“I think you’ll notice when things become different the good vibes in our lives won’t feel so consistent”
I was 17 and had just graduated high school; I knew the college I would be attending in the fall, I felt on top of the world, and all I could feel were good vibes. That was before my life was flipped upside down. I still remember the night: June 7th, 2013. That night will forever be engrained in my mind. That was the night I got the text from my mom saying my sister was gone. I was confused, I asked what my mom meant, but deep inside I already felt those once good vibes turn dark. I had just received a text saying that my sister had died by suicide.
“This is your life there’s no way to run from it, the doubt in your brain or the pain in your stomach”
So there I was: I went from being on top of the world to feeling like I was being crushed by it. But this was now my life. The way I saw it, I had two options: I could let the darkness take over or I could do my best to make sure that no one would have to go through what my family went through. I chose the second. I wanted to use my pain to make a difference. It was the only thing that felt right, but the task in front of me was bigger than I previously thought. People do not openly talk about mental health or suicide. They sweep it under the rug and pretend that it does not affect the number of people that it does every day or month or year. That is why the stigma surrounding mental health exists. It is perpetuated by not talking openly about the issues that people are faced with day in and day out. Luckily, I had a few people in my community that were already attempting to break this stigma. So with their guidance and cooperation, my community started having conversations about mental health. We have had floats in multiple parades to raise awareness for suicide prevention. We have had a community event where we brought together people in honor of our loved ones, with counselors and stories; we tried to have a night filled with conversation and hope. We have had coffee shop conversations with a pastor, where some people found hope and healing in their spirituality. I am not saying this to brag or for affirmation that we are doing the right thing. I say this because we may not always have a say in what happens to us in such a vulnerable life, but we can choose the direction we go from there.
“I only have but one complaint at the moment, don’t paint me black when I used to be golden”
I should have made mention before that I played this song on repeat that dreaded June 7th night. I honestly do not believe that was a coincidence; I think it was a reminder. Stigma says people who suffer from things like depression, self-injury, or suicidal thoughts are weak. People are quick to dismiss the pain that these people are dealing with by saying that they should just snap out of it. But mental health does not work that way. There are a number of different things that come into play; you cannot just snap out of depression or addiction. You can, however, work through some of those things by seeking help. I think we should not be so quick to label people as weak or dismiss the pain that they may be feeling. Instead, we should promote compassion and let others know that hope is real and that help is also very real. My hope is that if we break the stigma and start promoting healthy conversations about mental health, so maybe, just maybe, we can start to lower the number of people who suffer in silence. Maybe increase the number of people who take their first steps towards treatment. Maybe we can make sure there are fewer nights like June 7th on the horizon.
- Billy, TWLOHA Summer 2015 Intern