Why is it whenever I run into friends, we only discuss the highlight reel of our lives? We only bring up the glowing and edited versions of ourselves. We all act like life has been sensational since we saw each other last. When typically, it hasn’t been all that fantastic. We’re living in an Instagram reality and putting a band aid on a wound that, in actuality, needs an eight-hour surgery. And people are dying because of it. 

Sometimes, life really has been great since the last interaction. But, most of the time, you just get through it. You’ve had dark periods. You might have experienced a horrible break up. You might have acquired a new habit that you’re not proud of. We ignore these dark pieces that make us whole out of fear of judgement. We may be embarrassed or not ready to reveal our pain to others when, in reality, they could probably help. Maybe they could relate. Maybe it would make everything better for everyone if we normalized talking about our own mental health as easily as we talk about others. 

Especially back home in the south, we leave our problems at home and suffer in private. We paint on a smile and say “I’ve been great! It’s so good to see you!” We don’t mean it. We just don’t have the gumption to speak what’s on our minds. We’ve been societally seasoned to be unfeeling robots and call it “manners.” We’ve been generationally taught that we should not admit our hardships. FUCK that! Fuck staying strong. Admit to your hardships. Strength lies in vulnerability not portraying feigned strength. Who cares if you have good manners if you’re suffering? Give your pain a voice. Take away it’s power. Let it out of your mind and let others help carry the load. 

Mental illness lies. It tells you you’re not good enough. That no one likes you. That you’re worthless. That it’s not worth getting out of bed or that you have nothing left to give to the world. People who suffer are not weak. They are sick from an illness that is just as real as a broken bone or cancer. We need people to know what’s going on inside our heads, so they are better equipped to help. Sometimes it takes getting outside of your own head. Not all battles should be faced alone.

Bring it up. If they’re scared, it’s good to know! Back away slowly. If they’re a decent human, they’ll be there for you. They’ll think about you. They will check in on you. There is nothing worse than feeling alone. No one should have to suffer in silence, especially when so many go silently through the same thing.

It’s not weak to talk about mental health. It’s normal for stress, fear, and anxiety to catch up with us. It should not be normal to tell our loved ones we’re okay when we’re falling apart. If we’ve learned anything from history, it’s that so many have suffered. So many greats like Robin Williams, Marilyn Monroe, and Heath Ledger seemed to have it all then died alone. Those are only three names ubiquitously known. History is a tool for emulation. It needs to be utilized.

In the current climate, with a global pandemic and the US on the verge of catastrophe with a dangerously controversial election around the corner, hardship surrounding mental health is at an all-time high. We’re existing in a strange void of life where time passes fast and slow at the same time. Unemployment is soaring. Individuals are disconnected from their loved ones. But you already knew that. I’m sure you feel it too. It’s heavy. It needs to be talked about instead of being masked with a “I’m staying sane!” or “hanging in there!”

And who am I to be saying all of this? I’m no one special. I’m an unemployed 24-year-old who gives lost a new meaning. I don’t have a psychology degree and I sure don’t have the right to tell anyone how to live their life. I admit to being someone who has pushed people away because the mental load they carried was too heavy to put on myself. I will live with that forever. I will regret it every day. 

Everyone in my immediate family suffers from some kind of mental illness. I have been so depressed that I lost ten pounds in two weeks because my mental pain was making menial tasks like chewing strenuous. Most of my friends suffer in some way, but we’re okay because we talk about it before or after we discuss a new song we’ve found. It’s second nature to us. We know we couldn’t scare each other because we have tested the waters and they were safe to swim. No drowning alone allowed. 

I have witnessed the widespread pain of loss in the aftermath of mental health problems that weren’t focused on enough. Problems that weren’t given a voice. Situations that could have been avoided. Circumstances that could have been helped. If we were all more vocal about our pain, I truly believe that the mental health death rate can be drastically slowed if not stopped.

If experiencing loss firsthand has taught me anything it’s that when people are hurting, you go. No excuses, no hesitation, go. And if you don’t go, get out of the way. If someone you love has passed or lost someone or they’re struggling, your first instinct should be to help. If you are not capable, make way for those who are. You don’t need to carry others’ pain if you have don’t have the strength, but the more you are there for others the more they will show up for you.

I’m not saying everyone needs to give details of their struggles to an old friend you run into at the grocery store or local bar. Start small. Talk about your mental health at the dinner table. Check in with your friends. Make those people you text everyday a weekly phone call where you discuss everything on your minds. Next time you’re reunited with people who feel like home, give them the brutal details, even if it pushes you to tears. Reach out to a licensed professional if you can’t bring it up to those around you. Pain is something no one should go through alone.

Talk about mental health. It could be your mom, it could be your best friend, it could be you who needs the conversation. Everyone needs someone. Be someone who talks. Be someone who listens. Be someone who continues to reach out. Sometimes, people just need to know they’re not alone. In a world of 7.6 billion people, no one should ever feel like they have no one.

Life isn’t perfect. Save that shit for social media, if you must keep an allusion going. Let’s normalize a real reality. Let’s stop being afraid to tell people the truth. I refuse to allow anyone else I love to lose to mental illness without a fight. May their lives be a lesson. I hope everyone reading this will actively try to normalize a conversation around mental health and their personal experience with the illness. Everyone is worth saving. We need to talk about mental health.