I had an exchange of emails with someone at work who was asking for resource assistance. The way her email was worded, it sounded like a provider, so I asked if she was.
She wrote back a kind of snippy reply, chastising me for my "assumption," and then she made one of her own: "I'm one of them, not one of you."
And then I had an email exchange with a volunteer today, agreeing that we really need to highlight the fact that our events aren't just about raising money, but about changing minds. Not "raising awareness." Changing minds. Blasting stereotypes out of the water.
Every year I write a post to ask for donations for an event I'm in charge of at work, and the point isn't only to raise funds (and thank you for all of you who have donated, and for those of you who can't, thank you for the good wishes), but also to write on the off chance that someone who reads this might not feel so alone.
I'm one of "them." The one in four American adults living with mental illness. We're your neighbors, your coworkers, the people serving you at Starbucks - but most of us don't dare talk about it. So the upshot is that many people don't get help.
I have been very lucky in my life. I didn't know how lucky until I came to work where I work. I've always had support of family and friends, and, for the past nearly 9 years, a wonderful partner, during my tough times. I've always been able to afford, or have family help me afford, the treatment I needed.
I know when the nightmares happen, I'll have someone to hold me until I fall back asleep. When the days hit where I don't see the point of getting up and putting one foot in front of the other, there are people telling me I can do it.
So many people don't.
So many of them have no one.
So many of them can't afford the care they need, or if they can afford it, they can't access it.
Humorous posts aside, this is why I do what I do. My organization runs on a shoestring. We don't charge for any of our programs or services. We have tons of volunteers helping us out - many of them with their own mental health ups and downs, or family members' ups and downs - because we want people to be able to talk about it. And we want people to get the help they need. This can only happen in the context of a broader social conversation.
My walk team is named in memory and in honor of a friend of mine who never got the help he needed. He was shuffled through the Medicaid system and died of a preventable illness.
In short, he was treated, like many people in the system, like a throwaway person.
Adults living with mental illness die an average of 25 years before the rest of the adult population, mostly from preventable illnesses - just like my friend. And suicide is the second-leading cause of death of young people in my state.
It still blows me away. Such big numbers, so many people affected, but as a society, we don't talk about it unless something terrible happens, and mental illness is suspected as the culprit. So many suffer silently.
So we walk, although some days we feel like pounding the pavement, or even hitting it.
And that is why I ask for help, if you can. Whether that's a donation or simply giving people our information if you think they need help.
The conversation starts with you.