A boy walks into his high school in a town on a remote northern lake and starts shooting. He kills four people and injures more.
A man starts firing a gun into his neighbours’ homes and is eventually shot dead by police.
Guns do not discriminate. They kill. Left untreated, left to its own devices, so can mental illness.
A gun cannot kill someone unless someone pulls a trigger.
Mental illness does not carry a death sentence unless untreated.
So let’s be clear. Millions of people with mental illnesses live rich and full lives. It is not the mental illness that kills. It is the lack of care, the lack of treatment, awareness, knowledge, that makes the difference.
There are many reasons someone with a mental illness does not receive treatment. One of those is the lack of available resources, something every government and community needs to address. Immediately.
Another is, shame.
My eldest daughter writes a lot about the shame of mental illness, its ability to eat away at your belief in your own human goodness, to destroy your sense of self and and your capacity to live strong, live free, live.
I have learned a great deal through my daughter’s journey. At times, it has felt like riding a rollercoaster with no straps holding me in. Just the rails, the car careening along the tracks and me holding on for dear life hoping I don’t let go and in letting go, lose her forever.
And then, there were the lull times. The periods where we floated for awhile in the valley of each descent where I thought maybe, just maybe this time, we had reached the end of the ride.
And then, it would begin again. And in its ascent, I’d grit my teeth, breathe deeply and hold on. Tight. Because at the end of every up, I knew there would be the crazy, speed-charged, out of control descent yet to come.
Roller coaster rides don’t end on the high. They end somewhere near the bottom where the tension in the tracks is not so great. Where the brakes do not need to be applied with such force.
Sometimes, for someone living with a mental illness, the tension becomes so great they cannot reach the brakes. They cannot stay on the tracks. They have to release the tension long before the bottom comes.
Which is why I know the other reason mental illness can spiral out of control and have devastating effects is because we, those who love the one whose life seems controlled by a fire-breathing, out of control beast we cannot see, cannot reach, cannot touch, do not understand what’s really happening. We do not know the seriousness, the depth of the darkness, the pain and confusion and self-loathing and the consequences of so much tension on the human mind and body.
I know I cannot turn back the pages of time. I know I cannot change the past, but if I could have done anything differently, I would have learned more, talked about it more and beyond talking I would have moved heaven and earth to get my daughter the help and support she needed, earlier.
I am grateful. My daughter has always been an amazing, incredible, loving, vibrant human being. She feels deeply. Cares deeply. Loves deeply. And sometimes, it is the depth of her feelings that pull her down. Sometimes, it is the depth of her caring that hurts her most. And sometimes, it is the depth of her loving that consumes her, pulling her out of the light, into the darkness.
Which is why those of us who surround her, love her and cherish her presence in our lives, must always hold space in the light for her to find herself anew. It is what I learned most as my daughter travelled through depression and an eating disorder. To always hold onto hope. To never let go of the light and to never stop loving.
Today, my daughter is an amazing woman who lives a rich and full life. She still has mental illness and is able to write about it with passion, compassion and conviction. Today, my daughter has tools and strategies to help her through her darkest times. And always, she has people who continue to support her, love her and believe in her.
And most of all, she knows she is not alone. Even in her darkest moments when the beast is screaming inside her, telling her she is worthless, or calling for her to let go of the light and give into the darkness, she knows she is not alone.
Because no matter how dark it gets, we are always holding her space in the light of love.