Never stop the discussion: Mental health

By Adam Duke

Assistant Sports Editor

Earlier this year, fellow Griffin editors and close friends Emily Smith and Becca Hartman wrote articles on mental health, titled, “Breaking the silence: Mental health” and “Continuing the conversation: Mental health,” in which they discussed their personal stories and advocated for mental health awareness.

After some inspiration from Tuesday night’s mental health talk given by former Sabres goaltender Clint Malarchuk, I decided to discuss my thoughts and experiences with mental health issues and affirm once again Malarchuk’s closing remarks: “You are not alone.”

Let’s be clear, I am not a person who likes to talk about the happy moments in my life, much less the sad. I just don’t feel like my life is something a ton of people need to know about. I know a few guys from high school know part of what I’ve experienced, but none of them know the full story. I’ve told about four people everything; not even some of my best friends know about it. I’ve never wanted to discuss it before; I’ve never been ready.

Now I’m ready.

Through middle school and high school, I had one close friend. His name is Ben. He’s always been there for me and I’m always there for him. He doesn’t talk to anyone else much, but he talks to me and he’s my confidant.

Last year, I made a few friends around the dorms, but never really established the same kind of connection as I did with Ben. In February, that all changed. I made a second friend, a person who asked not to be named, in the library. We hung out together almost every day, and in late March, she told me she planned to transfer to the University of San Diego. She got accepted and I was devastated. In June, I met with her downtown just after leaving the NHL Draft. We went to the Galleria Mall later in the day and it was there, in the parking lot, that she told me she wasn’t going to USD and that she was pregnant. Her daughter was born almost three months ago and is absolutely adorable, even if she did spit up on me a little the first time I met her.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: how is this relevant? Well, my inability to make friends always left me sad, depressed even. I was lonely. In middle school, I thought that this was the most lonely I’d ever feel and that it was the biggest struggle I’d ever have to face. Boy, was I wrong.

February 17, 2012. The day my life changed forever. I went into the hospital that day for my second- yes, second- open heart surgery. The first was when I was six months old, but since I was so small, not everything could be fixed properly. With my second surgery, I expected to be in the hospital for a week, followed by a week of rehab. I wish I could say that’s what happened.

But no, I fell into a two-week coma and woke up with no knowledge or memory of anything. I quite literally needed to learn to walk and talk again. (Shoutout to Foo Fighters, specifically the song “Walk,” for getting me through this.) I had a pacemaker implanted, ruining any hopes of playing any high school sports in the future; I didn’t even try out for soccer again the next fall.

Sitting in that hospital for two whole weeks after waking up, I was sad; no, I was depressed. I received the most amount of love in those four weeks than I have throughout my entire life, both from friends’ encouragement on Facebook and visitors that came to see me. It didn’t help; I just wanted to leave. I was lonely. My parents were by my side the whole time, which I am grateful for, to infinity and beyond. I love them more than anything, except maybe my brother. Regardless of the fact that they never left me, I was still alone–lost, if you will. My parents could’ve left that hospital if they really wanted to, but I was trapped. I had no choice but to lay in that bed and try to find ways to entertain myself.

The memories of this isolation, being trapped, are triggered every time I’m alone. Music is comforting. Television is comforting. Fresh air in the summertime is comforting. But nothing makes me feel as complete as human interaction. Often, I’ll go to the library or a friend’s room around campus just so I can be around people.

I realize that I am not alone. I have friends that suffer from anxiety and depression, and I feel like those are the people I become closest with because I know what they’re going through, even if I don’t completely understand.

After Malarchuk’s talk in Montante, I made the connection that mental health is not regarded with the same esteem as physical health. As Malarchuk stated, many businesses will recognize physical ailments such as cancer as debilitating, but refuse to acknowledge mental issues.

A little over a month ago, my friend Allison recommended that I go to the counseling center on campus. Since coming to college, she has been my confidant. I don’t see Ben as much when I’m here, so Allison has taken his place in that regard. She’s one of the most trustworthy people I’ve ever met, and when even she didn’t have advice for a particular problem I had, she suggested the counseling center. It’s been an immense help and I strongly recommend it to anyone who may be struggling in any way.

Lately, I’ve had some success with making close friends. This year, I’ve actually made two groups of friends. I never had a friend group before college, and now I have two. My staff here at The Griffin has been good to me, and despite the fact that I wasn’t technically an editor of anything until last month when I assumed the role of Assistant Copy Editor, the editors have accepted me as one of them since August, and I want to thank them for that. I’ve had fun this year and I love you all. I look forward to more adventures over the next few years.

My second friend group is the messiest bunch of people you’ve ever seen. Actually, you probably haven’t seen us. Frankly, we’re all losers. And I love it. It’s somewhere I belong, a group of people who are similar to me and have struggled with some of the same things I have. Depression, anxiety, acceptance. Not to “Breakfast Club” it up or anything, but surface level, we’re comprised of a shoe collector, an emotional frat boy, a comic book nerd, a science geek, a prom queen, an artist, and a tryhard sports junkie. They are my favorite people on earth and despite knowing only one of them coming into this year, we have come together and formed the greatest crew I’ve known.

So as I sit here listening to Blink-182’s “Adam’s Song,” waiting to blast the final verse at full volume, I think about what I’ve been through in life and how tomorrow does in fact hold such better days. Looking back at it all, I’m glad I’ve made it this far and glad I’m still here. I think about all the kids that don’t get to make it out of the hospital alive and I’m grateful that I did. I’m grateful for everyone and everything and I try not to take anything for granted.

My senior quote in my high school yearbook was: “Happiness is a choice. I mean, I know it sounds crazy, but it changed my life. I mean, I made a decision right there. I chose to be happy.” It was said by Lt. Randy Disher from my all-time favorite television show, Monk. I have a poster of the quote in front of my bed and I try to remember each day to choose to be happy. You have to take everything that sucks in your life and find a bright side. It’s difficult and not always possible, but I’ve made it my goal to try. As a whole, everything I’ve experienced since my surgery has been positive, despite feeling depressed a few times a week when I get lonely. Looking back on all the people I’ve met and memories I’ve made, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Everyone struggles with anxiety a little bit, and everyone is depressed to some extent, some more than others. Just remember that you are not alone and that there are people here who want to help.

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