Cichon testifies in “Important Conversation” on suicide and mental health awareness

By Steve Cichon

I was proud to bring my story to the floor of the Erie County Legislature yesterday.

Legislator Patrick Burke launched “Important Conversations,” a series of monthly meetings to provide a public forum for difficult issues confronting our community. The first topic was suicide awareness and prevention. Speakers included Erie County Mental Health Commissioner Michael R. Ranney, Cheektowaga Town Supervisor Diane Benczkowski, author Steve Cichon, Crisis Services CEO Jessica C. Pirro, LMSW, and Suicide Prevention Coalition Coordinator Celia Spacone, PhD.

Steve Cichon testifying in the Erie County Legislature chambers on June 27, 2018.

The Testimony of Steve Cichon, June 26, 2018

This is entirely new to me— bringing out into the light the darkness which has silently been an exhausting part of my life for as long as I can remember.

I’m not here to speak for the third of Americans who’ve dealt with depression or anxiety… or the 5 percent of Americans who’ll have severe depression or panic disorder symptoms this year.

I can only talk about my own experience– with the knowledge that the only way to defeat darkness is with light and with the hope that my story helps people who don’t suffer understand.. and the hope that it helps people who do suffer realize that they aren’t alone and there is a way out.

In the two weeks since I first published my brief memoir on Depression and Anxiety, on an immediate level, my hopes have been realized.

READ: A brief memoir in depression and anxiety

As one person telling my story, I’ve heard from family members of those suffering from or having succumbed to mood disorders that they better understand what might be going on in the mind of a loved one.

I’ve had perfect strangers and people I’ve known for decades approach me and ask how I started down the road to better mental health.

Knowing that I’ve been able to turn the wretched consternation which is never too far away into something positive– something that can help others– has been a great relief and comfort to me… And it’s why I’m here again today with those same hopes for telling my story… even though it’s really not easy.

It seemed to strike a chord with some people when I wrote about how living with depression is like trying to move under a heavy wet blanket. It’s possible— but it’s exhausting and miserable, and sometimes it feels like just too much.

I’m up at 4am to read the news at WECK– and while I love my job, it’s sheer misery every time that alarm clock goes off in the darkness. I know I can’t hit snooze… and it takes every bit of everything I have to throw myself out of bed and start my day.

It’s a perfect analogy for the mood disorders I suffer from…

Depending on the day or the hour or the minute… sometimes it takes everything I have to throw myself into whatever small task presents itself next.

The analytical smart-enough, public face and mind I present knows full well that stopping for a haircut or a car wash on the way home from work makes perfect sense… but sometimes it’s just too much. A lot of times.

And those little defeats build– and it can be a constant onslaught. All from inside my own head. It begins to be unbearable when those choices made in the grips of anxiety and depression start to effect other people.

None of it makes sense.. but its there and its a constant fight.

But it is a fight. And it’s one I take on… and millions of people take on every day.

READ: Taking the next step to better mental health

I’m not a depressed person. I’m a happy, sunny, hilarious, industrious hard working guy… who happens to suffer from Mood disorders.

It’s a chronic illness which I refuse to allow to define who I am. One way to do that is to not publicly acknowledge it– and in some ways that might have been easier… but I’m doing my part to chip away at the wall of stigma that exists with mental illness.

Light is the only way to defeat darkness… and the more light we shine, the more darkness disappears.

People ask, How can I help… Be more understanding. For many years, as a closeted mood disordered person, I’d remind people constantly that WE ALL HAVE OUR OWN STUFF, whether you realize your neighbor does or not.

Being understanding means just being a nicer person. Smiling more and meaning it. Making eye contact and human contact and meaning it. Whatever you’re dealing with– trying to make room for compassion for other people dealing with their things.

Bringing light to the world. In many cases, its all we can do. It’s not a cure… but when there’s more light in the world, there’s less chance that someone is going to slip into the darkness.

Be nicer… and be educated.

That’s one way this body can help… Education usually takes money– and for the number of people who are affected by mood disorders and mental illnesses, the funding is woefully short.

The way I told my story was unique, and the unique message touched some people. The more unique messages mental health professionals can put into the world, the more people who will see more light in their day… and that’s all just about any person suffering wants– its some way to realize that there’s a way to find light.

From County Legislator Pat Burke’s Facebook page: Thank you to the wonderful speakers at today’s suicide awareness conversation. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in America for those between the age of 10-34. There will be a summary report and information to follow! To simplify the conversation: practice kindness, connect with people, and know the warning signs of someone in crisis. Public humiliation, social rejection, major disappointments, a personal crisis, and often substance abuse can be triggers for suicide.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.