Speech

On October 26th, 2009 I spoke at Mental Health America of Lancaster County’s Annual Meeting. This is the text of the speech:

I used to go to a support group which had this tradition. Whenever a new person came and it was their first time at that type of group, a longtime member would share their personal story of how the group had helped them. I always hated that tradition because it made me feel like I was an advertisement for the group. Like I was trying to sell the group and my story to the new person. “Buy Happiness” would be the slogan; an invisible product that I myself had trouble buying into. When it came time to write this speech, I couldn’t help thinking about that tradition.
When I was five my father died of an aneurysm. I don’t remember him very well and unfortunately the one lingering memory I’ll probably hold onto forever is his funeral. Later in life my mom had told me that it was during this time she noticed a change in me. The biggest change she noticed in me was a shyness that hadn’t been there before. I stopped looking people in the eye when speaking to them. It’s something I still have problems with today.
I don’t remember much of my childhood between the ages of 5 and 12 and what I do remember are things of a negative nature which I’m choosing not to speak about today.
The event that I refer to as the ‘trigger’ that really set my depression in motion was the death of a friend when I was 15. While other kids in school seemed to move through and out of the grieving process, my grief seemed to only grow thicker and deeper into me. It wasn’t until about six months later that I realized what I was experiencing was depression.
From the time I was fifteen until I was thirty-two I think I tried just about every anti-depressant on the market including MAO Inhibitors which are very rarely used anymore due to side effects and potentially dangerous food and drug interactions. The few meds that I actually felt some kind of positive effect from I eventually had to stop taking because the dosage that I would get some positive effect from often bordered on toxic. By the end of 2008 I had pretty much lost hope in medication and having just started with a new therapist and psychiatrist I felt like I was starting the whole process over again. Little did I know that the year 2009 would not only find me at my lowest low, but would be a turning point in my life as a result of what felt like walls that were closing in and crumbling simultaneously.
At the beginning of 2009 on January 21st after being hospitalized, my mom was diagnosed with an aggressive form of ovarian cancer. Only 3½ weeks later on February 15th she died and I felt like my heart was broken and my world was over. My mom had been my greatest support. She had become the one person who I would always turn to in times of despair and inner chaos. Before she died I had continuously thought that when she was gone, I would be as well. And in a sense the version of me that existed at that point in time IS gone. The person who stands before you is probably made up of maybe 25% of who I was a year ago.
The effect my mom’s death had on me was profound. Everything from that moment became what felt like one spectacular failure after another. Day after day I cared less and less about everything around me. More and more I was making thinly veiled references to suicide. My therapist at the time later told me that he very much thought that he was going to have to have me hospitalized. I was spending most of my days sitting in front of the television – which was on – but more or less being stared right through, rather than actually being watched. I basically entered a period of emotional hibernation.
On May 6th, 2009 I posted a message on the bulletin board of a band’s website. I’d say that day felt as though it was the bottom. I posted this message: “I feel like my heart is literally broken. I’m trying my best to keep it together but I feel like I’m living on the edge of a cliff. My father died when I was five. I’m 32 years old and I feel like an orphan. I have a brother and sister who I live with who barely talk to each other except to put each other down or argue. I have schizoaffective disorder to begin with, which has only gotten worse with the passing of my mother. I have one really good friend who is very supportive and I have a great therapist. Other than that I really have no-one. And I’m really having a hard time seeing any sense of hope for the future. I guess what I’m asking is for any sense of support. I just feel like I need to hear some kind words for a change. I really miss my mom and everyone I’ve lost. I feel so alone right now.”
Out of the responses I received, which were overwhelmingly positive, there was one single sentence in a response that stood out. A user of the website with the username ‘schismat’ [real name Aaron Thorpe] wrote: “above all, lose with every bit as much passion as you love.”
It was that response that really made me realize that the loss I felt was overtaking me and I decided to do something which I had stopped doing during those past four or five months: I wrote. I wrote everything I felt from poems to honor my mother’s memory, to expressing my sadness and anger with everything and everyone. It became a way to release everything going on in my head and more just as it had always been for me. Eventually it became a way to take my life back from that twisted ball of knots that my grief and depression had become.
A few days after really focusing on my writing, I started looking into the idea of a website where I could post my writings. Within a few hours I had a site up and running. It felt like quite an accomplishment to put my writings out there for the world to see and judge and eventually became a really great confidence builder. I had toyed with the idea of trying to get published before but never went anywhere with it for various reasons, most of them having to do with not having self-confidence. So to now be self-publishing them on the internet was a huge step for me.
During this time I had met a man named Kevin on the internet who talked me into communicating with him through Facebook. Facebook was a site I was familiar with but had always resisted getting involved with because I truly had no yearning to reconnect with anyone in the outside world. So I hesitantly signed up to be able to more easily communicate with Kevin and ended up begrudgingly reconnecting with a lot of my friends from the past and a few who became new presences in my life. I also used Facebook as a way to further put my writings out there for others to read. After reconnecting with some friends I ended up taking what felt like the next logical step: meeting with my friend Karen for lunch one day. This may sound like a small thing, but for me this was another huge accomplishment. For a very long time, even before my mom’s death I had really only gone out of my house to go to appointments and support groups. So to go out to lunch with a friend was a big deal for me. It’s also worth noting that at that time in my life I was still very much dealing with a social phobia which kept me from interacting much with the world outside of my bedroom.
Having said all this, I also want to share that I have had setbacks. Recovery is not a constant. I haven’t moved forward with every step I take. It’s still very easy for me to fall back into old patterns and I still do occasionally. The difference is that I try to keep them in check and not let myself get too far gone. I know with depression it’s very easy to find a strangely comfortable place in it. The sadness becomes dependable.
Unfortunately this is something that I fear I’ll have to monitor, possibly for the rest of my life. It’s just not realistic to think things can only get better. I think whenever I feel like I’m improving and moving upwards, it stays in the back of my mind: The closer to the sky I get, the further from the ground I am, and it’s a long way to fall.
My mom instilled in me a great deal of admiration and respect for any form of creative output. I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life. Writing has been my saving grace. It’s given me a way to share my feelings, build self-confidence, and a way to try to connect with others who may be dealing with similar issues. I go to support groups regularly as well as therapy and seeing my psychiatrist. I take my medication every day. I also try to spend my time with others who are trying to make positive changes in themselves as well.
I think of my mom all the time. I miss her greatly. In all honesty, it saddens me to know she’s not here to see the positive changes that have taken place in my life. But I know she would be proud of me. Even in those times where I feel I’m moving backwards, I try my hardest to not let things go. All I can do is try, and that’s good enough.

