People often ask me why. Why do I put myself out there, on the frontlines of mental health advocacy, disregarding the inaccurate perceptions some will form about me? Some cut more to the point: “Etan, you cannot mention your past battling mental illness on social media and the Web because of potential employers or shidduchs (date suggestions).”
Well, response one is I’m happily employed; in fact, maybe too happily employed as I carry titles here at Refuat Hanefesh and within the accounting world. To the second point about dating: that is fair. It is one thing for someone married/engaged/in a relationship to do what I do. Their significant other already knows them well enough to know the truth, that what they have overcome and learned to manage and mitigate gives them unparalleled strength, not some murky weakness. But me; why do I put myself out there?
I Understand What It’s Like
Because I get what it’s like to be alone. I get what it’s like to have a loneliness which goes so much deeper than the literal sense of not being in the company of others. When I was a little kid and teen – not so successfully battling mysterious feelings – it didn’t matter if I was in an auditorium with a thousand people: I was so alone. In fact, the more people in a room with me, the more alone I was. All these people, yet nobody gets me.
Granted, I now know how wrong I was. I know that it is statistically absurd to think that there were not many people in my school or that I knew who were battling mental illness in some form on some scale (as I later realized was the root of these mysterious and scary feelings). Even though some probably didn’t and still don’t realize that they were battling and even if they did realize, nobody would dare share something so damning as the fact they were seeking treatment from a therapist or mental health doctor.
Having mental illness presents challenges rivaled by none others. Maybe most difficult of all is that feeling of loneliness, like nobody gets you. Shanee Markovitz put it best in her recent Stomp Out The Stigma speech: “If only each of those thousands (who have spoken to me about their mental illness) knew how many others felt just like them… We must not accept a world where so many hundreds of thousands of people do not know how so not alone they are, how so like everyone else they are.”
It is numbing to think of the opportunity I have to make sure that as many people as I can possibly reach know without a trace of doubt that they are not alone. Coming across articles or speeches like mine would have been huge for younger me. I will not sit idly by while the next boy, girl or anyone suffocates in loneliness. Being able to help others in this small way is not lost on me and I am truly grateful for it.
This opportunity to stifle loneliness does not just belong to me. It belongs to the countless others who have as well overcome and learned to manage and mitigate their mental illness. I hope you will join me and take this opportunity, but I understand if for now – while society is still catching up to reality – you feel you cannot.
You Are Never Alone
As I discussed in the open, I have made the decision to make sure you know that you are not alone at great personal sacrifice. So do me one favor: Know that I am in your corner. Know that I am fighting for you because I care about you and I believe in you. As hard as it may be, I believe that you will seek help and you will get healthier. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but there are so many people in your life who want to understand and help. Just try to reach out. One day, maybe you’ll be the one writing this article.
While there is a lot about life which is not necessarily certain, by reading this piece, you have no choice but to be certain that you are not alone. Not now, not ever.
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