Wednesday, February 4, 2015

It's Time to Change

I've thought about suicide many times over the last thirty years. I'm a lifelong veteran of anxiety and depression, and I was recently diagnosed with mild bipolar disorder. All that aside, however, chronic Lyme disease, which has affected my brain on a molecular level, is what has caused me the most issues where my mental health is concerned. This disease has changed who I am as a person and I hate who I have become. I cannot fathom spending the rest of my life this way. So, yeah, I think about suicide.

Pretty morose thinking, huh? I agree. What's probably even more shocking is that I am the one writing it. Mel's thought of suicide? No way! Not me, right? I can find a joke in anything. Why would I want to kill myself? That's ridiculous! She's got a wonderful husband! She loves her kids! She has a great job! She's surrounded by such a great support system! 

But the truth is, I think about it a lot. I just don't admit to anyone. The consequences for admitting so would be too great, and let's not even discuss what would be said about me behind my back and the fodder that could be used against me as a mother.

Mental illness is whispered about like it's some sort of STD you pick up in a seedy motel. Along with that, come the people who think it's an excuse for behaving a certain way...or, the opposite, that people have to behave that certain way in order to be categorized as having mental health issues. Don't forget to add in the side effects from the hordes of psychotropic drugs we're prescribed to fight our illness. And, of course, everybody has their own opinion about how you should treat it effectively ("Snap out of it," is my personal favorite).

There's a social media campaign going on right now called Time to Change. Its main focus is to end mental health discrimination. So right now, I want you to eliminate the stigmas you have in your head about mental illness. Forget what you know because, chances are, you don't know as much as you think you do.

Take my friend, Mike for instance, pictured in the center here:
Mike was one of the happiest people I've ever known. Never without a smart ass comment, hilarious joke or some funny sexual innuendo, he was always the life of the party. He was the first to jump to someone's defense or the first in line to help out. If you needed someone to listen, you called Mike. If you needed someone's ass kicked, you called Mike. If you needed anything, you called Mike. He didn't know a stranger because he wouldn't let them stay one for long. He was a decorated officer of the law and a successful entrepreneur in numerous ventures. He shared his life with his beautiful wife, Laura, and was surrounded by friends constantly. Last summer, Mike killed himself, devastating all of us who were left in his wake. The most overheard phrase at his funeral was, "I had no idea..." We all thought we knew Mike. We didn't. 

Two weeks after Mike was laid to rest, I got the news that my friend Nate died. He was only 24, so even before finding out the circumstances behind his death, I knew it had to have been one of two probable causes: accident or suicide. Not able to fathom that Nate was anything but blissfully happy, I wanted to believe the first. Unfortunately, it wasn't the case.
I met Nate only a few months before his death, but for the time I knew him, we bonded deeply. I felt a kindred spirit in him and, at the time, I couldn't figure out why. I just knew we had it. Nate's heart was one of the most generous hearts I've ever known. His career was on the rise and everything he touched was turning to gold. As a part of the male revue show, Men of the Strip, he'd just been spotlighted on the E! network. He was on the top of the world. Nate was incredibly handsome and talented beyond belief, but his greatest qualities were his extraordinary sense of humor and the ingrained sense of duty he felt when it came to taking care of others. In fact, that sense of duty is partially to blame for his death. Nate always felt it was his job to take care of others -- to love them, to protect them, to make them laugh -- and when his own demons became too much to bear, he left this world in the way he did so he wouldn't become a burden on those who loved him. His family and close friends knew he'd fought some mental health issues, but it wasn't until he died that anyone knew just how big Nate's battle really was.

Another person whose suicide affected me deeply this year was a guy by the name of Chris. While I never met him in person, Chris touched me more deeply than some people I've known my whole life. 
He'd been a regular on Dance Party, USA, back in our teen years, which I used to watch with my mother. Chris was one of her favorites and mine. When Mom became ill with cancer, I would record the shows she missed, and we would watch them together later. She always said it reminded her of when she was a teenager and watched American Bandstand. My mother and I didn't have a lot in common, but that was one thing we bonded over. A year later, when she passed away, Chris and the others were a source of comfort and familiarity for me as I grieved. I've never forgotten what the kids on that show did for me. Last month, during an especially hard bout of bipolar depression, Chris took his own life. He, like both Mike and Nate, was extremely successful in life. He had three amazing kids, he was surrounded by a supporting family and lifelong friends, and, in 2014, he was named Teacher of the Year. He'd spent his whole life giving back to his Philadelphia community. But, also like Mike and Nate, very few people knew just how deep Chris' pain went.

It's so easy to jump to the conclusion that people who commit suicide simply don't know how much they're valued by their loved ones. Or we can't understand their deaths because they had so much "going for them." But the fact is, when you're in a frame of mind where suicide is a logical solution, none of that matters. It doesn't matter how much we're loved, how much success we've obtained, how much money we have or how many lives we've touched. All that matters is finding a way to stop hurting and for some of us, death seems like the only solution. It's not that we want to die, really. It's more like we just don't want to be alive, because alive = pain. And that pain seems never-ending.

I don't pretend to know every thought my friends had before their deaths, but I do know my own thoughts. And voicing these feelings in a public spotlight is the scariest thing I've ever done. For someone with anxiety, the last thing I want is attention focused on me; I know what people will think. I know what they'll say. And I know the assumptions that will be made. But if we want to bring awareness to mental illness and suicide, we have to start talking about it. We have to erase the stigmas, forget what we've heard, and we have to fucking talk about it.

We can't just light a candle and hope the problem goes away. We have to roll up our sleeves and reach out. We have to be honest with what we feel ourselves and we have to be willing to listen to those who are brave enough to speak out instead of act on their feelings.

This isn't a problem we can throw money at in hopes of finding a cure. Mental illness doesn't work like that. It takes being down in the trenches and getting soaked to the skin before you can make a difference. Will you do it?

Mike needed this. Nate needed this. Chris needed this. I need this.

If someone you know shows signs of depression, has thoughts of suicide or you've noticed they're just not dealing with the stress of life quite as easily as they used to, please reach out to them. Be an ear, be a shoulder, be a friend. If you can't help them carry their burdens, encourage them get in touch with someone who can: a therapist, a doctor, a mental health support group, or all of the above.

If you are having trouble getting through your day and thoughts of dying seem more promising than thoughts of living, please talk to someone. If nothing else, find help here:

National Suicide Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

It's #TimetoChange

* My deepest gratitude to the McBride, Estimada, and Tully families for allowing me to honor your loved ones in this small way. As always, I pray for peace and comfort for your families.


  1. This is a beautiful and deeply moving post. Thank you for your great courage in sharing your deepest scary feelings. The hardest part for me is the realization that knowing how much you are loved does not make a difference. Maybe knowing that you are making a difference helps. I hope so.

    1. It does help, Jacqueline. It doesn't fix things, by any means--and I'm sure that's not what you want to hear--but it does help. I am fortunate to be able to recognize where my ledge is. I know what stops me, and I know what would send me tumbling over the edge. A lot of people fighting depression, anxiety, and other mental health illnesses don't know where that line is.