On September 12th, 2007, my father passed away at the young age of 47. I was 11 years old at the time. It was without a doubt the single most difficult event that I have ever had to deal with in my short time here on this planet, and has certainly been a major factor in shaping me into the man I am today. However, this story isn’t about that day, or how I overcame my struggles to try and become a model citizen and how I got through grief. This is far from that. This is about the darkest times of my life, the ones I have never shared with anyone, with the occasional exception of my mother and sister. You may be wondering, “Why is he writing this?” I’m writing this so I can lead myself into that greener pasture, those better times. I’m writing this because I need closure for myself that the times I’m about to talk about are behind me. I’m writing this because I am no longer ashamed of the person I was, and am damn proud of the person I am, and because I want people to know that if I can do it, they can do it too. They can make it through and thrive, because it’s okay not to be okay.
I have never and will never allow the death of my dad to define me. Yes, it is the biggest tragedy that I have ever had to face; however, it does not define me. What has defined me, at least what I believe has defined me ever since that tragedy, is a nearly eight-year struggle with mental illness. I have suffered from anger issues, mental instability, and most importantly, depression. I don’t mean depression in the sense of, “Oh, I’m sad because of what I went through.” Of course I was sad as a result of what I went through. But even after I had accepted what had happened, even after I had mentally moved on for myself and moved to a better place, I was still depressed.
There were days where it was nearly impossible for me to drag myself out of bed; I couldn’t think of a single good thing in the world. In all honesty, I could have had the greatest day of my life, could have gotten the girl and saved the world like James Bond, and I still would have gone to bed at the end of that day thinking that nothing that had gone right, focusing solely on everything that was wrong with me and my life. That is what I fought with for the years following my dad’s death.
I was always seen as the outgoing, energetic, happy kid in middle school and high school. So I doubt anyone would have guessed that in the first couple years of high school, I tried to commit suicide. Not once, but twice. Until now, I could count the number of people who knew that fact on one hand, and now the whole world has the potential to see it. Which, if I’m being honest, is beyond terrifying. However, it needed to be said, and to me there’s a damn good reason why.
Depression is one of the most crippling illnesses I have ever encountered. It destroyed me inside and out. It picked apart my brain, causing me to doubt everything I had ever done and question everything I ever did. It resulted in a self-hatred so deep that there were days I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror.
I got lucky. My mother, thankfully, is one of the single most stubborn people in this world, and would never let me off the hook if I told her I was fine when I wasn’t. I would try to hide it the best I could, but she always found a way to weasel it out of me over the course of time. It’s because of her that I’m still alive today and able to tell you all of this. It’s because of her and my sister that I’m able to wake up every day and strive to be the best person I can be—so that I can make them proud, and hopefully make my dad proud as well. It was my mother who reminded me every day that there is always a silver lining. It was her telling me that no matter how bad things were and no matter what happened, she always loved me and was proud of me. When I sat on my bed with a knife in my hand, those are the thoughts that went through my mind. “I’m so proud to call you my son,” “Just know that I love you,” “Your dad would be proud of you.” Those thoughts raced through my head those two fateful days in my sophomore year of high school, and they are, honest to God, the only reason I am still here today.
I sit here today, typing this article for you all, as a survivor of depression. I am someone who got lucky, who had the people in his life who were willing to stick by my side and never give up on me. I got lucky because the depression didn’t grip me tightly enough to make me follow through on the actions I planned on two of the darkest days of my past. I sit here a survivor of mental illness, and I want the world to know. I want the world to know because if there is just one kid that’s struggling with mental illness, whether it be depression, anxiety, bipolar, or anything that falls in that realm, that reads this and realizes they can fight through it, then I will have done my job. If my admittance and acceptance of my shortcomings and imperfections and my ability to live with them gives just one kid the glimmer of hope that they can do the same, then I have been successful.
I personally do not care what people think of me telling the world my story. It needed to be said because if it can help just a single person better their life, then it will have been worth it to me. There are people out there who are unable to speak their stories, and push through their trials and tribulations, because of the stigma that surrounds mental illness, the stigma that it’s something we should avoid talking about and just push to the back of our minds. It’s that stigma, causing that inability to talk about their problems, which results in the withdrawal and essential worsening of mental illnesses.
I overcame mental illness because there were people in my life to remind me that I was never alone in the fight, and who were by my side no matter what. I say I overcame mental illness because when I wake up in the morning nowadays, I look forward to going outside and seeing the sunlight, and hearing the birds chirping and the people talking. I overcame mental illness because I realize now that every day is worth living, because you never know the last one you’ll have.
I no longer allow depression or mental illness to define me. In my mind, I see myself as someone who has somehow managed to fight back, to crawl out of the abyss that is mental illness. While I still have down days, and I still struggle from time to time, I no longer allow depression to control me; rather, I control it. It may take a day or two from me, but it can win a few battles as long as I win the war. Depression, and mental illness in general, is seen by our society today as something that you should be embarrassed and ashamed by. It’s something that’s not treated as strongly as it should be. People are struggling, and they struggle alone, and they think it’s their fault that they are the way they are. All that truly matters to me about this article is that if it can reach even just one person and help them to understand that they are not alone in this fight. Most importantly, I hope that they understand that it’s okay not to be okay.