Mental Health Awareness Month

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It’s really amazing how things can change your life so drastically, especially when you least expect it.  The year was 2011. I was working at a restaurant at the time, and was fairly young and vibrant. I had a group of girls that I considered to be very close with (we still are today).  We would all hang out, go to eat after our shifts, shopping, bar hopping, you name it we did it. That year, we had a newbie join us. She was much younger than we were, but her personality and spirit just lifted the room when she was there.  We became very close. She didn’t live here, California was where her home was, but she came here during the summers to work and visit with family. We would talk frequently, and when she was back in Cali, we all missed her so much. She was a person you could talk about anything to.   She never made me feel ashamed for asking questions about god (she was extremely religious) and she made me want to be a better person. I’ve never met such a young person who was so involved in community outreach, helping the homeless, and just giving her all for other people in need.  She was my person. I always told her if something ever happened to me, I’d want her to marry my husband and help raise my children. She was that kind of role model, the one who made you look at things in a different light, a better light. We remained friends for years to come. We drifted apart, not by much, but since we weren’t working together anymore, our lives took us on different paths.  She was always still my person, and always a dear friend. Little did I know, she was struggling. I wouldn’t have thought in a million years she would have depression. To me, she was the person to help another get out of their depression, she has helped me so many times I can’t even count. The endless phone conversations about the silliest of things, and the most serious.

Sadly, in December of 2016, she took her own life.  I can’t explain to you in words how i felt the day i found out. Some part of me thought this was just all a nasty joke, or a pure nightmare, but it was true. And my life since hasn’t been the same.  

I’ve always been one to hold on to something and not let go.  I find myself thinking about her daily, and wondering why, she was so happy.  Mental health is very serious, and even if you can’t see it, someone close to you could be struggling.  I was and always have been open about my depression and anxiety issues. Her and I would talk about it, and how i felt, and what i can do to help myself.  I wish I would have known about her issues. I would have helped her anyway that I could. I feel a little lost that she is not in this life anymore. I’ve spent endless nights crying, and wondering what I could have done.  I feel pain for her mother, who is an angel, and is just as caring as she was. I feel pain for her family, I feel pain for all her friends. It’s a pain that just doesn’t go away, it just lingers there, waiting for something to trigger it.  I cannot tell you how many times, in the car, at home, work, the littlest things remind me of her, and it makes me cry, every single time.  

May is mental health awareness month.  This is something that hits home to me.  Not only because I lost a friend, but I also suffer as well.  I think we all need to start being a little more open about our feelings, especially when you feel yourself spiraling out of control.  I had my person to bring me back to reality, and now she’s gone because she must have felt her issues couldn’t be conquered. And it’s not true, whether you think it or not, others lives would not be better if you weren’t in it.  There are so many people that love and care about you, even if you don’t think so.  

One thing I’ve learned through my own experience, is to start asking your friends and loved ones how they are.  Really, ask them. Don’t just assume someone is ok because they seem happy, because you never know what they are feeling deep down.  

In 2009, when I had postpartum depression, I felt so ashamed, and embarrassed.  I didn’t fully understand what was going on with me. I wouldn’t even talk to my husband about it.  I almost felt “dirty”, and just kept pushing it down, until one day it all bubbled to the top. I’m so comfortable talking about this now, because i did get help, and i hate to say it, but i’m not sure where i would be today if i didn’t get that help.  It’s nothing to be ashamed about. Sometimes you need help, and that help can save your life. We have an advantage here living in Pittsburgh. We have some of the best doctors around. And we have some exceptional mental health doctors as well. I remember the day I told my doctor how I was feeling.  I couldn’t even look at her in the eyes, and she got down on her knees and held my hands and told me everything was going to be ok. I remember crying so hard, but she said this is common, that it isn’t something to be ashamed of, that i should be talking about it. Luckily for me, I have a wonderful family, and a husband who is more than exceptional.  Everyone was so great to me during the toughest time of my life. It took me a few years to get back to the way I wanted to feel, but it was worth the fight and the wait.  

One thing I know for sure, is I’m glad I’m here, and I fought the awful feelings inside me.  I couldn’t imagine not being here for my kids and husband. We need to be more kind to everyone around us, and we need to be there for friends and family, and understand where this starts and stems from.  We cannot walk around being ashamed of how we feel. Life is tough. It’s not easy by any means, and the stress of life can really weigh on a person and take a toll. I highly encourage everyone to take self care days.  Take a nice hot bath, rock out to great music, eat a delicious meal. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, it just has to be something you enjoy to help you, and make you feel good.  

I do wish every day that I could call and talk to my dear friend.  I know one day I’ll see her again. But for now, just thinking and talking about how great she was, is the best i can do for now.  I hope from reading this, you will all hug your friends and loved ones a little tighter, and care a little more, and be more sincere.  When a life is lost because of depression, it takes a little piece of you with it.