I haven’t talked publicly that much about my own mental health. I think in interviews when Learning Not to Drown came out, I may have touched briefly on being in therapy, but I’ve never gone into detail. I am very open with friends about it, but was always afraid of being judged publicly for having my brain. I applauded Chester (especially in the past few months before his death) for being so open in interviews. I was proud of him for being brave. I knew that by describing the way his brain worked, Chester would help others get beyond the stigma of mental health and addiction.
I guess now it’s my turn to be open.
As someone who personally deals with depression and anxiety on a daily basis, I know how important it is to recognize the way my brain works and the things that help me. Personally, therapy has been the best thing for my brain – specifically EMDR and cognitive therapy. I have had the same psychologist for 14 years. There are times that I have needed her five days a week, and times that I see her once every few months.
For some people, medication will be what works best. For one year of my life, I was on medication to help lower my anxiety to a point that I could actually get through the therapy sessions and allow my brain to start making new, healthy connections. Some people may need medication for a short time, some may need it for life. It depends on the individual brain and how it works.
For some people, alternative therapies might work best.
For some people, books are helpful.
For some people, group settings and support is what works best (I highly recommend Al-Anon or AA/NA for people dealing with addiction – it is free, provides therapy in a group setting and a community of support).
For most people, it will take trying different options and maybe even mixing several of them.
My initial healing took several YEARS – some of it was incredibly painful, but I am so glad that I stuck with it. The Anna that I am on a daily basis now feels true to me. I don’t miss the deep depressive dives, or the bursts of anger that could take over my whole day. I don’t miss being afraid of emotions. I don’t miss feeling out of control. I know now that the way my brain stays healthy involves exercise, vitamin D, creative outlets of writing and drawing, talking to trusted friends, sometimes acupuncture, seeing my therapist if I start to slip and checking in with her monthly so we can recognize early signs when I might need a little more help.
Here is what gets tricky: taking care of mental health can feel embarrassing (we need to change this – and this is something that everyone can contribute to), it can be expensive (another thing we need to change – this might take laws being passed) and it can take more than one try to find the right therapist/psychologist or psychiatrist or group for you. It takes work, and a sick brain may not want you to do the work. A sick brain might not want to deal with insurance or finding free resources. A sick brain may tell you that nothing will work for you.
If you need help, please absolutely seek it out, and try again and try often if the first attempt toward mental health doesn’t seem to work.
Chester worked hard. He worked hard to be sober. He worked hard for happiness. I am eternally grateful for the years that were given to us because of the work he put in. We will never know what was happening in his final moments, but we do know that the only thing to blame is disease: addiction and mental illness.
As a person who is in incredible pain at the loss of one of my best friends because of mental illness, I can assure you that you are important and needed in this world. And you deserve mental health.
Find a way that works for your brain. Dedicate yourself to working towards mental health. Most likely, it will not be a destination, but an on-going journey. This is okay. The important thing is that you are on the journey and putting in the work, one moment at a time. Slips can happen. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Admit it and get back on the path. Accept help. Be compassionate with yourself.
One thing we can all do to help stop the stigma around mental illness and suicide is to look at our words. Words matter. When we say “died by suicide” instead of “committed suicide” we focus on the illness rather than blaming the survivors or the deceased.
The answer to “why did someone die by suicide?” is always “mental illness.” That is the reason. And if we can start there, we can move forward, not only to prevent more suicides but to help more people find mental health.
In case you or someone you know needs support, here are some resources:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK
Crisis Text Line, the free, nationwide, 24/7 text message service for people in crisis, is here to support. For support in the United States, text HELLO to 741741 or message at facebook.com/CrisisTextLine.
For support outside the US, find resources at http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html