When I broke my rib (which I did by coughing too hard … it’s a long story), I immediately went to the doctor and got an X-ray.
When I started experiencing symptoms of type 2 diabetes, I got tested at the first opportunity and had my metformin prescription filled within an hour of the test results coming back to me.
When I thought I might be suffering from depression and anxiety, however, I waited.
I figured I might snap out of it. I thought I needed to be more positive. I let society lead me to think I was a weak person. I believed I had a self-inflicted illness that I needed to work through by myself. I self-medicated. I struggled through days that felt like weeks. I stayed awake for days at a time. I became withdrawn. I didn’t allow myself to enjoy things that had once made me happy. I became a zombie, often at the expense of very patient friends and family.
I also nearly waited too long to get the help I needed.
My name is David Fong and I am a father, a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, a journalist, an author, a graduate of Troy High School and The Ohio State University, a new dog owner, a lover of White Castle sliders, a football fanatic and a huge fan of professional wrestling. I am proud of all of those things.
My name is David Fong and I also happen to suffer from mental illness. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m particularly proud of that fact, I’m also not ashamed. Not anymore, at least. For much of my life, however, I was. Like many suffering from mental illness, I felt stigmatized. I thought people might think less of me if they found out I had depression and anxiety.
We live in a world in which it is perfectly acceptable to treat our physical ailments, while those suffering mentally are often pushed to the fringes and forced to lead lives of silent desperation. We are told to have a more positive outlook on life. Is that something you would tell someone who was having a heart attack? We are told we have to be strong enough to get through the tough times. Would you consider that sound advice to someone with a compound fracture or massive head trauma?
Mental illness is a medical condition that should be treated by professionals, just like any other medical concern. It took me many years to come to grips with that fact. It’s taken me even longer to admit it publicly. Even when I finally started to get the help I needed roughly eight years ago, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my battle in this forum.
For the past 22 years, I have discussed nearly every facet of my life in this weekly column. I have shared nearly all of my triumphs and failures with my readers. For more than two decades, you have been there as I’ve given intimate details of my life. You’ve been there with me, reading along as I’ve gotten married, had children, raised those children, found out my son was autistic, learned of my sister’s cancer diagnosis and buried my father.
You’ve told me I’ve made you laugh. And I know that sometimes I’ve made you cry. On more than a few occasions, I’ve made some of you mad. I promise, you are never shy about letting me know when I’ve made you mad … and that’s OK. Hopefully, at the very least, I’ve always made you think. Whether you agree or disagree, it’s always been humbling to know there are people who have cared enough to follow along as I’ve shared every facet of my life.
With one notable exception, of course.
For the entirety of my career, I’ve remained silent — at least in print — about my struggles with anxiety and depression. Part of me was afraid of what you might think of me, obviously. But part of me also was afraid no one would believe me. I’ve created a character of sorts in these pages — the happy-go-lucky columnist who views the world with a certain childlike innocence and irreverence. And don’t get me wrong, that’s absolutely a major part of who I am.
But that’s only part of the story. There’s also a part of me that struggles with the weight of the world. It’s a part of me that never feels good enough or worthy enough. A part of me struggles just to make it through the day sometimes.
I can’t in good conscience stay silent about that part of me any longer, however. Too many people are out there suffering. We were reminded of that last week with the suicides of celebrity fashion designer Kate Spade and noted chef, author and television personality Anthony Bordain. It hit even closer to home for me recently when I learned of a friend’s family member who took his own life.
Maybe, in some very small way, I can help.
There are people out there who need help in their battle with mental illness. Chances are, someone close to you is fighting that battle. There’s also a chance you may not realize it. If you think someone might be battling mental illness, reach out to them and encourage them to get the help they need.
If you don’t think you know of anyone, please be nice to everyone … because you never know what sort of silent wars someone may be waging inside their own mind. A smile and a friendly word certainly can’t hurt. And for the love of all things holy, if you think you might be suffering from mental illness, please consider seeking professional help.
It’s worth it. They are worth it. You are worth it.
And I am worth it, too.
If you are considering suicide or think you may know of someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
Reach David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong.