By Ijeoma Oluo
Two years ago today I was staring at my teenage son, my precious baby, wondering if his smile was real. Wondering if I could allow myself to take comfort in a moment of his laughter. Wondering what I could do to keep him in this world as long as possible. Wondering what I could say to counteract the voices that were telling him that he wasn’t precious, that he shouldn’t be here — the voices that had landed him in the emergency room just days earlier.
Two weeks ago today I was contacting the parents of a close friend. Listening to their distant, weary voices numbly say “thank you” when I told them how sorry I was that they had just lost their only son after decades of struggle with mental health and addiction. Two weeks ago today I was hoping beyond hope that my friend went to sleep his last night knowing that he was loved.
And today, I read a story on xoJane where a woman declared that her former friend was a burden on her mother and that her mental health issues were beyond help. She was glad that her former friend had died. “Some people are beyond help” was written in italics below the title of “My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing.”
I cannot put into words the rage that I feel that somebody would legitimize the idea that a life with mental illness is not worth living. I shudder and cry at the thought of somebody’s baby reading these words and seeing validation of the lies that depression has been whispering in their ear. I want to gather everyone who struggles with these thoughts and wrap them in my arms and remind them that I am so glad they still exist and that, like the voices of their illness, this article is a dangerous liar.
Coming to terms with my son’s struggles with mental illness has not been easy, and I can only imagine how much harder it has been for him. But I am grateful for every minute that he is on this planet. I am grateful for every moment of struggle and for every moment of joy. My worst day with him is better than all of my best days without him combined. And there are times that I know that he doesn’t believe that, and it breaks my heart beyond measure. But he is still here, he is still fighting for his life and his health in a world that tries to tell him that he is not worth it, that he cannot get better, that he is too big a burden. He is so fucking strong and brave and every day I am so very proud of him. He is a 14-year-old kid standing up to the grown bullies who tell him that he should be ashamed of his struggles, and that the world would be better off without him.
My son is doing much better now. Some of that is due to the very hard work that he has done, some of it is pure luck. Some people will not win their battles and it is not because they have failed or because they are better off gone. And if they are unable to win the battle against the deadly voices of depression, the world is still better for every day that they existed; they deserved hope, they deserved respect, and they deserved to be loved and fought for and mourned.
My son tells other kids at his school about his struggles in the hopes that they will know that they don’t have to go through this alone, and they are not a burden. “I know it feels like you shouldn’t trouble people with those thoughts in your head,” he says, “I used to think the same thing. But you need to talk to someone. People really do care and they can help. You aren’t too much trouble.” He does not want others to believe the lying voices as long as he did, and sometimes still does.
And he’s right, you, whoever you are — you are not too much trouble and people do care. You make the world better simply by being in it and you are worth the fight. You are worthy of love because you are you, even if you can’t see that love right now. I’m so glad that you exist, I’m so glad that you are fighting for your life, I’m so glad you are reading this right now because I wrote it for you with all of the love in my heart. If you are struggling please reach out and know that you are never alone.
National Suicide Prevention Line: 1 (800) 273–8255
Postpartum Depression Help: 1–800-PPD-MOMS
United Way Helpline: 1–800–233-HELP
The Trevor Helpline: 1–800–850–8078
Trans Lifeline: US: (877) 565–8860 Canada: (877) 330–6366
Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration Helpline: 1–800–662-HELP