After 30 years of life on this planet I am still alive.
This statement contains a story within itself, but it is far harder for me not to remember the other stories I've grown up.
My first cousin committed suicide when I was 13. Nobody knew he was depressed, save for a recent breakup, and nobody believed he had those thoughts until it happened.
In sixth grade I was awed by the news that an older boy, an eighth grader, had gone home and hung himself during the day. Another friend's brother shot himself in the head.
Then I got into high school and things got very real. From a significant someone who tried to snort her way to destiny to a very gentle girl that carved the inside of her legs with a needle because she felt awful about herself, unspoken problems involving mental illness ran amok. Her older sister, who had been a very talented writer from what I remember, scratched the inside of her arms with needles too. People were cutting but nobody wanted to talk about it--save for the few brave parents who tackled these things head on and, surprisingly, often caught flack for having the courage to actually do something instead of sweeping it under the rug. Some of those people were and remain as close to me as family.
Mental illness is an epidemic our society refused to even acknowledge for a long time, but for many of the communities I grew up in it was lingering specter above us all, an malefic spirit that always threatened to take another without warning.
Into my junior year of high school I had a friend who was addicted to heroin. His best friend, the dude that started shoving way too many heavy metal CD's into my hands, literally watched out for my-friend-the-junkie day and night. My peer group spent weekends drinking pretty hard and living very fast. It is not out of the way to remember how many people I knew that felt left out of things, how people floated in and out of their self-destructive packs, and how many who were simply lost.
Sure, these are often the stories about growing up, but it was always startling to see how many of those stories were haunted by mental illness.
Some of us (see: Jay) had real anger issues, others tough family situations, and there were a lot of kids and adults I knew that were strung out or pilled up on something. The last of the Gen-Xers, who I looked up to, struggled with their place in the world after college and a few were left behind when it broke them. Drugs were a constant reality. I probably smoked and drank too much myself to mute out the world, but so did a lot of athletes I ran with. From those on the high school wrestling team to the guys I rolled jiu-jitsu with in the strip malls, there were always problems with depression. Start adding concussions into the mix and guys would act very strange. One of my closer friends at the time lost his brother to suicide--a brother who was one of my little sister's closest friends.
College was worse.
Many of my friends were poor and struggling with un-diagnosed bipolar disorders, self-medicating to get through working and going to school full-time--and some of them were raising kids, which while wonderful was a colossal burden within itself. I met a mom who served bar and she was the nearest thing to Wonder Woman I've ever met. And she popped a lot of pills. A lot of people who were on some form of a SSRI.
And say what you want: The Bush Years were soul crushing. A lot of people went off to war and died. A lot of families were left with loved ones too damaged to make themselves a "normal" life when they came home. I knew a few soldiers that were taken by PTSD while I was in college. They aren't here to tell their stories now.
Here is the point where I insert myself back into it and admit my own demons: Since the time I was 14 years old I had wanted something all through high school and the beginning of college--a career in mixed martial arts--and through injury and purely bad choices on my part I screwed myself out of that. It took a lot of therapy before that period of my life and lot of therapy and love after that period to come to terms with the reality that I couldn't have what I wanted anymore.
That same reality almost took me twice and, if I'm purely honest, the same depression followed me into my destined career too. I know a good many writers in my community that really struggle with depression and suicide. I was, again, one of them not too long ago.
Yet for my part in this, I still remember the stories of others:
One roommate was so terribly broken by his experiences in the Bosnian War that he refused to act outside of a self-proscribed set of behaviors that inevitably led to self-mutilation and becoming one of the first people I know to be addicted to bath salts. The uncle who lost his son to suicide when I was 13 went through rehab not too long ago. The fight to stay sober, happy, and healthy is a hard one for him that he faces every day.
And there's the point: for people that struggle with mental illness, life is a fight, no matter if you are using your fists or not.
I make the statement "I am still alive" to write stories because I know of how many stories were ended because of cruel circumstance, or addiction, or depression, or something even deeper. The only reason I'm here is because I did something we are sometimes shamed in society for doing: I went and found help. I went to therapist, tried medication, took up meditation, and still work every day to fight the specter of mental illness. My best friends do too.
The best thing we can do is talk about mental illness is to tell these stories and let others know that somehow, somewhere, someone out there cares enough to help them. The more we talk about it the more we help others win their fight to hold on, endure, and find their own victories. It is a far better option than waiting until it is too late and having another tale lost.
About the campaign:
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.