There are billions of metaphors about life.
Life is like a roller-coaster, like a tree, like a balloon, like a ship, like a winter coat, like a pet, like a Madonna song, like a mountain, like a river, like a bird and so on and so forth.
Today, life is like a war. You go in with an ideal, hoping to fight for something, praying you get it on your way out.
Usually, death is an uncertainty. We live in blissful ignorance about our expiration date. I don’t know if I have 5 hours, 5 days or 50 years left.
Some of us do know. It’s just the kind of hand we’ve been dealt. There are still incurable diseases out there. Huntington’s disease, Coronary Artery disease, COPD, Cancer, HIV/AIDS, etc. These diseases are death sentences.
Then there is something more subtle at play. An area I believe we don’t spend enough attention focusing on: Mental Illnesses. This includes anxiety disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorder and depression. Diseases like this can cause the victim to take their own life.
According to a report by PBS, More than 54 million (or nearly one in five) Americans have a mental disorder in any given year. The risk of suicide makes untreated manic-depressive illness more fatal than heart disease and some forms of cancer.
I guess you don’t really take notice of certain things until they hit home for you.
On the 12 of March, 2015 one of my best friends tried to commit suicide. After 10 days of being in the ICU with burns covering 90% of her body, she passed away.
My full of life, happy go lucky, dancing, dreaming, valedictorian, kick ass doctor friend chose to end her life.
Why? An acute postpartum depression that went unnoticed, among other things.
She gave birth to a beautiful baby boy in October. Add depression on to a preexisting struggle with OCD. You get a recipe for suicide.
For years she’s been struggling with OCD. I don’t think I ever understood the gravity of her problem. She always seemed to have it all together. When she told me she wanted to become a doctor after having studied two years of civil engineering I laughed because I knew that she would be terrific at it. When she told me she was taking flamenco and reiki classes because she didn’t plan to be a doctor forever I nodded and kept telling her “if there’s anyone capable of doing anything, it’s you”. I truly believed that. Lety was one of those people that inspired you. Her lightness and enthusiasm reminded you what being human was all about. She was someone you’d look up to. Today, I rummage through all the memories we built over the 17 years that I knew her. We went to high school together. She was always voted most pretty, most intelligent, most likable, most likely to succeed. There was no one in that school that didn’t love her. She had a soul that would shine right out of her eyes.
But she was secretly at war. At war with her mind. I know what it’s like, I’m always fighting to stay in control of my mind so I know what it’s like to be dragged down the rabbit hole against your will.
These last few months when she told me what was going on, I tried to help her. I shared any and every kind of knowledge I had with her. From Buddhist spiritual practices to Hindu rituals. From self-help to consciousness books. The power of our thoughts create our reality, our perception dictates what we see as true. I believe this. I tried to help her to see that. I tried every day for four months. Last month, for five days, I stopped. I took a break. She wasn’t budging. I needed to recharge. I dropped the ball. And now she’s dead. Now I will never get a chance to speak to her again.
And I have to say, it’s the most excruciating pain I’ve ever experienced.
I haven’t been taking her death as gracefully as I should, knowing all I know.
There’s this remorse, this guilt that eats at me. I didn’t take her suicide talk seriously. I’ve always seen her as a logical and strong woman. I never thought anything like this would happen to her.
Which is why I’m writing today. After the incident, several people around me came forward to let me know that i’m not alone. I was shocked to find out that there were so many people that had suffered similar situations and they only realized the gravity of the issue after it was too late.
Today, I want to encourage you, whoever is reading, to speak up.
Mental illness is a disease of the mind. We lose sovereignty over the organ that makes us who we are.
If you suspect or know someone suffering from a mental illness, do something about it. Do something as if they had a cut and they were bleeding out right in front of you.
The absence of physical symptoms makes it hard sometimes to recognize or understand the pain that a victim of mental illness suffers but believe me, they are very much suffering.
If you are someone who is struggling with a mental illness, speak up. Tell someone. Seek help. You’d be surprised at the love, support and understanding you can find from a stranger. It is not too late for you because you are still alive and you can make the choice to stay that way.
And finally, if you have lost someone to an illness and are grieving like me, then, let it out. Take your time to make your peace. Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t tell yourself its okay when its not.
A lot of people have been giving me unsolicited advice. Advice like “it’s a part of life, it will pass, time will heal” I’m not saying its wrong, its just something I’m not ready to hear right now. The death of my friend has shook me down to my core.
Poetry is my current outlet for getting out all my pent up emotions. The advice I got stirred a rage in me I had to get out.
She knows me. I’m not one to reply with a fine, thanks.
She knows I am a hurricane that shakes the honest awake.
When i’m not okay, i’m not fucking okay.
And it’s okay to not be fucking okay.
Its okay to say you’re not fucking okay.
“A little bit.” I say. “Im worn out.”
“Why?” she asks.
It’s hard to say.
“Just how I feel” I reply.
“It’ll pass” she asserts.
Let me tell you about a few things that will pass.
An airplane passes the Atlantic to arrive in Europe, Troy is always frightened it will fall out of the sky.
Easter passes every year, Maria is scared she won’t get enough chocolates.
Children worry about passing their exams.
My mother prays she lives to pass 80.
There are few things that when they pass you can get over without much distress.
Missing an appointment, being misunderstood, not having a cent to your name.
However, they are other things that we must respect,
And we must understand, even if we don’t.
Things that we cannot take lightly.
My best friend is dead.
She took her life.
That is not light.
There is nothing light in my life right now.
So please, dear God, allow me to be worn out and worn down.
Allow me to speak it.
To share it.
And recognize my scars.
Let them be for the time being.
For I also know that time will play a tune
And eventually make it all alright again.
But don’t minimize this pain,
This howling grief inside my bones.
It is the only companion I have.
The only truth I hold.
I pray for a world, for a future where a broken heart is treated just as gently as a broken arm.
Where we don’t need bravery to stand up and say to someone else “I’m not okay”
A future where our health plan includes mental sick days.
None of us are really, truly okay. We’re all just trying our best.
Falling down and getting back up again.
Let’s be more compassionate.
You never know, you could save a life that way. It could be your own.