April 1st, 2005. The day I tried to let my body go from this world.
I remember the day because when my brother’s girlfriend kept calling him to tell him I was in the hospital, he hung up on her three times saying it was a horrible April Fools’ joke.
And isn’t that how mental health is? We never expect it.
It almost seemed like an April Fools’ joke, well, because: “They would never” or “I had no idea” or “I just saw them last week and they were fine.”
For many years, my sister thought I was in the hospital for an asthma attack until she went away to college—because back then, mental health was something we were embarrassed to share. Something we should bury away like a time capsule we hope nobody ever discovers. But no matter how much you bury it, it beats on.
The strong often find a way to camouflage their pain. They button it up into their sweaters and express it elsewhere, in more acceptable or hidden avenues. But with mental health, there are triggers. There are bad days. There are moments when your heart is too big for your body.
The truth is: No matter how many degrees you have, how many summer mountain homes you escape to, how joyous your job is, how many puppies cuddle you at night, or how many friends you have collected along the way…mental health is not some test you can study for, not some property you can buy, renovate, and resell, not some demon your friends can scare from under your bed, not some bad-day blues that a happy hour can flush out.
Back then, I was struggling with my identity, with loss, with love, with religion, with hiding who I was. For the longest time, I had two closets. One with “girls” clothes. And one with “boys” clothes. I compartmentalized myself, unable to be who I authentically was. The weight was too heavy. Being in my body didn’t feel right because I had to be so many things other than who I really was. Therapy meant you weren’t normal. Being gay meant you weren’t normal. I couldn’t name mental health. I couldn’t call my depression by its title when it came creeping up to scare me. Instead, I let it overstay its welcome. I let it pile up like a sink of dirty dishes. I let it be late on the rent. I let it frighten the neighbors. I let it steal the joy from the cabinets of my heart. I couldn’t name what it was, but I felt it.
I’ve named all of my things now. They are a part of me. No longer cornering me into a dark alley and mugging me of my words and hope. And I still have bad days. But, years later, I know now that it’s OK to tell someone. It’s OK to talk about it. The past will always be heavy and so I must learn to put it down. To not carry it alone. There is nothing more powerful in this world than a moment of “me too.” A moment where others can see that life isn’t perfect, that the smart or lucky have scars as well. That a Ph.D. or a cabin in the mountains does not make you immune. That mental health does not equate to being weak or broken. That even pretty nature Instagram posts have a backstory of the healing required to get there. Not all of us travel just to find happiness, some of us travel to let go of the sadness. We all have a light and a dark, and hiding our dark only shames others into feeling alone, into feeling “crazy,” or too sad in their souls to even walk in this world anymore.
In the picture below, I was standing on a yacht in the bay in California and I was probably my most depressed ever.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s OK. The journey changes you; it should change you… You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain
Whatever you are facing, there is always hope. And we will hold on to hope until you’re able to grasp it yourself. If you’re thinking about suicide, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor.