With all of the recent public tragedies, the topic of mental illness has become a major issue for discussion and reform. Yet, this topic still brings up a lot of resistance and fear and anger, making it very difficult to have a constructive conversation about it. Imagine now what it's like for an adolescent actually going through this scary time. Do you think they would feel comfortable to open up and say what they are really thinking and feeling? The environment is not yet safe for people dealing with mental illness to talk honestly, and it's time for that to change. I hope that my story can inspire those who feel like they have to fight it alone. You are not alone, and it does get better.
Being a middle-class white guy from the suburbs, my adolescence should have been a cakewalk. And maybe it would have been, but for mental illness. Self-consciousness opened a floodgate of overwhelming emotions. Shame, doubt, panic and anxiety morphed into a self-loathing that crippled my young mind. I couldn't look at myself in the mirror without cringing and obsessively judging what I saw. I was incredibly lonely and unequipped to handle the self-hatred, so I rebelled. I lashed out at those who made me and those who looked and laughed at me, but most of all I lashed at myself. I hurt myself and all those close to me, figuring that if I couldn't deal with the pain alone, then everyone else would have to deal with it, too. It didn't take long before that activity got me institutionalized.
I pushed the boundaries one too many times and the state got involved. Being that both of my parents are prominent psychiatrists, when the cops came to take me away, they took me to the psych ward. That just about sealed the deal for me. I was now that kid. The weird kid who disappeared in 7th grade. I was living my nightmare, and I knew that it was my own damn fault. I'll never forget that first night in the hospital, after they took away my shoelaces and belt, thinking to myself, "What have I done?! Now the world will only ever think of me as a crazy person. My life is over... Screw it, let's burn it all down!" I honestly believed that because I had been sent to a hospital, the world would judge me and turn its back on me.
To keep a long story short, what followed was years of depression and aggression with the secret prayer that it would all just end soon and free me from the pain. But then something magical happened. Someone entered my life who saw past the hard exterior and the labels. He saw me as a hurting kid who just needed a little faith, direction and support. He encouraged me, inspired me and ultimately helped me discover my passion for art. And that passion was all it took for me to turn my life around. Now that I had finally discovered something that I cared about and actually wanted to work for, all the other things, all the doubt and the fear and the shame, they all began to slip away. It didn't happen overnight, but I slowly learned to love myself and want to become a positive, contributing member of society.
It took many years and many slips back into the darkness, but I eventually met a friend who had suffered the traumatic effects of others who had lashed out violently, more tragically than I ever had. Together, we found a way to pursue our artistic dreams and strive to prevent the kind of adolescent rage we had seen from opposite sides. We created Mythic Bridge, a non-profit organization that empowers youth using the art of storytelling. I remember how alone and lost I felt. If we are able to help today's adolescents navigate those turbulent times and discover a passion to provide meaning and hope in their lives, then we must.
Each of us are a collection of unique experiences that make us who we are. We are who we are because of everything we have gone through, and sometimes in spite of it. So the next time you are faced with someone suffering from mental illness, don't be so quick to judge. We might just be there to help you one day. And if you're an adolescent who suffers the rage of alienation, stop looking in the mirror and look around. There are other ways to live, other places for your passion and other people to help you find it. Empower the Imagination!
Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email email@example.com, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.