May Day, May Day…

Happy May Day!!!  AND, happy first day of “Mental Health Awareness Month”.  Hopefully it is happy – hopefully devoting a month to fostering awareness of mental health issues is a good thing for you, and for me…for all of us, whether or not we have mental health issues.

I only recently really owned that I have mental health struggles, so this having a whole month devoted to awareness of said struggles is…weird, for me.  How can I contribute? How do I own my struggles and somehow help spread the word about mental health in general?

Well, today, I can point out that it is, in fact, the first day of May, and as such in the United States, also the first day of a month devoted to…well…ME, I guess!!!  Oh my goodness, I didn’t consider it like that before. This is better than celebrating my birth month, which I started doing when I turned 30 because I GET to. I feel every person should get to celebrate the entire month, especially after 30, because one day to celebrate yourself and the fact that you were born is simply not enough.

For ME???  Oh, You Definitely SHOULD Have.  🙂

For many, many years I would get myself a present for my birthday, and make sure EVERYBODY in my life KNEW that it was my birthday, to maximize gift-getting potential.  I would take off work and really, truly celebrate, because if you can’t celebrate your own birth, then what the hell are we DOING???

Then, about 15 or so years ago, my birthday took on a dark and sinister tone.  It was a dark and stormy night…ok, not really. It was actually a normal day in the Pacific Northwest, which means it was probably cloudy (this would be in November), but not really WINTER yet.  Anyway – my kidlet was at school, hubby was at work, and I had scheduled a massage for myself on my birthday, to get the celebrations started.

I arrived back home after my massage, feeling all squishy and relaxed and very zen…to find our front door open.  I wasn’t thinking…it was just weird…so I walked right on in. I called out for my husband, thinking maybe he had come home to surprise me for my birthday.  

Is It A Birthday Surprise???

I walked into our living room, and our Gamecube was out in the middle of the floor.  I glanced to the right, and the computer was half dismantled, cables strewn about. I looked back at the TV stand, and there were two styrofoam cups…one was still warm.  I assume it had coffee in it, but I can’t really remember.

I remember getting a little bit excited – this must be a BIG surprise!  Maybe hubby got us a new TV and new computers or something and had someone over helping him set up the surprise, and I came home earlier than he expected and maybe there was even a surprise PARTY in the works!!!  Oh, my goodness – this was going to be GREAT!!!

I called for him again, heading to the back of the house, prepared to give him shit for leaving the front door open.  When I got to the back of the house, I glanced in the bedrooms…and they looked like a tornado had hit. It wasn’t until that moment that I started to feel even slightly alarmed.  It slowly started to dawn on me that this wasn’t normal, something was wrong.

Yes…In Fact, It WAS Surprising After All

I immediately started worrying about our cats, and started looking for them.  I walked to the back of the house to find the bedrooms ransacked, stuff strewn everywhere, closets emptied, jewelry case upended.  I went into the basement, still looking for the cats, to find the lower windows broken.

Now I started to panic, calling for the cats.  It finally occurred to me to call my husband at work.  I shakily told him I thought our house had been broken into.  He told me to GET OUT of the house immediately – they might still be there somewhere.  Once I was out of the house, I called the police.

So that was my birthday that year, and I have refused to celebrate my birth month, and often even my birthday, ever since.  The worst part, and this is how everything loops back around the mental health awareness, strangely enough, is that we are pretty sure that my brother was involved in the break in.

Happy Birthday From Your Bro’

I will talk more, this month, about my brother.  As much as I struggle with my own mental health issues, my brother fought a lifelong battle with severe and eventually deadly mental health problems.  I grew up with a violent and broken boy who never got the help he needed. His mental health issues led to actions and behaviors that have contributed to my own mental health issues.

My brother eventually lost his battle and killed himself, a story which I WILL tell this month.  For now, it is enough to say that there were plenty of reasons that we believed he was involved, including that he had broken into my parents house, several states away, earlier that year – on Easter Sunday.

I am not an expert – on anything.  I am not a doctor, a social worker, or a licensed mental health professional.  I am, however, someone who grew up living with the consequences of silence. The consequences of a LACK of mental health awareness.  Consequences that resulted in abuse on MANY levels. Consequences that resulted in a boy who might have been helped, instead turning into a man that was beyond help.

Silence Is Deadly

Our inability as a society to truly, openly, and with compassion, address the fact that some brains are DIFFERENT than others, and some people, including children, need help, has led to so much tragedy.  My brother was violent, and mean, and hurt me a LOT, in a lot of different ways. He felt rage and anger and confusion and distrust ALL of the time. He was cruel, and enjoyed torturing animals…and his younger sister.

My brother was also funny, and poetic, and artistic, and loyal in his own strange way.  He built an inner world in which he was the hero, because he really WANTED to be. He couldn’t feel the connection most of us feel, but he knew that he was missing that and it hurt him.  I often looked at him, sometimes in the midst of the worst rages, and saw a glimpse of a loving and hurting little boy locked away in his mind…unable to get out but still THERE somewhere.  

I loved that little boy SO much, and believe me, over the years I really, really tried to free him.  I mourned the loss of that little boy when my 44 year old brother finally had had enough, and ended his own life in April of 2006.

Mental Health Awareness Month

So, yes.  Let’s devote AT LEAST a month to being truly aware that mental health issues affect many, many lives.  Not just the lives of those suffering with their own issues, but the lives of the people who live with them and love them.  I am painfully aware of how my own issues affect the people who love me.

Who knows what kind of ripple effect some awareness during my brother’s childhood might have had.  Let’s not leave another little girl at the mercy of her violent brother – and let’s not leave another loving little boy locked in the prison of his own cruel mind.

We need to be brave, and talk about mental health issues.  If you are suffering, get help – it’s out there and you deserve to feel better!  Not just for yourself, but for the people who love you – SAY something.

If you do not feel like you have any mental health issues, mental health is STILL an issue.  Notice your family, your children, your friends.  Pay attention to yourself and those around you, and most importantly, have compassion.  Compassion for yourself, compassion for the people you love, and compassion for the person on the street.  You don’t know their story – and that, my friends, is part of the problem. We often don’t know, because we choose to be unaware.

Also – my birthday is in November, so feel free to start planning your present giving NOW, because I’m gonna claim that month as my own again!  

Also, also – my morbid sense of humor might be showing, but does it strike anyone else as relevant that Mother’s Day is in May, AND it’s “Mental Health Awareness Month”?

Peace out, my friends, and keep the conversation going!

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