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When I Think of the People I've Met on My Mental Health Journey

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So I was driving to work, just drifting between memories and my plans for the day, when there he was. Bubbling into my brain like a shy little ghost: a young man I met in an intensive outpatient group six years ago. He was quiet and very sweet. I remembered the way he would suddenly start talking, calmly and softly, about how badly he wanted to die. We never kept in touch after the program concluded. I crossed my fingers for him, and hoped that he’s healthy and happy wherever he is.

It always happens like that. In my extensive career as a mental health consumer or patient, I’ve met dozens of people who were lost in the world, like me. We’ve shared couches in psych ward common rooms and cigarettes in enclosed patios. We’ve introduced ourselves by name and diagnosis in group therapy meetings. Sometimes we’ve even swapped phone numbers and email addresses, but so far that’s never panned out for me. Even close friendships rarely survive the transition from the therapeutic otherworld back into Real Life.

Still, that connection is never completely lost. I don’t see how it can be. Once you’ve glimpsed another person’s bare wiring, the tangled knots of their life, something is created between you that never really goes away. Even if you don’t say a word, even if you just allow yourself to be seen in one of the buildings where our society cordons people with addictions and mental illnesses, you now share that designation with everyone you met there. All of you are standing on the same foundation of fear and hope, and all of your fates feel tied up together.

Now you’ve let people in, and for the rest of your life they will come back in little memories that can pop up at any time. Whenever this happens to me, it seems important to let the memory stay for a while. It feels like my job to keep all of these people in my mind, not letting anyone go. I want them to know, somehow, that they are still important to me. In full magical thinking mode, I imagine that my concern can help them stay afloat. I don’t really believe in vibes or prayer, but this is all I can do, so I do it.

To my entire family of vulnerable and broken and barely-tied-together people, I think about you often. My fingers are crossed for you today.

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Originally published: March 1, 2016
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