Did somebody say “mental health?” I thought you shouldn’t say that out loud, after all, it has a negative stigma right? Well to those who have or currently live with mental health diseases, please scream it out loud. It is a disease that can have disastrous effects and could be happening to anyone around you, including those you love the most or the boss you feel has everything “together”.
As a kid, my parents divorced when my brother and I were quite young. I had an older sister as well; she was from my mother’s first marriage. Chrissy was her name. Yes, I said “was” and she was beautiful.
My brother, sister, and I lived with our mother after the divorce. She worked two jobs, including waitressing nights to take care of us. My father, an amazing person did his best to support her, and I am sure did more than my brother and I could ever imagine. After all, we are both still here to tell a story. Growing up, I always thought my mother was “crazy”, she was typical- get mad at us for making a mess, fighting with each other, you know kids stuff. Then she would get upset at us for putting our teeth down on our forks, breathing too loud, or even wanting to start a conversation. She would tell us to go outside and she would proceed to clean the house for the 10th time that day. On the good days she would put sandwiches out on the back steps so we didn’t have to bother her. She was depressed and battled with bi-polar disease. She would give the shirt off her back for anyone, but yet couldn’t take care of herself. She loved her children more than anything in this world, but at times couldn’t even take care of us. In fact, I firmly believe she lasted so long because of us. However, like all good things, life took my first angel.
One day my mother, Donna was her name, called my brother and I upstairs. She had been in her bed, crying. She asked us to climb on the bed while she read us something. It was her suicide note to us. It was 6 pages long. We cried. I didn’t know what to think, it was at that point I knew my mother was different. She tried to battle through it; she even went back to school to become, of all things, a counselor or social worker. Like I said, she would help anybody even if it meant sacrificing herself. At this time, we moved back into our father’s house. To my brother and I, this became our “normal”.
From this point on, my mother became very distant, as did we. Every second week was filled of false promises to visit her, only to be cancelled last minute because she had a headache, or was too tired. Being her oldest son, I tried all I could to keep the connection going. Knowing now what depression looks like, I understand my mother’s decisions. It wasn’t her decisions; it was the disease.
At around 16, things began to take even more disastrous turns. My mother couldn’t afford to live on her own, unable to work due to being on “disability”. She suffered from continuous migraines, slept all afternoon, and would barely answer her phone when we called. For the next 9 years until her passing, she went in and out of group homes, shelters, and God knows where else. Every night I prayed she was safe, and I mean every single night. Days I would just think of her and cry, not knowing if she was even still alive. I would go months hearing from her, trying to track her down. I spent many nights, after coming home from the bar or a friend’s house, calling shelters to find out if she was there. When I found her one night staying at the women’s shelter, I remember crying to her begging her to never take her life. She told me she loved me and she would never do that to me. I don’t think I really ever believed her though. Cue the diseases- depression, bi-polar, whichever you would like to use. They creep up on you, reminding you they are still there and are now a part of you. Barely a week after this call, I was talking to her and told her I was headed to New York on a school trip, excitement in my breath. She simply laughed and said she wishes the plane went down and I was a spoiled brat, she never got to go to New York. I hung up the phone. How can a mother not be happy for their children? I know in my heart Donna was, the disease wasn’t.
And then the phone call…on January 16th, 2008 I was awakened to numerous phone calls from my brother and my aunt. I knew before I answered the phone. She had taken her life, an overdose on schizophrenia pain medication, all alone in a bathtub. To this day, it has become the saddest day in my life. However, now when I think of her I smile, sometimes I cry, but my memories are filled with the good parts. Like one Christmas where she actually got my brother and I gifts, she tried so hard to find something we liked. Or when she let loose on one family occasion, with 3 of her sisters and was dancing on the kitchen table, smiling, enjoying life. Those are the memories that make me smile.
After my mother passed, I turned to other vices to try and forget her. It wasn’t until two years later I was diagnosed with depression. I believe I have lived with depression for a good portion of my life. It is hard to explain, but you know it when you have it. I too think I may be bi-polar. I’m trying hard to fight it. I have taken medication and been through counselling. I have relied on family and close friends to keep me in a “safe place”. I feel good. Some days are better. Some days I feel alive and some days I want to be on my couch all day. You may never guess it if you saw me, as you see I can be a very happy person. But what you don’t see are my lows, and let me tell you there have been some low days. People say “you have done so well, you have a good job, family, and friends”. However, what people don’t see is the disease. It scares me some days; it actually terrifies me when it decides to remind me it is there, just like it did to my mother. But I am a fighter, and will continue my fight against depression. Depression will not win over me.
It was a year and a half later, June.15th 2009, when God took my second angel. Her name was Chrissy, and she was my beautiful older sister. She was a high school cheerleader, she tormented the hell out of my brother and I, and I loved her. I still love her, will never forget her laugh. She had the kind of laugh you just had to burst out yourself when you heard it. She tied my brother and I to chairs one night when my mother was at work and fed us deathly hot chili. She would leave us home alone at 5 and 6 to visit one of her friends or boyfriends when my mother left for work. She would spray us with water when we were sleeping, or scare us with a Freddy Kruger mask in our beds. Oh how I miss her fun loving spirit. She also beat up a neighborhood kid who was tormenting my brother at school. She would do anything for her mother, brothers, and kids.
Chrissy never really found her way in life. At a young age, my mother divorced her father and moved to Edmonton from Winnipeg. Most of her life she battled with drugs- meth, heroine, speed, whichever vice you choose. When she was 16, she was pregnant with her first child. She ended up having 5 children before her passing. Her youngest was less than a year when she passed. She could only hold him until social services took him away as he was a “crack baby”. All 5 of her children are healthy now.
Chrissy fell into a world of drugs, as you see she was manically depressed and bi-polar. There were many nights she would call me at 3 or 4 in the morning to chat. To tell me she loves me and wants me to be happy, and is so proud of whom my brother and I turned out to be. She had so much good in her heart. When I received the phone call from my aunt my sister was gone, I again wasn’t surprised. You see, I hadn’t heard from her in almost 6 months, then one week before she passed she called me and told me she loved me and loved our mother. She was crying, and I could feel the sadness in her voice, picture the sadness in her eyes. Chrissy was never really understood. She was lost in a world of disease, a vicious cycle of highs and lows. Eventually the lows won over. I miss her.
Donna Eileen Young was depressed. She was bi-polar. She was a different person every day the last 15 years of her life. Understand that Donna was not a bad person, or an unloving mother. She was quite the opposite- she only lived as long as she did for her children. She wanted to fight to stay alive. She wanted to fight to see us have children, or wed, or become someone she was unable to be. She just couldn’t fight anymore. Chrissy Brown was depressed, she was bi-polar. She wanted to be loved, as much as she loved others. She tried to put up a strong front, but a life of drugs and the diseases ate at her mind. She couldn’t fight it anymore, although I know she tried. Understand that these diseases are real, and they need to be heard loudly to prevent pain and hurt. Understand that I will continue my fight for mental health until we all stand up and listen. Understand our voices will only become louder until we all decide we no longer will suffer in the shadows. The negative stigma of mental illness is a real! It is reality for me. It was a reality for my sister. It was a reality for my mother.