As a country, we do an awful lot of talking. We love to talk. We talk about controversial subjects like racism, policing, and marriage equality. We like to pick apart the decisions of the latest YouTube sensation, watch cat videos, and over share memes that really aren’t that funny or were only funny for a very short time. Some people even log onto Facebook or other forms of social media to argue with complete strangers just for the sake of arguing. We do a lot of talking; a lot of counterproductive talking.
I want to talk about a global issue. It’s not an easy subject. It doesn’t segregate based on sexual orientation, race, gender or occupation. In fact, it doesn’t segregate at all. It doesn’t prowl on the weak because they are easy targets and it doesn’t attack the strong out of jealousy or envy. It’s around every corner; sometimes lurking in the shadows and sometimes standing in broad daylight. What is this mysterious creature that is often so terrifying in silence? Depression. Depression and various forms of mental health disorders affect all of us in one way or another.
I was 9 years old the first time I ever considered taking my own life. As an elementary school child, with little understanding of my own mortality, I couldn’t find a way to combat the severe forms of bullying I was experiencing inside the walls of my school system. I found myself day dreaming of ways that I could make it stop. I could run away. I could just disappear and no one would miss me. As someone who felt so invisible, there was a very specific group of girls who reminded me daily that my existence was a burden to them. They would endlessly make fun of me for being a chunkier than average child, for looking like a boy , for having “ugly clothes” (News flash: it was the 80s. Their clothes were ugly too.) and write me letters in my locker about how I should just kill myself. Even more so, they hurt me physically and they did it every single day at lunchtime.
I was silent. I didn’t tell my teachers because I thought it would make it worse. Part of me thought they always knew and just didn’t want to do anything about it. Why would they care about some nobody? I never told my parents because I didn’t want them to be ashamed of my weakness and even more so, I didn’t want them to hurt too. I buried my emotions so deeply that I managed to bury my hope alongside them. It landed me in a position where I felt like my only hope was to either disappear or to stop existing entirely. I was a 9 year old. I was a child; a kid with my whole life ahead of me and I needed help. I needed help and I was terrified to ask for it. And, I never did. I just shuffled through life hoping to someday get past all of it.
It wasn’t until my adult life that I realized I was carrying around oversized suitcases of my past. I managed to overcome my obstacles as a child by hiding behind humor and walling off any emotional availability. I taught myself that I didn’t need anyone and that I was perfectly capable of paving my own way. And, that’s what I did. What I didn’t realize was that every single broken relationship, moments of failure, and a bleak outlook on myself was all in that suitcase and, as long as I allowed myself to be weighted down by it, I would never be able to reach the destination of my full potential. A lot of things have happened in my lifetime that have been hard and difficult. These are the things that I have only shared with one or two people. I was allowing my depression to turn me something into someone I never thought I’d be. I had allowed it to turn me into a victim.
That’s where we allow ourselves to get depression wrong. We’ve created an environment where the mental health aspect of our very being is taboo. We wait far too long before we reach out for help and, even when we do, we find ourselves feeling like we have somehow inconvenienced someone else for not having it all together. People are terrified of being turned away, made fun of, or being chalked up as a lunatic because they are having a difficult time fighting the demons of their minds. They are afraid that they will have completely emotionally exposed themselves to a point of no return. This is why we are losing police officers to suicide every 20 hours.
If you think about the aspects of being a solider or a police officer, they are expected to have it together all the time. As a society, we don’t allow them to be human. We don’t allow them to be flawed. We don’t allow them to be human. We have forced them to keep shoving more grief and more compartmentalized emotions into their own emotional suitcases until it finally busts at the seams. When they experience a life changing situation on the job, they are often only debriefed tactically and seldom debriefed emotionally. They don’t have the luxury of telling someone that the incident involving the loss of a 4 year old life is keeping them awake at night. They aren’t allowed to tell anyone that they are struggling extensively with processing the family murder/suicide they worked a couple of weeks prior to the point where they are having to self medicate just to numb the visions that keep flashing through their minds. We hold them to a high expectation, and we absolutely should, but that expectation should never dissuade them from seeking the help they are entitled to as a human being.
Someone asked me why Humanizing the Badge chose to hitch our wagon to the Under the Shield Foundation. It’s simple. It speaks to me. When I heard the news that Robin Williams had committed suicide, I wasn’t just heartbroken because he made a decision he could never take back. I was heartbroken because I understood him. And, with that understanding, comes a huge personal responsibility that speaks to the very center of my soul. I may not understand exactly what it’s like to be an officer on the front line but, I do understand what it’s like to be their spouse. I understand what it’s like to struggle in complete silence. I know what it’s like to wish and pray for the opportunity to find someone who I could express myself to without judgment or persecution.
Under the Shield is that place. It’s a safe haven for people who aren’t familiar with how to navigate their own mentalities. Susan Simons offers a sanctuary for the minds of those who are afraid of consequences that sometimes come with the decision to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. With complete anonymity, she offers a gateway for First Responders to combat the experiences that occur hand in hand with being a community servant. I can’t think of a better person or organization to join. I can’t think of a more worthy cause than addressing the very subject that is so often ignored. If we tackle the mental health of officers, we are helping the stability they bring to the streets. They will be better officers, better leaders, and better husbands and wives.
Under the Shield speaks to me. My prayer is that it will speak to all of you as well.
Until next time,