“It was so awkward that I wanted to kill myself.”
“Yeah no totally. She’s psycho.”
“That party was so packed. I was gonna have a panic attack!”
“Can you just like… chill?”
These words are not not merely “just words” ― they echo in the minds of those fighting the weight of a mental illness. They seep into everyday conversations as if it were simply ordering a sandwich or our usual cup of joe. But we speak these words without recognizing the damaging effects to those who suffer from mental health issues.
Upon the news of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington’s suicide, a wildfire of dialogue surrounding mental health ignited – from celebrities to survivors and everyone in between.
But this subject has, sadly, always been stigmatized because it’s too personal and the fear that speaking it out loud makes it too real. But here’s the thing: it is real. And if we want to prevent – or at least help – those contemplating or attempting suicide then we must climb over the mountain of fear and change the words we speak. And I will shamelessly say, I have been diagnosed with a mental health illness. So please, hear me out. I will not, nor do I have any desire, to sugarcoat any of it. Doing so will only undermine the truth.
These everyday phrases I’ve listed above have always functioned as an effortless way to describe our emotions in any given circumstance. But how do we if know we’re in the presence of someone in the middle of a depressive episode while declaring, “I’d rather kill myself than talk to my ex again.” But the issue is that whether we’re aware of it or not, these colloquialisms can impact those around us who may be suffering.
It makes us feel misunderstood.
Hearing you speak these phrases – even as a joke – isn’t a joke. For you, it’s a passive statement that means absolutely nothing. For us, you have no right. To us, though we know there’s no bad intention on your part, it’s frustrating that you can throw such jokes out so casually, and it can feel like it’s being thrown in our faces. We know that you may not know we have anxiety or depression or bipolar disorder, etc. But frankly, it’s just not your place to say such things when you have no idea what it truly feels like.
Do you truly know the pain of not being able to breathe, in the most random moments?
Do you truly know the complete desire to be happy while living with a darkness will not leave you?
Do you truly know the fear of voices that are so unreal but appear right in front of you?
So, real talk. You’re asking “will changing the words I say on a daily basis really help prevent suicide?” Maybe it won’t. But what if, just what if, it will?
If more and more of us can understand the different types of mental health illnesses, the various symptoms, and the way it truly affects sufferers then maybe, just maybe, we will know what to say and what to do when someone we love is on the verge of a decision, with effects that will ripple throughout our world.
We need to pay attention.
We need to open our eyes.
The smallest change in behavior marks the biggest sign. No doubt, it’s sometimes hard to spot. Even amongst friends, we often forget that some of our behaviors and coping mechanisms are caused by our mental illness. Arguments arise. Blame begins.
Let me give you a personal example to help elucidate the matter at hand. My short film premiere in Los Angeles was approaching. As the days grew closer and closer, anxiety grew day by day. It was announced that our film block was sold out. I invited one of my friends (let’s call her Jill) to the premiere with a ticket reserved for her. So now it’s the big day. Excitement and anxiety increased by the hour. Just before the show, I ran to the restroom to take a moment and rid the anxiety brewing. It was then that I noticed I had an extra ticket left. Jill! I checked my phone. No texts or calls? And there it was – my trigger. The anger began to grow. Within moments, it becomes fury. A fury that I cannot ignore. It makes me the worst version of myself. A monster of impulsivity. This is bipolar disorder. “I don’t have time for this,” I thought. The fire raised spiraling thoughts, “Of course she would do this,” “She would’ve contacted me if she was here,” “Yeah, typical to not keep her word.” I would do what the the monster of my mind would do ― impulsively send heinous belittling texts of blame. I forced myself out of that restroom stall before it could get any worse.
The premiere went great. All the busy active and attention towards us filmmakers kept my mind off of that worry and stress. But afterwards, when I saw all my other friends, the absence of Jill was still at the back of my mind, echoes of hurt and anger. The next morning, I still hadn’t heard from Jill. “Wow, not even a text explaining anything.”
Okay, now you’re thinking “Big deal. I would’ve been hurt and angry, too.” Here’s where you need to check yourself. According to this article, “… research demonstrates that patients with bipolar disorder engage in rumination, a form of self-focused repetitive cognitive activity, in depressed as well as in manic states.”
Words cannot explain the fiery fury that such mood disorders ignite in us. Yes, you would feel the same frustration, anger, and hurt in this situation as anyone would. But I cannot explain how these feelings are a thousand over a thousand times more. I simply cannot ignore them and brush them off easily as someone else could. And worst of all, it can potentially send me into a depressive episode. So as I’m driving, the thoughts, the fury, the hurt are culminating. I want to forget it. I cannot. “I’m sure she has a good reason.” But my mind convinces me otherwise. “Just wait for her to reach out and explain.” But my mind convinces me otherwise. “She’s really the worst.”
And because I feel so intensely, I must – oh, how I must – unleash the monster within in order to not feel it anymore. I text her, “You really want me to hate you, huh?” Already, I’ve opened up an argument from the start. Looking back, the more rational approach would be “Hey, what happened? Why couldn’t you make it last night?” Because hey, things happen. And well, Jill has anxiety and panic disorder. I knew that. But that was all ignored because my mind was overwhelmed with the makings of the worst assumptions. Jill finally replied, “I’m sorry. I got ready early and arrived at the parking garage, but then I just couldn’t get out of the car. I was so anxious. I didn’t know anyone there but you. I couldn’t go there alone. I’m sorry that my anxiety got in the way again.” All very valid reasons. Even I, a close friend, forgot about Jill’s crippling anxiety.
And let me tell you, these outbursts of mine happen and they cause fights that cripple some of my relationships. Often, I’ll be told to just chill and to stop being so dramatic. And often, they will forget my disorder and I’m left feeling alone and misunderstood. That’s why some of your thoughtless sayings and jokes leave us frustrated.
And this is just one example of the minuscule behaviors that even we, with mental illnesses, are still trying to spot. If we better understand and educate ourselves with a fearless urge to help the lonely feel a little less lonely, then maybe we can save a life – whether we know it or not.
So let’s end the everyday sayings that contribute to the already painful struggle to live a normal life.
Because trust me. We need each other. We live in a world that calls for independence because well, “If I succeed on my own, then I’ve proven I’m strong.” I know I can’t overcome on my own. We can’t. Let’s not pretend. I plea with you to consider those around you – they may or may not be dealing with an exhausting mental illness. Be patient with us. Be there with us, for us.
To live may have one “I” but to truly become joyous, we’ll need us.