Quite unfortunately I tried to post for a few days from my phone and couldn't connect to the internet for some reason so I gave up. I'm gonna cut myself some slack and just pick up where I left off.
Here is the scoop. It is not my story.
One of the people who is a presenter with NAMI and did the In Our Own Voices presentation was killed by suicide . He went missing at the beginning of May and was found just this past week.
Let me be clear: I did not know him. I never met him. I'll call him J. I had no personal connection to him. My reaction to his death was abstract and removed. I was saddened at the intellectual level. We are a small group. Maybe 30 of us in Minnesota? And I know it hit many people quite hard.
I went to give an In Our Own Voices presentation yesterday. Got home late. Did not post. Also partly because I was a bit frazzled by the experience.
I drove out in nasty traffic and was 10 minutes later than I wanted to be. When I got there my co-presenter was not there and I couldn't remember who I was speaking with. So I checked my email.
Turns out I was originally scheduled to present with J. I found a later email in which I learned there was a substitute presenter due to arrive shortly. But it was unnerving to have this reminder of... crap like this that can happen. And it made me anxious in a way that I m usually not right before I speak to a group.
I heard a speaker at NAMI talk about his son's death and that he preferred to say his son was killed by suicide. Because he wanted to acknowledge that it was his mental illness that did him in. Lost his fight with Depression wasn't quite strong enough. Killed by suicide.
When the substitute presenter showed up he too realized for the first time who he was subbing for. As a result his talk was a bit rambling. We went over time. Not badly. And his story was quite compelling. His connection was much closer. He had presented with J. He was the last person to present with J. He had spoken about his own suicide attempts and wondered aloud if he had put these thoughts in J's head.
And intellectually my co-presenter knew this. But still he was shaken. This sucks. There are ripples that run through the community and I am on the far edge, but even I feel the motion of this sad event.
I was struck as my co-presenter talked that I am a very vanilla white girl. I have never attempted to carry out my own death. Never been hospitalized for Depression-related or Manic-related episodes. Never had any run-ins with the law. Never struggled with addiction. Never had to confront painful truths about my sexuality or gender.
And for a moment I felt like I must be a terrible choice for a presenter. What do I have to say... my story is so dull.
But I realized that it is important for people to see this contrast. To see that not everyone living with a mental illness fits this stereotype of someone who crashes and burns before seeking treatment. Important to share the importance of a robust support network. Important for people to see that this vanilla white girl with a loving family and a good job and a cute little house and fantastic children... is also the face of mental illness.
So you can't tell just by looking at someone that they are living with a mental illness. There is not just one story. And I am grateful that my story is boring. My story is lucky. I have one scary episode in which I had a psychotic break while driving. It could have ended horribly. It did not. Lucky. And I relied on my support network to return to reality. The episode was short in duration. I bounced back. Lucky.
But also smart. In a deliberate way. It was a conscious decision to not engage in recreational narcotics. An easy decision for me. I am far too rule-bound to flout the law.
A choice not to drink. Never been drunk. Never plan to be drunk. I knew I had an addictive personality and had no desire to become a recovering alcoholic. It seemed like a real drag. And I had this fear that with my obsessive streak I would engage in more than just recreational use of alcohol.
So I rather obsessively avoided alcohol. Except that I read somewhere a long time ago that teetotalers don't live as long as other folks. So occasionally I will have a drink. One. And I nurse it over a long stretch of time.
This too made me lucky. It is much more difficult to treat mental illness when there is a dual diagnosis of chemical dependency. And being drunk isn't so great for people with bipolar. Alcoholism is certainly not recommended for anyone. There can be long-term damage to the brain that makes it much more difficult to treat mental illnesses.
I don't know what J. had going on in his life or what he struggled with. I don't need to know. It isn't my business. It is not my story.
But I left frazzled. But also grateful. And lucky. And smart. But mostly lucky.
Thank you, my broad support network of family and F/friends. i wouldn't be where I am today without you.
Quaker, teacher, parent,