rather moving onward; less lives would be lost.
I know it's a difficult conversation to start, there are times I don't want to at all. In the game of life, the greatest defeat is death. We can prevent it, so why not talk? Why not save a life?