What does success look like? I played around with the idea of that for years and continuously tried to mold myself to fit that warped view of perfection that I painted in my mind. This was even truer during my years as a publicist in the music industry. I used what I perceived as the success of others as inspiration of who I should be, what I should do even who I should know, but no matter what I believed, it just wasn’t enough because it wasn’t reality. It was the fictitious expectations of someone that didn’t know any better. I realize my errors in such folly and from that I have grown.
Today, I ask you to do the same but instead of identifying what you think of when you hear the word success, tell me what you think of when hear the term “mental illness.” Whose face do you see? Is it the crazy guy in front of the bodega that talks to himself and screams obscenities at passersby? Is it the cousin no one talks about that lives in an institution who everyone only visits on major holidays? Maybe it’s the old lady down the street that has 20 cats and doesn’t let anyone past her front door? Yeah, that’s crazy right?
But what about this: Shakir Stewart - a record executive at a number of companies, the latest being the Senior Vice President of Island Def Jam Music Group and the Executive Vice President of Def Jam.
And this: Erica Kennedy - author, blogger, news correspondent, fashion journalist and singer.
These are two of the thousands of awesome, fly, incredible people who have suffered through their own bouts with mental illness and decided to end their lives rather than face another day. These are the faces of those who I would have lauded as successes, as my inspirations. These are people whose deaths brought on mourning from celebrities. Whose obituaries read like best sellers. These people were that and much more to those that loved and knew them, but they were also battling forces that consumed them and ultimately caused them to make a permanent decision for what we would assume to be temporary problems. These are the faces of mental illness.
Was he depressed? Was she bipolar? Did he have a history of hurting himself? Did anyone in her family suffer from mental illness? Why would she do that? Why would he give up? Why…
The answer to these questions extends much further than a simple explanation that could be copy and pasted into this article from some peer review journal that you probably never heard of. It goes deeper. It gets darker. And it gets realer.
When I decided to come out of the bipolar closet and tell my journey to reclaim my mental health, I did so for the sole reason of putting a face to this thing we call mental illness. I wanted someone to Google “I’m bipolar” and my article would pop up and that person would know that they are not alone. I wanted people to see someone that was everything that they thought they were but still was going through something that could not be seen, touched or readily identified.
I told my story because I am tired of the conversation of mental health only being brought up during the next round of unexplainable suicides by those that we thought had it all together. Nah, let’s talk about it now.
Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about it now, dammit.
We get swept up into the idea of what mental illness looks like and then feel like we have been dooped when tragedy strikes and the victim is someone that doesn’t match the mold we created.
“She doesn’t look bipolar?”
“You don’t look crazy?”
"He’s so cute, are you sure he was depressed?”
“OMG she was so pretty, are you sure?”
Yeah, I’m sure. Just as sure as I am that there is a solution to this thing. A solution that involves education, attempts at prevention and acceptance. Not just the acceptance of those inflicted with these issues so that they take the first step to get help, but the acceptance of everyone around them who laugh and snicker or mock and ostracize not knowing that it’s affecting those much closer to them than they think.
Those suffering from the agony of mental illness find it easier to put on a façade of who they truly are. It becomes easier to mold and develop the you that you project to the world, then to actually nurture and repair the true you that is now left neglected. It becomes a full-time job putting on this front, and sometimes it just becomes too much for some to bear.
The mental health issue amongst our generation is bigger than the latest headline and tragedy. It extends far beyond the margins of this page and directly to the hearts and minds to everyone reading this piece.
It’s time we create an atmosphere that enables our generation to feel comfortable asking for help. HELP. It’s just four letters but continuously our people are too afraid to ask for it, and too ashamed to reach out for it.
Well, I’m not.
Mental illness is real, people. It’s here. It has a face; here’s mine.