Someone asked why I cry when I do some of my presentations. I laughed because crying is not what people expect. I’m not even sure that crying is something that I expect. Then again, maybe emotion is the best way to create a point.
The idea is to feel. The idea is to understand and since the brain records our experience and matches them with the understanding of emotions — and since emotion triggers thought and thought is the end product of my presentation — or more importantly, since it is my goal to make the audience think and feel or as a society, my goal is to change the way people look at the way we think and feel from a new perspective, then yes, emotion plays an important part in what I do.
I was invited to a town hall meeting on Long Island. This was not the town I grew up in but it was close enough. The neighborhood was close enough for me to be familiar with the area and the people that lived there. I know the landscape. I knew the geography. I knew the places and the names of different popular spots.
One could say this is a normal, everyday, middle income town. One could say that bad things are not supposed to happen in towns like this. And one could also say (or at least there was someone that did say) the typical “Not in my backyard” rhetoric we hear on a frequent basis. However, due to overdose awareness, bullying and put simply, since mental illness does not care which town we live in and since opiates and other drugs are equal-opportunity killers, the people of the town hosted an awareness event in which I was the final and keynote speaker.
I do not do well before these presentations. I am literally petrified of public speaking, which makes little sense to anyone else because I am, in fact, a public speaker. Nevertheless, this does not mean the problem is not real to me. Instead, this means I have learned to work with the problem and adapt myself to create a new way of thinking. Either way, I do not feel well before I present.
The reason I am not well is because I allow myself to feel everything. I give myself permission to feel everything. I allow my fear to surface. I allow my shame to come forward. I allow my rage and my contempt and my hate for the way I was to appear. I permit my disgrace and the mournful emotions of people I lost to come forward.
Most of all, I allow the child I was to step out. I allow the old me, the one that wanted to die more than be alive and the person I was with all of my regrets, sins, losses and including all the self-inflicted punishment is free to step into the spotlight.
I want people to know. I want people to know a different side of depression. I want people to know what anxiety is. I want people to see what it’s like to be so absolutely desperate.
At my sickest, I wanted to feel better but I never knew how. I wanted to be better but I never knew how. I wanted people to know what I was feeling. I wanted people to understand what I was thinking. I wanted someone to get it, but how? Who could I tell or talk to? I wanted to ask for help but I never knew how.
I wanted people to know there is this thing inside of me. I wanted them to see this and to see all of this, which is more than some people bargain for. I get it. But still, this is why I allow myself to summon all of my inner tensions. I let this go because I want people to know what this feels like. More importantly and beyond anything else, I want people to know that this is very real.
Mental illness does not care how wealthy you are or where you come from. Mental illness does not pay attention to what car you drive or if your house is south of Merrick Road and on the water. Depression does not care if you have a good body or if people find you attractive. None of this counts: money, status, wealth and friendships, or a good job with an important position. None of this matters: fame, popularity, poor or homeless, white or black, Asian or Indian, Spanish, European or if you grew up in a loving home or a hateful one. This is all unimportant because believe it or not, mental illness is an equal-opportunity killer.
Don’t believe me? Check the math!
-69,029 deaths due to opiates in 2019
-95,000 deaths each year (or 261 deaths per day)
-According to 22 Kill, 22 veterans will commit suicide on a daily basis (that’s 7,832 per year) and according to the World Health Organization someone commits suicide ever 40 seconds
-Cigarettes are responsible for 480,000 deaths per year (not including the 41,000 that die from second hand smoke)
-The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there were 18,830 homicides in 2019
By the way, Covid-19 has already killed 246,000 people in our Country this year and everything was shut down. Yet, mental illness and habitual related deaths and dependency disorders have killed more than Covid.
Yet, nothing was ever shut down for mental illness.
I have been contracted to talk about my drug history, which I never list or talk about. I have been hired to discuss alcoholism but I never list my drink of choice or where I drank, when or what. I only talk about why. I talk about the reasons. I talk about the need to find some kind of distraction. I explain there was something “Just not right” about me.
I could sit in a room full of people; all of them laughing and everyone smiling, having a good time, and yet, I never understood why I felt so alone and so unfamiliar. I wondered why it seemed like I was on the outside looking in. Even when functional, there was something off about me. At least, so I thought. There was this sense of ongoing impending doom or trouble. I always waited for the other shoe to drop. I had to learn how to modulate between people and situations. And you know what?
Someone told me about one of my books. They said, “It wasn’t for me.” To which I answered, “You’re right. It wasn’t.”
