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I have had a long, tumultuous relationship with mental health issues. I come from a family that has, on more than one occasion, dealt with mental health issues, unexpected loss and subsequent post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety and addictions. One of my two brothers died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of thirteen, many years ago. Our whole family naturally struggled with this loss.

It took years of battling the feelings of bitterness, anger and regret that came with losing a brother and son to start to feel okay again.  Just when things seemed to be looking up for my family, my second brother began to struggle tremendously.  He never properly dealt with his own mental health issues (Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, depression) and never fully faced the great loss within our family.  His life began to crumble privately and it became easier for him to silently escape the pain, medicated by whatever drugs he could get his hands on.  Not many of his closest friends even knew anything was wrong.

He confided in me and finally sought help after losing a life of normalcy, routine and happiness to his depression.  For several months he succeeded.  He worked tirelessly to maintain his sobriety and honesty.  It was beautiful to see somebody who had so long lived a lie shed his façade of happiness, and allow his raw self to be exposed.  It was hard on him, because his true self wasn't the beaming ray of sunshine most knew him to be.  Learning that he could face the rain, and that he didn’t have to walk through the storm alone, was everything.  It was a long, bumpy road to a recovery that he so desperately wanted.

Then, the worst thing that can happen to a family happened a second time: my brother relapsed and overdosed.  By 25, I has lost both of my siblings. My family devastated, forever changed, and completely broken. Watching my parents suffer with their terrible, unthinkable loss, and dealing with my own was too much. I didn't know how to handle my deep desire to go on living a "normal" life for them despite my deep sadness. 

I have learned that mental health issues don't discriminate. They don't care about your age, your income, your appearance, your physical well-being or your popularity. Mental health issues can affects anyone.
I tried to be a constant pillar of strength for my parents, but occasionally I would fall completely apart, inconsolable, a wreck. I couldn't cope with the unexpected triggers that would send me spiraling down, emotionally out of control. I didn't know how to conceal my sadness so that I could stay involved in social groups, gatherings and the day-to-day lifestyle I had known before all of this.

I started to question myself, my own worth, my ever being able to handle the cards I had been dealt. I started to wonder if it would be easier to join my brothers. I was going down hill. My work suffered, my relationships suffered, my sense of self suffered. Finally, I began seeking help. I didn't want to live a life consumed by grief and depression. I began seeking counseling and spent a year on anti-depressants to help level out my highs and lows. I began to see the light. I began to reflect and dwell on the good times and accept the bad. I began allowing myself to feel what I needed to feel.  I reached out to support groups and realized, sadly, that I am not alone in my loss, my grief and emotional instability. There are people out there who relate, who understand, who offer support.

I have learned that mental health issues don't discriminate. They don't care about your age, your income, your appearance, your physical well-being or your popularity. Mental health issues can affect anyone. It may not be at the forefront of your life today, but a sudden loss, an inability to cope, an unexpected diagnosis, etc. can trigger struggles with mental health. If you aren't currently struggling, chances are somebody close to you is. If we can all take the time to be patient, kind and understanding toward the people we encounter each day, the world would be a better place. Be kind to others and be kind to yourself. Don't walk through your toughest days alone. We are all in this together.