Before I close I wanted to read something I wrote a few months back when I feel things started to change for the better. It’s called “Looking Forward”.

The comedian Dave Chappelle was on an episode of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” which I was watching one Saturday morning. He was talking about his father’s death. He said how absurd it was to have this person you love within minutes becoming “a body that you have to figure out what to do with,” to prepare for the funeral and everything that follows. It really hit a nerve. When my mom died the staff at hospice took the first chance to “prepare her for transportation” they covered every part of her body with these paper clothes up to her neck. I sat and held her hand for about an hour while we waited for the funeral home to arrive with a hearse to transport her to the funeral home. I kept thinking how much I wanted her dressed in her normal clothes and I wanted those paper clothes completely out of sight. It felt like they were sanitizing the whole situation and I didn’t want everything sanitized, clean, antiseptic. It was like they were trying to metaphorically erase all the pain and sadness. I wanted to feel it. I wanted the pain. I wanted to cry. Scream. Clutch my hair and rip it out. Sing angry and sad songs at the top of my lungs for the whole world to hear. Grip my chest because I could feel my heart breaking. Death is not clean and grief is even less so. You can’t read a self-help book that will guide you through the process. There really isn’t anyone who can tell you anything. There are stages of grief but everyone’s experience is different because it’s probably the most intensely personal and lonely labyrinth we each will go through. But somewhere in that pitch black darkness you’ll see the tiniest sparkle of light from the stars glowing in the night sky. For most of us it’s just enough to be able to realize that there’s beauty even in the darkest corners of our minds. if we keep searching we’ll find enough light to illuminate reasons to hold on to ourselves and our lives. Not everyone makes it through, but i feel like i am emerging from a cocoon right now. I feel like I’ve been emotionally hibernating for so long, but the stars are enough for me. I will let them guide me and hope that I will survive this long enough that when my time does come, I will leave behind some sort of legacy for the people I’ve known along the way. I will continue to write because that seems to be a talent that not only comforts me but enables me to reach out to others, in the hope that at the very least, someone will find the beauty in the darkness through my words. I’m not looking for fame or notoriety. Those kind of goals seem to be traps. All I can hope for is that someone out there is paying attention, and relates on some level.

