Michael Wallace Foundation for Mental Wellness

If I’m So Smart…

If I’m so smart, why can’t I fix myself?

11 years ago on this day my brother made the conscious decision to walk out the door and away from all of his belongings and the only life he had ever known.  Everyone wants to know “why”?  To most people, this seems inconceivable. To me, it seemed a logical response to escape a reality that can be so painful.  But, I’ve been in his head.  I was one of the few people trusted to listen, to not judge, to love unconditionally.  I’m so grateful to him for letting me in because I “get it”.  I have that, at the very least.

Sometimes, having a gifted mind means that you can be painfully aware of everything around you but, on the other side of that spectrum; you can be just as unaware.  It’s quite the conundrum…especially for a Harvard educated brain, I would image.   How do you rationalize an irrational thought?  How do you stop analyzing every little thing when that is just the way your brain is made to work?  How do you explain it to someone who thinks it’s as easy as getting out of bed and putting on a happy face?  Why don’t “they” get it?  I know why…. they’ve never loved someone who suffers from a chemical imbalance.  I didn’t used to ‘get it’ either.

Michael had tried taking his own life when he was first diagnosed.  Most people didn’t know that because we didn’t talk about it.  People didn’t get it.  He didn’t want to die; it was just too hard for him to live.  There is a difference. We talked about it a lot.   I don’t suffer from depression but I have lost a child and I know what it feels like to be numb and to watch the world go on when you can’t even imagine getting out of bed.  To feel like death would be easier than dealing with the kind of desperation and pain you’re feeling. But, I was lucky. People knew the ‘reason’ for my grief that gave it credibility.  I was surrounded by love and support and that did help, of course, but I just could not see forward.  I had to seek out more support. I can’t even begin to tell you how hard that was, the kind of strength that took on my behalf, or how frustrating it was to have to look so hard for it.  I finally found that the people who truly understood were others who have suffered the same kind of loss.   It was in them that I found salvation and was able to survive.  Because in them, in their stories, I saw me.  Twenty years later, I continue to heal that part of me by reaching out to other families who have experienced the same kind of loss.  This is what works for me.   I have to believe the same is true for those who suffer with mental illness.  If we could only talk about it….

Decades ago, people called cancer the “C” word.  It was talked about in hushed circles and never directly to the person suffering.  We were so afraid of what we didn’t understand and couldn’t see with our own eyes.   It was a death sentence, in more ways than one.   Now, with advances in modern medicine, most people survive and do so with gusto!  We fight back, we live healthier, we educate and we support each other.  That is the only way to move forward and evolve.

Why don’t we do that with mental illness?  Why didn’t someone do it 20+ years ago when we were in high school and lost so many friends?  Why don’t we do it now when we so many people are hurting themselves and others?  When people are so dependent on drugs and chemicals to make them feel better… to be numb?   Why can’t we talk about it when our prisons are filled with people whose first problem is that they suffer from a chemical imbalance?  When the troops, who are leaving their families and are risking their lives for our freedoms, are coming home to take their own lives at 22 a day because of PTSD?

We don’t talk about it because we’re afraid.  We see images of ourselves in others and that is what makes us so critical of them.  We define others with labels and criticisms usually born of our own weaknesses.

We have made such strides.  With so many celebrities speaking out and the strong men and woman of our military not being afraid to tell their stories, the change is evident and it’s refreshing.    But, we’re not there yet.

So, the easy answer to the question “Why?”…  Michael suffers from a chemical imbalance which can make him anxious and tells his brain to feel a certain way regardless of what you and I say or see as ‘logic’.    This manifests itself in cycles, often more critical in times of personal crisis, but never dependant of that alone.  There is nothing more frustrating for him than not being able to understand it and fix it.  And, while he loves his family more than anything else in this world, Michael felt as though we had ‘been through enough’ and didn’t want to burden us further with his depression, a common misconception from those who suffer.  Of course, the answer isn’t quite as simple as that.  In fact, I could write 10 books on the complexities and eccentricities of Michael’s mind.  But the answer above sums it up.

For years we have searched, we’ve compared dental records, we’ve sent in our DNA to be matched to cadavers and we have grieved.  We have raised thousands of dollars in Michael’s honor and brought awareness to our beloved community.  But nothing has been as healing as looking into the eyes of a young person who struggles in much the same way Michael did and watching them realize and feel empowered just knowing that someone finally ‘gets it’.

We don’t have a happy ending… not yet anyway.  And, even though this is what we talk about publically, Michael’s illness does not define him to us.  Michael is a beautiful, brilliant, loving and compassionate man who brightened any room he walked into and left an impression on everyone he met.

Whether he is no longer with us, if he’s saving himself from himself in a monastery…. or if he’s being coddled by a rich widow… I know that he is proud and I can only hope that he will someday come home and help us carry on this conversation.

 

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