by Thelma De Jesus
When I was 18 years old, I thought I was going to die. I was walking out the door when I got a sharp pain in my chest and my vision went blurry. I remember I tried to scream but it became impossible to open my mouth to ask for help. So I laid there trembling by myself until I realized I wasn’t going to die. This had happened before but it had been such a long time since my last panic attack that I forgot what it felt like.
It feels like there’s not enough air. It feels like my head is going to burst. It feels like my life isn’t mine. It feels like hopelessness.
At 12 years old I was diagnosed with Anxiety. At the age when a child enjoys going out to play and has no worries, I was asking my parents why I just couldn’t be normal. Now that I’m older and have been living with Anxiety for almost a decade, I’ve realized this is my normal.
My normal is knowing that there is nothing wrong with me. It’s being compassionate to others who suffer from mental illness. It’s knowing that I’m not alone.
There are many who suffer in silence and during Mental Health Awareness Month we aim to break the stigma around mental illness and give a voice to those who need it. Throughout this month, it’s important to check not only on our cherished ones but also on ourselves. Mental well-being is just as important as physical well-being. In the United States, today around 20% of the population lives with mental illness. However, many don’t receive treatment, afraid of being judged by others.
Together as a society, we need to normalize talking about mental health and help those who seek treatment.
As we learn to be more understanding and help end the stigma that still exists around mental illness, we offer strength and courage to those who need it.
With mental illness, life can become difficult and it’s hard to find meaning sometimes. I always find meaning in literature and poetry. Especially my favorite poet, Baudelaire, whom I find comfort in as I relate to many of his poems. In his poem “The Windows” the speaker describes the mystery that is life. “There is nothing deeper, more mysterious, more fruitful, more shadowy, or more dazzling than a window lit by a candle”. What happens behind a closed window, where we are comfortable enough to show our true selves. That’s where we find our flaws but also our strengths, who we really are as individuals. But we also find comfort in knowing that many people go through the same experiences we do. “What does it matter what reality dwells outside of me, if the story helps me live, helps me feel that I am and what I am?” When we are happy there are others who are happy as well, and when we are suffering there are others who are suffering as well.
This way no matter how hopeless we may feel, we know that we are never truly alone.
Les Fenêtres by Baudelaire
He who looks out at the world from an open window never sees as many things as he who looks at a closed window. There is nothing deeper, more mysterious, more fruitful, more shadowy, or more dazzling than a window lit by a candle. What we can see in daylight is always less interesting than what happens behind a windowpane. Deep in that dark or luminous aperture, life lives, life dreams, life suffers.
Beyond the waves of rooftops, I glimpse a middle-aged woman, already wrinkled, poor; she is always bent over something, and never goes out. From her face, from her clothing, from her gestures, from almost nothing, I have remade this woman’s past, or rather, her story, which I tell myself from time to time in tears.
If it had been a poor, old man, I would have remade his story just as easily.
And then I go to sleep, proud of having lived and suffered as people other than myself.
You might ask me: “Are you sure that this story is the real one?” What does it matter what reality dwells outside of me, if the story helps me live, helps me feel that I am and what I am?
If you or someone you know suffers from mental illness, remember you are not alone and there is strength in asking for help.
LACDMH Help Line: (800) 854-7771
Crisis Text Line: Text LA or HOME to 741741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
Trevor Project: text START to 678-678 or call 1-866-488-7386
TeenLine: Call (310) 855-HOPE or text TEEN to 839863
SAMHSA's National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
California Youth Crisis Line, 24/7
Image: May is Mental Health Awareness Month. ProviDRs Care. (2020, May 14). https://providrscare.net/may-is-mental-health-awareness-month/.
Image: Symphonyforlove. (2015, December 5). Windows by Charles Baudelaire. http://symphonyforlove.blogspot.com/2015/12/windows-by-charles-baudelaire.html.
Translation: Leithauser, E. (Trans.). (2017, June 19). Windows. Literary Matters. https://www.literarymatters.org/1-3-windows/.
Ahmedani, B. K. (2011). Mental Health Stigma: Society, Individuals, and the Profession. Journal of social work values and ethics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3248273/.