ADDENDUM:
I gave this speech on October 26th, 2009. It was only a few months after I had made a major decision and I was still quite fragile and somewhat scared about being completely honest. Especially when it came to the decision I had made. So in the speech I wasn’t exactly honest. Before my mom died I had already made the decision to end my life after she passed. She died on February 15th and that same day I stopped taking my meds and began stockpiling them. I decided that July 30th, 2009 would be the day I would take all the stockpiled meds and kill myself. The reason I started a website to post my writings to was because writing was the only thing I felt confident about. The website was to be a place I’d publish my writings and they’d be what I left behind once I ended my life a few months later. But things changed for the better. Things began to fall into place and people found the website without me doing anything to promote it. They didn’t only find it, they understood it and connected. I received a few messages from readers of the site who wanted me to know that they never knew other people felt the same as them; had the same thoughts; and occupied the same scatterbrained headspace. Hearing that feedback was just as revelatory for me as it was for the people sending me messages. I decided to stick around. Beyond that I decided that I had to continue to push myself to be as open and brutally honest in my writings as I possibly could be. Secrecy is an illness. It breeds dysfunction, shame, guilt and fear. Refusing to give into that fear and taking the risk to be vulnerable and open to being rejected also meant I was opening myself to finding connection and acceptance. The choice to live was a good one. Yes the choice to expose raw emotional nerves has had it’s downsides. But it’s also been a foundation on which to build my life. I don’t regret a thing.

10 Responses to Speech

  1. Thanks for taking the time to read, Shelsee. I’m glad we connected too.

  2. Shelsee says:

    Thank you for your honesty and wisdom. Grief is very messy. Thanks for helping others understand that. I am so glad you choose life and grateful we connected.

  3. Thank you, Patrick.

  4. Patrick Power says:

    Powerful stuff, Brad, and very courageous of you to share. Just know that your words have probably helped many people, and that is what your legacy will be: He cared, and he helped.

  5. I’m grateful and honored to know that you took the time to read it, Mikkel! You are a remarkable man and I sincerely hope that one day we will be able to meet. Warmth to you, my friend.

  6. Mikkel says:

    Thank you Brad!

  7. It’s always nice to hear positive feedback. As far as the Flaming Lips song, “Do You Realize?”, I’m very much aware of it’s existence. Thank you, Michael.

  8. Brad Crothers . “How many experiences are so seemingly of no importance ( ? ) ” TAKEN for GRANTED , or being Complacient about LIFE ~~~~~ I true beleive , each of us experience the sadness of GRIEF with the revelation that our losses bring . Revelation that all is well and all is good in the world , allseasons must come to each of us . There is a musical group that sings a song , “Do you realize ?” The Flaming Lips . This expression does seem to be a message for all generations . Imagine what you can do with the words you share , you have a great talent and are appreciated . Michael John Paul Wilhelm

  9. brad crothers says:

    You’re quite welcome LorraLee. Thank you for taking the time to check out my site and for the compliment. It means a lot.

  10. LorraLee Ryan says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your website with me. You do write beautifully. Look forward to reading more. Blessed to be reconnected!

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