I’m starting to learn the difference between myself and this werewolf I’ve been running from and turning into. Madness sneakily weaves itself into our daily lives, sometimes embroidering something eye-catching and loud, other times altogether hidden. People generally do not understand the reality of an illness of the brain, due to any number of things including sociocultural beliefs and limited education about the brain. I hope you read this and take the opportunity to question your understanding of mental illness.

Two years ago I decided to kill myself. You might be willing to believe it was because I was stuck between starting out and getting my act together at 23, with only a few floundering relationships. The thing is, I decided it was the only option because no frogs or goldfish lived nearby and I couldn’t afford an aquarium. Everything else was just gravy, just excess. I was self-medicating and slipped out of touch, but the emotions were real. My decisions were coming from me, but please believe when I say I wasn’t there. I don’t remember very much of it other than that I planned it for weeks. Thinking about it makes me cringe.

I know now that if I don’t take responsibility for myself and do all of the things I have to to keep healthy, chances are high that I’ll follow my cognitive processes into that dark turn of mind. Part of taking responsibility is making sure I surround myself with people who care, and letting them know about my issues so they can pick up the slack when I’m unable.

The intricacies of our behavior and perception are mysteries to the ones we live our lives with, let alone to practical strangers. Only you can know who you are when you’re healthy, versus when your thoughts turn sick. A sick mind doesn’t always want help, and sometimes a person doesn’t know how to ask for it. My first suicide attempt was within one year of starting treatment. My third attempt was roughly 30 days after seeing my doctor.

Sometimes you can’t prevent suicide, but don’t be afraid. Don’t stop trying to help. Having all the education and training in the world can’t give someone a magical suicide/mental illness spidey sense. Just get out there and do the best you can at being a non-judging, accepting, intuitive human being every single day. Not every person who commits suicide is a certifiable nut. Some of us are, but don’t always show signs and symptoms. So if you want to help, stop looking so much for a specific illness or severity of condition, and focus on looking at the person. An illness, whether bronchitis or the flu, needs to be treated in some way. Good food, sunlight and fresh air, medicine, fitness practices, rest and good company are all treatments. Each illness calls for a different combination of treatments. Our minds and brains are no different.

Troubles with mental faculties can be hard to identify. So think of suicidal ideation and behavior like the flu. It doesn’t mean that the person will be sick forever, but influenza does kill every now and then. And it might look like the flu while being something very different. So start treatment, beginning with good company, and go from there. You have to choose to start. Let’s make that choice as a community, for the community. We can start with empathy and hopefully gain some understanding, which is really good medicine.

I was a terrible two-year-old, awkward adolescent, defiant teenager. As an adult I have been reckless, just like everyone else. I am a daughter, a grandbaby, a sister, an employee. The library is my church and running is my meditation. I’m really very healthy, young and normal.

What comes to mind when you think of somebody living with mental illness? Take a closer look. Is my madness showing?

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