Carefully maneuvering my way through the airport to grab the third plane of the day, I reached the line to board. Dressed in royal blue, the gate agent made his first announcement. "Anyone who needs assistance, extra time, or has a disability may board now. I approached the front of the line. "Pardon me." I said to the older fella next to me. He wore a bright white tee, black khaki shorts, black socks, and a perplexed look upon his face. While I was well in ear shot he aggressively proclaimed, "You're not even dragging a leg...that ain't right!" Pre board rules are clear, if you have a disability, or need extra time, (like I do sometimes) you may enter prior to any of the first tear boarding sections. What the gentleman who made these remarks did not know, could not know, was the copious amount of physical pain I was in at that very moment. What he didn't know, was the momentous pain I live in daily. How could he, I don't visibly appear to be in tremendous pain, aside my furrowed brow it is a cross I must bear for the suicide attempt I made 16 years ago. I hide it well. As he said, I don't walk with a limp.
I take my light pain meds and muster through it. I don't complain about it to anyone besides my better half. Nor should I, it's a mostly private reality. When I am flying, it is often exacerbated. Let's face it no airline I know of has ergonomically correct seating. Sometimes I am in so much pain, it brings tears to my eyes. So I just sit there balling and wishing it away. For those who don't know my story, my physical battle due to s serious and 99% deadly suicide attempt is rather invisible. This fact however, does not make it any less true.
I would love to place this guy, and all like him in my shoes for just one fly day. My guess is, he wouldn't last 5 minutes. The injury to my formerly broken, and shattered back was extensive after my attempt. My lower back was fitted with a great deal of titanium. I am not only blessed but to be alive, to be mobile at all. In the year 2000 while struggling with my brain disease bipolar disorder, I leapt off of the Golden Gate Bridge, in order to die by suicide. That day, my brain was trying to kill me as I desperately fought to stay above water.
Today, I travel across the United States and the globe. During this travel, I am speaking, writing, and documenting my experience. I talk about my survival, and my ongoing recovery. I do so as I continue living with chronic pain, and chronic suicidal thoughts. But that's ok, because I AM ALIVE!
I get the amazing privilege to be a part of this world every single day nearly 16 years past the day I could have died.
I am not alone in this regular occurrence. People like me come from all over the world. We have what most call disabilities. We are those whose suffering is not apparent. Some say those who mistreat use stigma against us. Do we call bigotry, racism or sexism stigma, no we call them by their true names, bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination.
I know how lucky I am, I still have the gift of life. In a moment it can be taken away. I get to wake up daily, say a prayer, turn to my right, and kiss my wife every morning. I am allowed the opportunities to speak about my brain disease to in need foundations, hospitals, universities, conferences, and all kinds of other groups around the world.
There are so many people at airports around the world who look on in judgment when people like me board a plane. From the questioning gate agents, passengers, onto the flight crew. The passengers especially glare on. They screw their faces at us as we board. Others peer on with nasty stares, and yes some spit out sly unkind comments. They do so as if those living like me have just committed some heinous air crime. They are the apathetic, without the ability to hold concern. There's is a sad life, cynical, judgmental, & angry. If you've ever gone through something similar, not necessarily getting on a plane, but within the realm of discrimination pushed against you, remember, thats their problem, and as my good buddy @joewilliams_tew (twitter) always says...You're living in their brain space rent free...it's really their problem.
But at this very moment, as I key in these words, I cannot continue pressing my touch screen letters on my iPad. The physical pain is too much to bear. Tears are beginning to flow. You get the picture. We must live on, love long, and find our modicum wellness, because our brain health matters as much as our physical, and emotional wellbeing. Just as First Lady Rosalynn Carter most famously said...both should be considered and treated as one...just health.
Keep waging the battle #StigmaFighters (find the book volume 1 here).
I am either right by your side, or 30,000 miles above you hoping you find a way to help yourself toward healing, and your much needed continuous recovery.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.
Do you want to follow the movement check out an amazing organization Kevin belongs too...United Survivors.