Most people who come across me on a daily basis notice one thing about me – I’m almost always smiling and full of joy. On the rare occasion I’m not smiling, people tend to ask why I’m not. Smiling comes naturally to me, and it comes from a deep sense of joy. What people are often surprised by is the fact that I have dealt with crippling depression and anxiety for much of my life and more times than once, it almost took me out cold. When I talk about this part of my life, some around me get uncomfortable. They think this area of my life should be stigmatized and not shared, it should be hidden from view and even shamed into silence. At no time, however, has any of that been an option for me. Because if I – a guy who is so filled with joy and always has a smile on his face – am the face of depression, well then, that may make people rethink some of the stigmas they have surrounding it.
As I’ve shared what I’ve gone through, I’ve been absolutely floored by the stories those around me have entrusted me with. Stories from people that even I would’ve never guessed, in a million years, would be their’s to tell. This is why I feel so compelled to speak up. I’ve felt this need to speak up from the moment I clawed my way out from the pit of despair the first time around. That need, that call, hasn’t gotten any lighter on my heart, in fact, it’s gotten more urgent.
Stigmas of mental illnesses only hurt us as a society, but more importantly, they hurt those of us who struggle with these illnesses every day. Take, for example, the reactions I’ve heard time and time again when someone finds out I take prescription medication to treat my GAD, panic disorder, and depression. I usually get some form of “don’t you worry those pills change who you really are?” Or “maybe you should go all-natural?” I’ve heard a ton of well-meaning but nonetheless wrong advice from people that if I had a dollar for each time this advice has been uttered, I’d have enough to singlehandedly fix my state’s lackluster mental healthcare system. Honestly, it does get tiring having to set people straight on these issues but it also can be rewarding when someone you love finally gets it. That’s happened a lot, too.
Back to the point of this all, though. A semicolon is often used by an author to signal that the sentence isn’t quite over yet. It could’ve been over, but it’s not. There have been two distinct incidences in my life where my sentence, my story, could very well have ended but in place of a cold, hard period now sits a semicolon. And if I’m being totally honest, having a semicolon there instead of a period is the best gift God could’ve given me. There’s many reasons I believe I’m still here, more than just raising awareness about mental health. No, I’m also here because I actually like it here. My life has turned out to be something beautiful, even though it can be a big mess some days. Even on my bad days when depression and anxiety take control of my life, I still can find beauty. Those days do still come and I’ve learned not to be ashamed of them, bury them, or feel guilty of the fact that I may need to practice some form of self-care to be able to cope. That’s all alright with me and I’ve learned that if someone’s upset because of cancelled plans or me finding a quiet place during a time when the group’s together, that’s really on them.
I know what I need to be able to thrive and I don’t need to apologize for that. You shouldn’t have to, either. Some people won’t get it, but if I could encourage you for a second, I actually believe that people are beginning to learn and change. And they’re beginning to learn because of so many people I see being brave enough and strong enough to fight the stigma head on and tell their stories of mental illnesses, suicidal ideations, or keeping the memories of their loved ones who have died by suicide alive by providing awareness and safe places for the communities around them to discuss these issues. I’ve seen so many 5K’s, Out of the Darkness Walks, and PSA’s done by local government officials just in the last year and that alone makes me proud to have a couple semicolons in my story instead of periods and a fin. Yes, there is hope. That hope comes from people like you. People like me. Our stories can change lives.
Heck, they can, they have, and they will, save lives.