I have been on different medications. None of them were helpful. I was in therapy. I saw different doctors and yet, in my heart, I believed I was the family secret. I was the black sheep. I was the quiet disgrace and the one that people would mutter about secretly and under their breath. I believed people talked about me the same way people do at a child with special needs.
I would rather talk about all the aspects behind my behavior because behavior can be misconstrued. This can be misunderstood or misinterpreted and as it is, the assumptions about people that live with mental or emotional challenges are already filled with misconceptions. So, I’d rather be as clear as possible.
The question was, why do I cry?
I cry because this was all true to me. I cry because I want people to know it is okay to not be okay.
I cry because I was bullied too. I was bullied by others as well as myself. I cry because I had this inner-torment that never made sense — and for the life of me, I could never figure out why can’t I just be “Okay?”
I cry because crying is truthful. And this is what I want people to know. I want people to know the truth.
I want people to understand none of this is new. Addiction is not a new thing. Neither is alcoholism. Depression and anxiety has been around for a very long time. Mental illness goes way, way back, and yet sometimes (I swear this baffles me) people pretend this is new. And they say things, “But it’s never been like this before”.
The question I ask is how much research do people really do? The statistics say that 1 in 5 people will experience a mental health disorder. Everyone will experience a mental crisis or emotional dilemma. Yet, people are afraid to step out or seek help because of the stigmas associated with mental illness but wait, I digress.
Before my time to speak, I was greeted by the mayor of the town and some county officials. I was greeted by a few different movements and organizations that were to speak before me. I felt the surge come up, almost like a feeling of vomit. This is not your typical nausea. In fact, this was not nausea at all. Instead, this was me conjuring all of my old demons and telling them, “Get ready boys. It’s time to take the stage.”
I growled at the mayor and said, “Watch this!” and then I stood in the middle of the room. I called for all the grownups to take to the back of the room and asked for all the kids to come up front. I begged them. I pleaded with them. I showed them who I was and the way I bled and hurt and I appealed to them with all that I have, tears streaming down my face “Please! Do not go this way.”
The reason for this was to raise awareness for kids in school. This was for the students as well as the parents. I wanted the kids to hear me because they are the future. I appealed to the parents and shouted my point to make sure everyone heard me.
“With all that has gone on in this community, look around you. Shouldn’t this room be bursting at the seams with people from the neighborhood?”
The answer was a loud and astounding “Yes!”
Why did I cry?
Because my story is sad but also triumphant. I cried because the pain of things I saw are pains that I still recognize. Only now, I do this without drugs or alcohol or crime or violence. I don’t need to be the cool guy in the room or the tough guy anymore. All I need is all I ever wanted. And that’s peace. Plain and simple. Besides, I’d rather talk about the ways to get well than the ways to be sick. Why glorify the war stories. No, let me give the blood and guts and talk about the ways to improve and avoid the lies we hear so often.
Another thing I was asked is, why do I make other people cry during my presentations? I laugh because this is not intentional; however, the fact that people feel means they might have learned or related.
Some of the kids cried. In fact, many of them did.
One of the mothers in the room approached me. She disapproved. She said, “Ya know, you made some of the kids cry.” I explained, “It’s better they cry here than in jail. Plus, I would rather them cry here than you crying over them because they’re dead in a hospital somewhere because no one ever told them the truth!”
The woman walked away. Kids approached me (apparently I wasn’t that scary) and parents approached me as well. Even the mayor of the town approached along with the other officials. And without a curse, without a gangster approach, without a title or without trying to be cool or romanticize a lifestyle, I was simply honest and forthcoming.
Why do I cry?
I cry because this was me. I cry because I held myself captive for most of my life. I held myself prisoner to the ideas and the mentality which did nothing else but degrade me.
And truthfully, I cry because of the miracle I have experienced.
I cry because I freed myself.
I cry because of all the things I ever thought I would become, I have surpassed them all and as I see it, if I can do this, other people that struggle can find their way too.
It is unfortunate that yes, there will be people that look to steal your thunder. There are some scary people in this world. There are in fact the sneaky and underhanded. There are people that like to talk and feed the rumor factories and the gossip mills. There are people that laugh when someone else falls. There are people that criticize and feel fit to judge.
Know what I say?
I say that’s on them.
I don’t volunteer my worth to be judged by people like this anymore. Instead, I spend time with people like you. And with all my heart, I’d like you to remember something.
I love you and I’m proud of you.
Just sayin –