It Shouldn’t Come to This

Mental stability is something that I’ve always taken for granted. I’ve been blessed to heretofore have always been able to claim control of my mental faculties, so I’ve always been quick to dismiss claims of mental instability as “just an excuse.” That’s no longer the case.

Whenever there’s a big national tragedy, especially those involving guns, I hear people say “It’s not guns that are the problem – we’re just not doing enough to combat mental health issues,” and I roll my eyes because it sounds like a copout. It’s no secret that I’m no big fan of guns, and I’ll always believe that better gun control laws would do more help than harm. But a couple of recent events have made me stop long enough to lend an ear to the mental health argument. Twice in the last year, I’ve had my eyes opened to the true fragility of mental health, and consequently, life itself. Two friends from my young adulthood – one from high school, the other from my prolonged college years – lost their struggles against mental instability. Both times left me absolutely floored by the news because they were of the “Well if it can happen to them, what chance do the rest of us have?” variety. Maybe it’s a testament to how well they were able to put on a happy face for the rest of us. Maybe it speaks to how neglectful I had been as a friend that I had no idea that either had secret personal demons. But it should never have come to this for me to wake up.

It’s a shame that it takes death to make some issues hit home for some of us, but that’s how it is sometimes. Having grown up never knowing anyone with a diagnosed mental disorder, it was simply never something I faced. Absence often begets ignorance, and while I can’t claim that my ignorance towards it was exactly blissful, I just didn’t always take claims of mental instability very seriously. I wrongly and carelessly assumed that official diagnosis was reserved for those with mental defects so obvious that they needed watching, a la patients in an insane asylum. It’s shameful that I could have been so nonchalant and dismissive of issues that are very real and more than likely in far closer proximity to me than I thought. The tragedies that have befallen two good friends in the past year tells me that mental health issues are tangible every day.

Fortunately for my previous ignorance, someone with whom I’ve grown close in the past year has told me about her own struggles with mental health. Having, at different times, been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, she’s been my constant (albeit unofficial) source of information about mental health issues. The most common one – i.e. the one that likely claimed the lives of both of my fallen friends – is bipolar disorder, one that she says is characterized by dizzying highs and soul-crushing lows. Oscillating between states of mania and depression, a person with bipolar disorder can often become a danger to themselves when alone, especially if said disorder goes undiagnosed or untreated. But as of this year, it’s no longer a foreign threat to me; it’s right here, right now. It should have never come to this.

Never again will I hear someone say “I’m depressed” without it giving me pause. Never again will I so callously say that “It’s too easy to just claim to have mental issues to excuse one’s problems.” It’s an embarrassingly obtuse viewpoint for me to have carried for so long, and all along, I should have known that it isn’t just that black and white. Now admittedly, neither friend ever came to me about their personal demons, so there wasn’t much I could do from afar. But at the very least, I want to be more aware now. If writing this means that one more person is able to go to their friends and talk about their problems, then I’m happy. My hope is that we can all do something to learn more about the signs of mental unrest. All I know is that I don’t want to have to face this situation again because I took mental stability for granted. I don’t want to lose someone again because of my own ignorance. I can’t. I won’t.

Tell the Truth

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