Trigger Warning! This post will mention self harm, suicide, suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts. If this is your trigger, go away and sing the song of sixpence.
Short answer: Because I and people I know have some form of mental illness.
It’s another Mental Health Awareness post! Why? Why not? I was asked at my church to do a reflection on current events affecting people of color, and knowing the extra mental health challenges and treatment challenges people of color face, I thought to have a big focus on people of color’s mental health. Now I’m on a mental health awareness kick and am working to help people understand why we should care about mental health. Let’s start with my story.
I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life, with my first public anxiety attacks being at ages 4 and 9. I’m not going to talk about the 4-year-old experience since one of my readers has emetophobia, but the first time someone said I was having an anxiety attack was during private swimming lessons when I was 9. I couldn’t articulate what my trigger was (still can’t), but I knew I didn’t want to do this one swim drill that I never liked. Swimming lessons were only 5 minutes because of the anxiety attack and I had to do a makeup lesson. It’s called the Superman. This video is the best I can show to describe it. While the video text is in Japanese, knowledge of Japanese kana is irrelevant for the demonstration. Also, the video has the swimmer pushing off from the floor of the pool. My swim teacher had me pushing from the inner wall of the pool.
I’ve had suicidal thoughts since I was 13 and my threats weren’t taken seriously until I was nearing 22. I self harmed for a couple of years, but I used methods that don’t leave scars. Yes, I learned that self harm was an option thanks to that Degrassi episode “Whisper to a Scream”. I almost attempted suicide after a breakup. There were a couple of times where I went a year without the thoughts. I’ve been to 4 different therapists and nothing is helping. I explain more of my story in this recent post.
My current diagnosis is Generalized Anxiety Disorder with emotional regulation issues, but I feel like I have other yet-to-be diagnosed issues like Borderline Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, and/or autism. Of course, I’m not going to claim those diagnoses until I get formally diagnosed. It’s why I’m seriously considering going inpatient through this minimum 3-week program.
I’m not the only person I know who has struggled with mental health issues.
I first learned about Generalized Anxiety Disorder because a friend from middle school inherited it from her mom. My friend’s anxiety trigger (or the only one her mom mentioned) is not being the first person to receive their assignment back. I also had a friend with depression. Some friends even self harmed.
One of my friends attempted suicide during our third year of university. She still struggled with coping with a breakup that happened a year and a half prior to her attempt. I didn’t find out about the attempt until she came to see me on-campus (she was a commuter) on a Friday after she finished her inpatient hospitalization at a well-known mental health institution in my state. It took her another year to get over her breakup, but she only got over him because he had a nervous breakdown and quit school before his final year.
Another friend had a friend (didn’t know her) who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. While I didn’t know her, I knew of that story so I didn’t want to exclude it.
The night before my university graduation, my brother stopped someone from committing suicide. Of course, my dad not caring about my mental health issues and struggles with suicidal thoughts at the time, said that the guy didn’t really want to kill himself because he wouldn’t have hesitated.
I think we heard about my friend enough, but he’s the big reason why I’m pushing to destigmatize mental illness in communities of color. I’m just trying not to cross the thin line between telling his story and using his story to further my cause. There’s a woman at my church who I feel only talks about her daughter in regards to her daughter’s recovery from opioid addiction. While these blog posts will help you gain an understanding, I will tell more of my friend now and piece some things together. This is the full story.
My friend is very smart. Last semester (talking about Fall 2019), his quiz and exam scores were better than mine. He makes me laugh and he shares memes with me. However, he lacks self-confidence (as do I) and according to another friend, is possibly under pressure to do well in school due to him being Asian. He has ADHD, anxiety issues that are likely tied into his ADHD, and depression. Neither of us did well in our midterm exam for one of our classes. I figured the exam was hard because he was hitting his head against the wall during the exam. I thought “I feel you, I feel you. This is hard.” However, he was more than disappointed. He was shaking. He seemed angry. I felt his emotions encapsulate my soul. I was afraid of him because I have never seen him like this before. When he slammed his laptop lid closed and said “I’m dropping this class” (or something like that), I almost burst into tears. I don’t like change and he was the only reason why I looked forward to that class. He started putting his things in his backpack and I didn’t dare try to stop him from leaving the classroom. He didn’t leave the classroom at that point. With 15 minutes of class left (we spent an hour reviewing our answers and asking questions about our exam scores), my professor started to give his lecture. I thought “How dare he! We don’t need to spend 15 minutes on something that no one is going to pay attention to. My friend is clearly in mental anguish!”
