What I Learned About Mental Illness After Losing My Brother to Suicide
An issue many can’t talk about and very few people understand. I remember the time when no one talked about mental health.
I could go back at least to five years ago when my brother was struggling so much. He was finally able to communicate it to myself and our family, but it was hard. There were so many obstacles in the way. Our school systems didn’t address children’s mental health, nor did they take action for my brother.
Suicide has been around our entire lives, but was not something anyone ever talked about. Why is this? Why are we only starting to address mental illness and mental health?
I never knew what mental illness was until I lost my brother to suicide four years ago. I was oblivious to it, and then suddenly, that’s all I knew.
I developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) … the list goes on. Sure, I had all these mental illnesses, but what did that all mean? It meant I couldn’t live the rest of my life like this. I couldn’t live with these mental illnesses, and still try to function as a “normal” human being.
I went to group therapy and an individual therapist shortly after losing Austin. I had never been to a therapist before and after a while, it seemed to help. I got into a routine of going to therapy and seeing a psychiatrist, it became like a second hobby of mine. Eventually after two years of being in therapy and many bills later, I decided I didn’t need to go anymore.
Along with therapy, I took medicine for my anxiety. In the past four years, I can’t even remember how many different medications I’ve been on or prescribed. Dealing with all the side effects, all the trials and errors. Becoming physically ill due to the medications. Not being able to sleep or sleeping my whole day away. Losing or gaining weight. Being crabby and mean or being too high strung. Crying for two days straight or not giving a care about anything.
The highs and lows of all the different medications finally began to take its toll. I understood why my brother didn’t want to be on so many different medications. It’s exhausting both physically and mentally.
The statistics for mental illnesses continue to grow each year. In the United States, almost half of adults (46.4 percent) will experience a mental illness during their lifetime. Half of all mental disorders begin by age 14, and three-quarters by age 24. I lost my brother when I was 25 and developed multiple mental illnesses.
My brother struggled with depression, social anxiety and GAD since his earlier teens. By starting to address mental health in children, it will only benefit them as adults. I’ve expressed my mental illness, to my family first and foremost. I wasn’t judged or criticized, especially since I lost my brother to suicide, but I still felt like majority of my family didn’t truly understand what I was actually going through daily.
These common phrases seemed to be things I heard on a daily basis from family and friends:
“You’ll get over this.”
“This is just a bad day.”
“You’ll be fine.”
But I couldn’t get over it, it was more than just a bad day and the truth was I wasn’t fine. It took courage and bravery to walk downstairs to my mom one day and tell her, “I need help.” Words my brother was never able to say or express.
“I can’t live like this anymore,” I told my mom with tears in my eyes.
She stopped what she was doing and a look I’ve never seen appeared in her eyes. She finally realized I wasn’t OK.
After two to three days of calling multiple clinics, hospitals and treatment centers, I was able to get into an adult day treatment program. I had to take time off work, but I knew this is what I needed to do.
In the program, I was able to express my true anxieties — everything from the small day-to-day anxieties I had, to the very extreme anxiety/panic attacks that landed me in the ER. Everyone in the program had some form of mental illness and we worked on accepting them for ourselves. Before, I never fully accepted the fact I had any mental illnesses. Sure, I was diagnosed on paper, but in my mind, I was still OK. I was in denial.
After losing my brother, my grief was still so fresh and raw, even after four years. My mind couldn’t still process this loss and was still in denial about it all. Asking for help was the best thing I could have done for myself. It was hard, but I did it. I am able to accept my anxiety, acknowledge it, live with it and let it pass. That’s something I learned in treatment: living in the present. Accepting my mental illness for what it is. For not getting depressed about the past, for not constantly worrying about my future, rather to live in the present moment.
I continue to talk to my friends and family about mental illness. I want to help anyone who crosses my path and let everyone know it’s OK to ask for help. I want to continue to share my story, share my constant battles and let people know they are not alone.
It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to reach out. There are so many resources available. There are so many people who want to help. You may have to be patient, and your search may seem frustrating, but in the end, you will find someone who can help you. I know this from my own experience.
Mental health is just as important as physical health. We need both to function and to live in this world. Mental and physical health go together, they coincide with one another. We make time out of our day to work out, go for a walk or do some form physical activity. Usually to alleviate stress, anxiety, depression or improve our physical health. We need to start taking time out of our day for our mental health.
Now is the time to talk about mental illness, more so than any other time. In the world we live in today, mental health is so important.
I write a blog to help deal with the loss of my brother and continue to express and share my mental illness.
You can follow my journey on The Girl With the Dinosaur Tattoo.
Unsplash image by Casper Nichols