It never ceases to amaze me the stigma that is attached to mental illness. I have found myself stuck in more casual, flippant dinner party conversations than I can count where people have been talking, in a rather judgemental way about “crazy people.” So often people in these conversations assume that the only people who can suffer from mental illness must be homeless, or unkempt. And there I would sit, pretty, married, well put together, quietly knowing that I had had so many run ins with the dark side of myself. But I would never divulge these secrets about myself to these people. Clearly they couldn’t be trusted. They didn’t get mental illness, so I would sit on in silence, and worry.
As a young girl I clawed at my face, something I later came to learn was self mutilation. I developed bulimia at seventeen, another tell tale sign of mental illness. I thought about death, even tried to figure out how I could be sure to do it effectively, more times than I care to admit. I struggled with mental illness, for years. Not terribly surprising given my sexual assaults that I dealt with on my own. I did so, because 1) my father could have cared less that I was his daughter back in those days and 2) my mother worked herself to the bone to keep a roof over our heads, the last thing she needed to worry about was what was happening with me. I wanted to protect her, she had it so difficult, I didn’t want to add to it. I was so good at keeping my mental illness under wraps that even Yannick, when he began dating me thought I was some wealthy princess, living in the lap of luxury. My life couldn’t have been further from that truth. Now, almost thirty years later, he knows my truth. My entire truth, the warts, the darkness, the sadness, the emptiness. But he loved me. In fact I believe he loves me more because of it. Then we made a family, and they loved me too. It was all their love, unconditional love that gave me the will to wake up every day and fight. So remember the next time you’re at a dinner party, or catching up around the office water cooler; sometimes mental illness chairs charity events, writes books and blogs, and is married to the lead actor of an internationally successful TV show. Then remember not to judge, or be ashamed if you too have struggled with, and beaten mental illness; or are still in the middle of your battle. And then choose for today, and every day, be kinder than you thought to be, to every single person you come across. You just never know who’s life you might impact for the good. I want to post this story, I know we’ve all seen it numerous times on our social media feeds. But today, on Bell Canada’s Lets Talk Day, it won’t hurt to read it one more time…
One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class was walking home from school. His name was Kyle. It looked like he was carrying all of his books. I thought to myself, “Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd.”
I had quite a weekend planned (parties and a football game with my friends tomorrow afternoon), so I shrugged my shoulders and went on. As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him. He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes. My heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him and as he crawled around looking for his glasses, and I saw a tear in his eye. As I handed him his glasses, I said, “Those guys are jerks. They really should get lives.” He looked at me and said, “Hey thanks!” There was a big smile on his face. It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude.
I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private school before now. I would have never hung out with a private school kid before. We talked all the way home, and I carried some of his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid. I asked him if he wanted to play a little football with my friends. He said yes.
We hung out all weekend and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him, and my friends thought the same of him. Monday morning came, and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again. I stopped him and said, “Boy, you are gonna really build some serious muscles with this pile of books everyday!” He just laughed and handed me half the books.
Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends. When we were seniors, we began to think about college. Kyle decided on Georgetown, and I was going to Duke. I knew that we would always be friends, that the miles would never be a problem. He was going to be a doctor, and I was going for business on a football scholarship.
Kyle was valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd. He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn’t me having to get up there and speak. Graduation day, I saw Kyle. He looked great. He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses. He had more dates than I had and all the girls loved him. Boy, sometimes I was jealous. Today was one of those days. I could see that he was nervous about his speech. So, I smacked him on the back and said, “Hey, big guy, you’ll be great!” He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled. “Thanks,” he said.
As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began. “Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years. Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach…but mostly your friends… I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I am going to tell you a story.” I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first day we met.
He had planned to kill himself over the weekend. He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so his Mom wouldn’t have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home. He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile. “Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable..” I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment. I saw his Mom and dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile. Not until that moment did I realize it’s depth.
Never underestimate the power of your actions. With one small gesture you can change a person’s life. For better or for worse. God puts us all in each other’s lives to impact one another in some way. Look for God in others.