A Call to Arms

It amazes me the way people think and react. I am amazed at the way people react to subjects they find uncomfortable. I suppose it would be easier to deny something than it is to admit it exists.
Instead, we hear things like not in my house. Or, not in my backyard. I suppose it would be easier to turn a blind eye or look the other way.
Over the years, I’ve listened to parents tell me how they know everything about their child. I’ve listened to this in emergency rooms too, —especially after being deployed to an overdose. In one case, the overdose was actually a suicide attempt. I listened to a mother deny this. She refused the information even after her son explained this. She denied that her son tried to kill himself and then argued that her son’s overdose was accidental. 

I’ve listened to parents talk about their children as if they were still in the early stages of life. I have heard from both mothers and fathers about their children’s need for constant care. I’ve listened to parents complain about their children and their failure to launch, and yet, the umbilical cord was still attached to home. 
My son would never do such a thing. My daughter would never do that. I’ve heard this more times than I can count. However, last I checked, all the accidental overdoses, alcohol related deaths, suicides, crime-related deaths, and intentional overdoses were people that came from parents too.
Not my kid though, right?
Not in my backyard. Is that it?

Add mental health to this list.
I have been working with different communities and corporations and presenting information in front of different rooms, — each crowd has their own reasons to push back on this subject. Meanwhile, the reason above all is if we mention this; if we talk about mental health or the challenging conditions that present themselves, —or if we talk about the challenges we face, this makes them real now.
This means we will have to deal with it; this means we can’t turn a blind eye anymore. No, the elephant in the room has been called out. The presence is painfully clear.
Rather than acknowledge this, people look to pass the buck. They want shift responsibility. They look to avoid liability because hey, this is too taboo. Right?
The subjects of personal crisis and mental health are painfully real. This is all painfully obvious, but yet, no one wants to talk about this. And why is that?
There are mental health first aid programs. There are classes that discuss what to do in case a co-worker, friend, or a family member show signs of a crisis. But no. These subjects are too sensitive to be discussed in a corporate environment. Meanwhile, statistics prove that mental health challenges and personal crises account for more than $200 billion in lost potential earnings in America.

Not my backyard though, right?

Meanwhile, as a specialist, I will be attending a bereavement response meeting this week. I am sure that no one in this group saw what was coming. I’m sure no one recognized the signs. Plus, no one wants to address the elephant in the room. People are struggling to say hello to each other sometimes, let alone, talk about suicide or dare to ask questions.

Most people have this concept of what mental health or mental health discussions are. Meanwhile, most people have their own hang-ups. Most people have their own unresolved tensions and personal challenges. Nevertheless, we go on this way. We deny this or we pass the buck.
I’ve heard people argue there is no place for mental health discussions in the workplace. I’ve received pushback from huge organizations. Meanwhile, the powers that be discuss their job roles and cling to their job security by explaining, “We already have a program in place.”
However, in reality, none of this is true. Everyone is worried about the pushback. Everyone is afraid of the lawsuit and no one wants to talk about what’s going on.

But I get it. Not in my backyard.

I had a community “Call to Arms,” meeting where a town saw record numbers of overdoses in their county. They offered free food in a somewhat small establishment to rally people together. There was even a contest to see which participating restaurant made the best food. Just for the record, I was a fan of the smoked chicken and the ribs.
After the contest, a few different speakers took to the stage to discuss the challenges they were facing. There was the topic of bullying. There was a speaker talking about the need to address substance and alcohol abuse amongst the teens in the town. There were mayors there and different politicians. And then there was me. 

In fairness, I was not aligned or connected with either of the organizers. I was brought in by one of the local politicians who explained, “I want you to get up there and tell them the truth.”
So, I did.

In fairness, I have to be extremely clear about my presentations. First, I know this makes little sense but I have be honest. I struggle with social anxiety. I am petrified. I have panic attacks before speaking.
Secondly, I am a person of respect. I am a supporter of wellness and wellbeing. And furthermore, I am also someone in recovery. I am a suicide survivor as well.
However, I am not a proponent to those who push their brand or their agenda to gain a spotlight on the lives of people who died from a mental challenge.
I take this seriously. In fact, I take this personally.
A switch goes off. I can’t explain this any other way. I cannot see clearly. I cannot control this. A rage comes over me. In fact, I welcome the rage. I welcome the emotion too because this is the most honest I can be. This is my passion, which is the true translation. This is what I want people to see because maybe if they see me or my pain, maybe they will understand that they’re not alone.

The speaker before me insulted my intelligence with his pushback. We had a quick little talk about the presentation before the show started. I was angry about this. I muttered a few choice words under my breath. Although I cannot recall exactly what I said, the politician that brought me in expressed his concern. I remember the rage and the flush of adrenaline. I remember how this pulsed through my bloodstream. I even growled at the mayor of the town who was next to me in the corner and said, “Watch this!” through grinded teeth. 

It was amazing to see how so many of the town’s kids had died from overdoses, and yet, the room was not bursting at the seams.
Where is everyone?
Is this your town?
Is this what you want for our kids?
I erupted. I encouraged every kid in the room to come up to the front and pushed all the adults and parents to the back. 

There were very few dry eyes in the room. I cried. They cried. The kids cried, and with my hand on my heart, I offered myself to anyone that needs an ear. No one has to die like this. We don’t have to lose to this. We can come back, reclaim our town, reclaim our kids and see ourselves with a new future. 

I pleaded with them; with all my heart, please.
I am here to call our community to arms.
It’s time to take our town back.

The message was well-received. The politicians liked this. They posed for pictures with me. I received recognition in the mail. I was honored because of this. And do you know what happened?
I had a teacher approach me after my presentation. She was offended. She told me, “You made the children cry.”
I told her, I would rather they cry here than in jail or hear about their parents crying over their dead bodies after an overdose.

I don’t know if suicide is an avoidable death. I don’t know if overdoses are really avoidable. Unfortunately, this is part of a life, which I am familiar with. No one has to die this way but sadly, the numbers of deaths like this are on the rise.
I don’t know why I am typing as fast as I am now or why I’m banging the keys like an angry lunatic. Maybe it’s because I take this personally. Maybe this is because someone told me I have survivor’s guilt.
By the way, I disagree with this. I’m not guilty anymore. I just don’t like what I see. I don’t like bullies. I don’t like seeing kids lose their childhood. I don’t like watching parents bury their children or see kids have to say goodbye to their parents at a gravesite.

I don’t know why I’m crying for a young man I never knew or met before. All I know is there’s a family whose loss is so great and so painful that I have no choice but to take this personally. 

Not in my backyard, huh?


To my Mother and Father,
I am so sorry for all that you had to go through with me, but look down now.
I hope you like what you see.

One thought on “A Call to Arms

  1. Never lose that passion. I know you won’t..thus makes me cry too and we need those who will not collude with the denial. I also tend to get in trouble for getting emotional about depression anxiety and suicide..I nearly screamed down the ICU when they were over medicating my sister following her suicide attempt. They actually did listen that time..totally get how angry this all makes you feel, Ben.

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