I tried so hard to convince him not to drop the class and even had some people he knew try to talk to him about it. I even wrote in a blog post that I’d slap him if he dropped the Monday/Wednesday class. No seriously. I wanted to slap him. I felt like I’d have a void in my heart if I only say him on Tuesdays instead of Monday through Wednesday. However, as I will mention later, I will regret wanting to slap him and realized that I shouldn’t be so selfish.
The day before Halloween, my friend told me that his mental health wasn’t very good that month, but he doesn’t like talking about his mental health issues. I knew he was upset over his exam grade and he felt like his presentation in a class I wasn’t in didn’t go very well, but I didn’t know anything else that could have happened. Again, foreshadowing. I was going to text him to tell him that he can talk to me about his mental health issues since I also have my mental health struggles. I wasn’t sure if he was worried about judgment or just doesn’t like to talk about his mental health issues in general. Turns out it was the latter.
Fast forward to November 4th, the last day to drop a class without it counting as a failed class. While he was talking to the professor about whether or not he should drop the class, I went to find our friend so he could do one final convincing. I found another person who could help convince, but then I said that I wasn’t sure if it would seem like we were ganging up on him. It was nearly 7 PM when we were about to leave and I thought my friend had left without me. Turns out he didn’t. We had caught him right before he ran to the adjoining parking garage after my professor… even though I said the professor left a few minutes prior. My other friend had to calm me down because I was so frazzled due to absorbing my friend’s emotion that I was probably close to hyperventilating. To make things easier, I will refer to that friend as my empath friend since we’re both empaths. My friend came back looking defeated. My empath friend was talking to him and that was when my friend revealed that he felt like if he crashed, he could crash and burn. My empath friend asked what he meant. My friend said that if he crashed and burned, it’s game over. That’s it. My empath friend asked for clarity. My friend said “If I tell you, you won’t be able to unhear it.” That’s when I knew that he was having suicidal thoughts. My empath friend was honestly being pushy at this point. My friend looked at me, and I was feeling like I should leave. I was about to ask if I shouldn’t be here to hear this, but I felt rooted by the way my friend looked at me, like his eyes and face showed every ounce of pain he’s been going through. Then I learned that I was right, but I didn’t know the extent. I heard the words that I will not soon forget.
I was suicidal, [insert name of empath friend here]!
He continued to say that things were so stressful with school that he was looking online at shotguns so he could buy one at the nearby gun store and end his life during the week of midterms. I was really shocked that things were that bad that he had a plan in place. Many of us are taught the signs of someone planning to commit suicide, but I can safely say that due to him not liking to talk about his mental health issues, he never showed any of the signs. He masked everything. I felt myself close to tears and despite my efforts, a tear fell from my left eye first. Then the right eye. Then the tears wouldn’t stop. Then my breathing did that thing that happens sometimes when people cry. Don’t know what you call it. Google said it’s what happens when sobbing. I didn’t react like this when I found out another friend attempted suicide years ago. I told him that I’d rather he drop the class and I’d only see him once a week than never seeing him again, then I walked off to the bathroom to get toilet paper to use as a tissue. I felt horrible crying in front of him, because I was scared he’d feel so horrible for making me cry that he’d hurt himself. When he went home, I hugged him for so long. I was scared to let go. He apologized to me, and then apologized again the next day. He felt bad for telling us about his mental health issues. I stayed to talk with my empath friend because I knew driving in a highly-emotional state is not a good idea. He helped me realize why I had such a strong emotional reaction. Why the song “Under Your Scars” by Godsmack has a much stronger meaning to me. Why the song “Song for a Friend” by Jason Mraz was recommended to me months before this blog post was written. Why I got angry the next day when some young co-workers told me to stop talking to him.
I love him.