I have documented my mental illness well here on my blog – this little blog I started on an airplane while trying to distract myself from yet another crippling panic attack. I began writing because for most of my life I have felt alone and I needed to connect with people. Throughout my life, I have battled night terrors, nightmares, suicidal thoughts, panic attacks, depression, and intense loneliness – and for much of my life, I never told anyone.
I was warned when I began writing about myself; A potential employer may read this and back away from me, someone might judge me, I may be cast as an unstable person. But I saw something else – I thought that a potential victim of mental illness may read this and come closer, someone might judge me and see strength, someone may find that they are not alone. I felt that by hiding who I am, I was telling myself that there is something wrong with me, and I don’t believe there is anything wrong with me.
I have received many emails from readers telling me they were on the brink of suicide and somehow stumbled across my page and felt at that moment that they were not alone. I spoke with someone just this past evening who told me they often think of ending it all. I do not have any magic in my words; I am no healer of any kind. All I have done is be honest and open about who I am and what I struggle with. For whatever reason – ego, compassion, or both – I can share myself with you without hesitation, and I know this isn’t the case for most who suffer. So I stay here, knowing that there is always the possibility that someone is on the brink of ending it all, and they may stumble upon my page and realize they are not alone in this fight.
I am not asking anyone to disclose their personal lives, and I absolutely would never reveal shared conversations. I am pleading that you ask people how they are doing with sincerity, that you look to the people in your life and make a genuine inquiry into how they are doing. We live in an age where we have freedom of choice, yet an illness we are born with becomes a lifelong burden, accepted at an arm’s length. We are celebrated for our differences yet view those we do not understand as a threat. People with mental illness are not a threat to you and are in fact more likely to be victims. We punish what we do not understand, so I beg of you to educate yourself before you lash out at those struggling on the inside.
The shame that comes along with this burden should not be so strong; it doesn’t warrant such submission and feelings of inferiority. I can say without leniency that some of fascinating men and women I know suffer from mental illness, and their talents have nothing to do with their illness. The strongest people I have ever met are those who have seen the front lines of suffering and continue, each day, to ignore the stigma society places upon them. They raise beautiful children, build good careers, and lead wonderful lives. But there are those who do not feel safe, who have been bitten so badly by society that they withdraw into their homes and psychiatric wards.
I sat in such a psychiatric ward this past evening. Men sitting before me eyes full of self-doubt and confusion. They don’t feel like they belong anywhere in this world, they feel this world doesn’t want them. I see the struggle in their eyes; I see the want escape – society does not want to believe they are there, that these people exist. But I assure you they are there, behind the brick walls of our hospitals, prisons, and institutions. I don’t see danger behind their eyes; I see loneliness and sadness. But when I peer into their eyes, look deep into these pools of a glimmering hope that is slowly fading, what I see is beyond all politic and discrimination: I see human life. I see a person, a life that was born just as innocent as you.
Behind these hospital walls, resting on these maroon sofas, I see a memory. I see myself, two years ago, sitting as a patient in this very same room. I see the pain that I felt, the loneliness, the thought that I was beyond help, and I was beyond acceptance. I see a scared 29-year-old kid from Houston, TX wondering if he was destined for a life of exclusion. A kid who was so afraid of what other people would think of him that he lied about his innermost feelings. A kid that could have been saved long before had he opened his mouth, told somebody the truth.
Every week that I sit in this psychiatric ward, I see myself looking back at me, pleading for acceptance, love, and a moment to speak without fear of judgment. I see myself as a miracle, the tiny percentage who made it out to happiness. I see the extraordinary measures it took to get me here, the overwhelming love and understanding I had given to me, and I wonder why I am one of the very few who ever receive this love and understanding. I am left not knowing when the line will ever end – if the men and women suffering inside will ever be taken seriously or if the masses will continue to call them “crazy.” I glance into their eyes once again, see myself seated back on that maroon sofa, and walk out as the door closes and locks behind me.
I begin my descent 20 floors down, anxiously awaiting the fresh air outside. I hurry through the lobby and push through the glass doors onto First Avenue. I wonder if people see me and realize that I was one of those people, the ones they would so casually refer to as “crazy.” I wonder what it takes for people to see life, to see the innocence buried deep in the eyes of those who sit in desperation. I know there are those who wish to help and that there are sympathetic hearts all over this country. It doesn’t take a miracle to make someone feel they can speak freely about their problems. Imagine if you had a tumor but were too embarrassed to tell the doctor – if your chest was in so much pain but you were too scared to tell your spouse that you’d rather suffer in silence and wait for your heart to collapse. Nobody suffers for a paycheck – if you’d like proof that this is real you may ask me. I will tell you where I have been, I will satisfy your curiosity.
But I am here for the ones who feel nobody hurts they way they do. I am here for the ones who believe their life must end before it ever begins. I am here to tell you, the ones who I identify with, that life can absolutely be whatever you wish it to be. I am here to be of service to you, the one who struggles to sleep or struggles to awake for fear of what awaits you in the outside world. Today I am not bound by mental illness and my choice is a lifetime commitment to be of service to those who find me useful. My purpose in this world, the reason I believe my life continues, is to be of service, to place myself behind the needs of others and to give whatever I have to give to ease the pain of those who still suffer. I am here to lead by example, to tell you that I am not fearful of judgment or uneducated branding.
I am also here to tell you that I don’t do any of these things perfectly. I struggle mightily at times, but I work to improve and change my perspective, I anticipate the future instead of fear it. I do not care what label anyone wishes to place on me, for I know precisely who I am and what I am capable of. Today and for my life I am here for the still sick and suffering. I see in you what you do not yet see in yourself, and I beg of you to use me as inspiration. Everything in our life lies one step in front of us – this is your life, I am telling you it is possible. And that now, at this moment, there is a heart in Brooklyn beating for you.