Speak Up

By Emily Wright, Featured in Crimson – Classical Academy High School’s Online News Site, May 29, 2016

I didn’t go straight home from school on October 9, 2014. I went to a friend’s house. I was there for a few hours, wondering when my mom would come get me. Then she called and asked to talk to my friend’s mom. And then I was in the car. And then I was at the hospital. And then my brother was dead and I was trying not to throw up.

I can’t tell you much about what happened that October. I can’t really remember what date certain things happened, or what part of the school year it was. I just know I didn’t have to take any of my midterms. It was my freshman year, and I was gone for what felt like days but was really months. I slept with my parents. I didn’t do much. I planned memorial services with my mom and dad. I begrudgingly accepted well-intentioned hugs and relatively empty condolences from people I didn’t know.

My mom emailed my brother’s school and mine and our church. I don’t really know who all the emails went out to, just that people I didn’t know suddenly seemed to know a lot about the darkest part of my life. And then I came back to school.

My brother, Kai, was 12 when he ended his life. He was in therapy, too, so why didn’t I see it coming? Why didn’t I see the signs? I didn’t see them, because there weren’t any. Sometimes there aren’t signs. So many of us hold in how we feel because discrediting feelings is so much easier than facing them. Grief is the same way.

My brother Kai, around 7th grade.

When you deal with something like losing a family member, you don’t just come back to school as though everything’s fine again and you’re ready to learn and talk to friends. It’s an ongoing struggle every. Single. Day. In class, I’d have days when I couldn’t think, or when I almost cried. But I sucked it up and dealt with it because I had to, because my grades were important and because sitting at home all day did nothing. That didn’t make it easy, though.

Grief does not go away one day when you feel like enough time has passed. It hits you at the most random times. It has been one year and seven months now. For a while I thought, if I just didn’t think about it, it would go away and I could just be normal. That somehow pretending my brother didn’t die would glue all my pieces back together. But when you do that, nothing is really fixed. It’s like using Elmer’s glue to put together a house. Eventually, that house will break apart by a small breeze. And then you have to start over.

Every human faces tragedy in some way or another; it’s how we handle those tragedies that shape us. Everyone faces grief differently. I got angry at things. I bottled things up. I hit the walls. I isolated myself.

Other people cry a lot. Others stop talking. Others sit and regret every conversation they had with that person that didn’t end well.

Some people do all of that. I did.

These things hurt after a while, though. They don’t bring back the person you loved. They don’t undo the rude things you said to them. To heal, you have to move. Not really forward, per say, but sideways. You don’t forget the person, but you learn how to handle the loss. It’s hard to do this “moving” by yourself, and no one should ever be afraid to seek help from a therapist or any number of support groups. There are plenty of groups for teens, too. I went to one for a while, mostly for the free food, but in the end, for the people.

My brother and I fought a lot, but at the end of the day there was always someone who would be there to play pretend, laugh and have my back. And I had his.

Sports are a good way to heal, too. There were so many days that were utterly horrible and as soon as I got into the water for swim practice, I couldn’t hold on to anything anymore. Exercising releases dopamine (the chemical that helps you feel happy) in your brain. It can also help you sleep better and feel less anxious. Sports are a productive way to release frustration and, most importantly, heal.

The real reason I’m writing about my story, however, is not to talk about why everything sucks, but to bring awareness to something we don’t want to talk about: mental illness. In 2014, the second leading cause of death in teens ages 15-24 was suicide, with 5,079 deaths. Out of people ages 5-16, 1 in 10 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder. Other types of mental health disorders, including depression, affect more people than you can imagine.

With so many people suffering, why are therapists something we don’t want to talk about? Why is taking medicine for your brain so much more taboo than medicine for any other part of your body? Why don’t we treat people whose hurt comes from their brain the same way we treat people whose hurt comes from low blood sugar, or a broken bone?

Not acknowledging the fact that we, as humans, struggle— a very human thing to do—is a crucial flaw in how we handle mental illness. And not acknowledging that depression isn’t the only thing that people can struggle with is one of the others. When “mental illness” comes up, our first thought shouldn’t just be depression, but other painful diseases as well: OCD, schizophrenia, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and so many more.

A study by the California Healthcare Foundation states that “about half of adults and two-thirds of adolescents with mental health needs [do] not get treatment.” The first step to lowering these statistics is to talk about what we go through. Don’t be afraid to tell your teacher you have a therapy appointment. Don’t be afraid to make an appointment with a therapist. Don’t be afraid to speak up.