Reflecting on struggles, and fighting to honor a lost friend

About the Author: A Potomac, Md. native, Emily is a teacher and runner who races to raise funds for causes near and near to her heart, including Active Minds. This is an abridged version of an essay Emily wrote about her experience with depression.

Rewind to six years ago-- something I do often, just to keep myself in check. I'm sitting at the kitchen counter in my childhood home, 26 years old, in the midst of an acute, debilitating depressive episode, watching my parents have a conversation. It's about nothing-- a simple, benign exchange about their day. But I am entranced.
"Yo," my brother Jeremy says, tapping my arm. He sees I am lost in what has been a months-long, perpetual state of bewilderment, anxiety, and terror. "You alright?"
"How do they know?" I asked.
"How do they know what?"
"Mom and Dad-- having a conversation. How do they know whose turn it is to speak? How do they know who is supposed to talk next, and when, and for how long? How does anyone know this stuff?"
He stares at me long and hard. "Dude," he whispers, in the most loving, gentle way possible. "You've gone batshit."

It isn't the most eloquent way to describe what's happening, but it's probably the most apt.

When I was depressed, here is what people didn't get: Yes, I was sad-- bone-crushingly, soul-achingly sad-- but I wasn't just sad. I was constantly subsumed by unrelenting confusion, anxiety, and panic. I was trapped in my body while a stranger took over my thoughts and actions, and did an incredible job of convincing me that I knew nothing about the world, and never had.

I was never what the professionals would deem "suicidal," in the sense that I never made a plan and never truly considered ending my life as a viable option. But my god did I wish I was dead. The only thing standing between wishing I was dead and making myself dead was the unending, dogged, relentless system of support and understanding that surrounded me.

I have an incredible family who did everything they possibly could to get me well. They listened to my choking sobs, self-defeating rumination and irrational fears, even though I knew it tore them apart to do so. My friends were in touch every day, reminding me of my place in the world, and how much they were relying on me to stay in it. I will never forget, and will never cease to appreciate, how unbelievably hard my friends and family tried. 

By the grace of god, in the midst of my depression, I discovered Active Minds. Active Minds provided for me that community of understanding that my friends and family, try as they might, simply couldn't. Active Minds gave me a place to go when I felt as though I belonged nowhere.

Ari Johnson was a friend of mine, but I won't claim to know his full story. On the day I learned of his suicide, I had had no idea that he was struggling. I can only hope his death will save the lives of others-- that our telling of his story, of my story, and of Active Minds' story, will inspire those who suffer to reach out. Otherwise, what was it all for?

Active Minds is creating a world where we can feel just as comfortable seeking help for mental illness as we would seeking help for a broken limb. A world where there is no shame, no stigma, no reason to feel so desperately alone. No reason to lose hope.