Light is the only cure for darkness. It’s Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and in a piece I wrote for The Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition, I shared the wide range of experiences I’ve had with my own mental health issues. Please take a look and share for the next guy… who might really need it.
I’ve started and erased this story at least a half-dozen times. It’s not that the words don’t flow, it’s just that I get anxious talking about my anxiety because I get anxious about nearly everything.
Far too much of my life has been wasted leaving terrible thoughts and emotions to fester inside my head unchecked. More than 30 years went by between the time I tried to take my own life as a kid in grammar school and my first session with a mental health counselor.
I was filled with shame, inadequacy, and a general feeling that I’d be letting people down if I did anything other than try to tamp down and ignore the brush fire that was burning uncontrolled in my mind.
I had little self-worth, but have always been filled with love and empathy for others. My first stepping out of the shadows came only to help someone else. That being an ear for a friend became more of a pal-to-pal therapy session, and showed me, finally, that help was within reach.
Since those chats started five or six years ago, the weight of depression holding me down has become lighter in a way I didn’t think possible. Understanding it a lot better through introspection and professional help has also made living with mental illness much more manageable.
Before, crippling anxiety would leave my mind and emotions spinning out of control, often to the point of physical exhaustion and pain. I’d feel it pulsing deep inside my head and at the tips of my toes. I’d feel burning in my lungs and other organs I couldn’t necessarily identify.
Spending time talking about and understanding what is at the root of my anxiety—both the utter soul-crushing kind and the smaller not-wanting-to-answer-a-phone-call kind—helps me contain it.
It’s more manageable, but it’s still a struggle. St. Francis de Sales tells the story of a man who receives the gift of some precious liquor in a porcelain bowl, and how carefully the man walks home cradling the bowl and careful with each step, making sure not to spill any.
That’s the same careful journey I’m taking day to day, or hour to hour, or minute to minute– but as time wears on, I’m spending less time focused on the full bowl and more time focused on enjoying the walk through life.
I will never “be healed,” but I have experienced tremendous healing through therapy and putting my story to work to help others.
What was once my shame is now my super power.
Originally appeared in the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition Newsletter, September 2019