Not long after Patrick’s post was published, a friend contacted me and asked me to anonymously post something they’d written. After reading the words, I was happy to do so.
If you are dealing with depression, you aren’t alone. Talk to a doctor, trusted friend, or call a helpline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. There is help. There is hope.
On the surface, I think most people would say my brother and I are polar opposites in a lot of respects.
I’d like to think I’m pretty smart, and I’ve always pushed myself to work hard in school. I get good grades on my report card; I’ve never slipped up and failed a class. I always behaved in school, and to this day have a really difficult time breaking any kind of rules. I’ve never been to a party or had any interest in drinking or trying any kind of drugs. I’m far from the perfect child, but my parents have never had reason to worry about my behavior.
My brother, on the other hand, got his first D some time in middle school and since then has never shown much initiative to put in more than the bare minimum effort, scraping by with mostly Cs but also some failing grades. He’s not a trouble-maker but he’s gotten detention numerous times over the years for not doing his work. He’s been to parties. He’s been drunk, and he’s been high.
A few weeks ago, my brother, now a senior in high school, was arrested for driving under the influence. To clarify, he had zero alcohol in his system, but had a container of alcohol in the car with him. That’s a big no-no if you’re a minor or even just not of drinking age.
The incident was a huge wake-up call for my brother, and my family as a whole. It brought to light some serious mental health issues he’s been dealing with, and dealing with wrongly. Less than a week after he was arrested my parents took him to a psychiatrist, who prescribed him with medication to help him deal with the problems he’s been having.
On the surface, my brother and I might be polar opposites, but as it turns out, we’ve got a lot in common on the inside.
A lot of the time I feel absolutely fine. I feel like life is great and I’m so lucky to be here with the opportunities that I have and I appreciate every great person around me. But I’ve also had to deal with a lot of other, not-so-great feelings.
There have been long stretches where I’ve felt inadequate and useless, and when, despite being able to recognize that people love me, I’ve felt like everyone would be absolutely fine without me and if I was all of a sudden not here anymore, nothing would change.
I have lost people that I love and been wracked so hard by the resulting emptiness and heartbreak that getting out of bed has been impossible at times. I’ve blamed myself for these and other things, even when it doesn’t make any sense to do so.
I have been caught up in whirlwind of emotions for periods of time, all negative, all uncontrollable. Usually when this happens I just feel helpless. I feel like my emotions are invalid and wrong, so it turns into an everyday, every hour, every minute effort to convince myself that my feelings don’t matter. But pretending like the pain isn’t there is much easier than pretending that it is insignificant, so eventually I don’t feel much at all.
I used to cut myself and I still can’t explain why.
I have hated myself. I have had suicidal thoughts.
I have also never been diagnosed with any kind of disorder or illness pertaining to my mental health. I have never even seen a counselor or psychologist. There was one really awful time around my sophomore year of high school where I truly planned on just ending it all. I had known I was in a bad place and had talked to my parents very briefly about seeing someone and getting some kind of medical help. They were enraged, to say the least, that I would even think I needed drugs or any other form of help to get by.
That was years ago, and despite asking for help a few times since then, my parents, for whatever reason, never obliged. Of course, now that I’m older, the responsibility to get help is largely on my shoulders, but even so, I’ve never felt that they would support me if I made that decision, and when I go through a bout with those kinds of emotions now, that’s really what prevents me from taking the initiative to talk to someone.
There’s this illusion surrounding mental health issues that to be inwardly affected by them, you’ve got to be outwardly affected by them too. If you get a DUI, if your grades slip, if you become dependent on alcohol or drugs to cope with whatever anxieties and pain you’re feeling, there must be something wrong with you. And that’s the real kicker, isn’t it? There’s something wrong with you. And if you do well in school, and stay out of trouble, and lead a successful life, well, there’s nothing wrong, is there?
The truth is getting good grades doesn’t make it hurt any less. Starring on the soccer team doesn’t make it easier to deal with whatever emotional distress you’re in. Climbing quickly up the ranks to a high-level position at a major company doesn’t prevent you from falling asleep to the thought of a gun pressed against your head. You can’t fill the gaping hole in your chest with a great SAT score or a prestigious award.
I think it was quite brave of my brother to accept the help that he needs. I think it was quite brave of my parents, too, to recognize that he needs that help and to assist him in getting it. But I also think we all have to rid ourselves of the idea that nothing is really wrong if everything seems fine. We have to stop thinking that you’ve got to mess up on the outside for things to feel messed up on the inside. We have to stop denying help to those who “have it all”, or at least a lot, on the premise that they’re being unreasonable or ungrateful or lazy by asking for it. We have to destroy the idea that mental illness only affects the weak, and that if people could just be stronger, or tougher, or a little more appreciative, it would go away.
This isn’t just something that parents need to grasp. This is a message for grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, cousins, teachers, students, co-workers, coaches, teammates, friends, acquaintances. When someone asks for help, they should get it, and they should get support in asking for it, no matter how much talent, money, and success they have or don’t have.
So listen. Listen when someone asks for help. Because mental illness does not discriminate. It is not partial to people of a certain age, religion, or ethnic background. And it is totally unfazed by one’s accomplishments and quality of life. Mental illness has no limits, and neither should the help and support provided for it.