A suicide at sweet sixteen, my cousin Amanda left us this past November. She was a brilliant girl; a scholar, an actress, a lover of turtles, a kid. Amanda bore a smile that was big, literally. The corners of her mouth spread, showcasing a row of whites that were finally emancipated after years of braces, a smile that I will miss. She was a silly girl, a sweet girl, and evidently a sad girl.
I was unaware of her struggle.
I found myself tracing the memories of Amanda cradled in my cortex. Thinking back to birthday parties, seeing her singing aloud and impatiently waiting to lick the icing off a plated cake slice. I looked back again and saw her competing in a game with her brother and winning, and hearing her gung ho of a giggle. It was disheartening to think that someone who I only have fond memories of, a piece of my family, had been harboring such woe.
Her death got me talking. I talked to my family, I talked to my friends. We talked about sadness, about loneliness, about suicidal thoughts. We talked about uncomfortable things, and we talked about necessary things. I told others about times where I’ve felt weird or had fleeting moments of sadness. It was in many of those discussions that I found what I thought was an experience completely unique and exclusive to me was, in fact, a sensitivity commonly shared by so many others –almost everyone I spoke with.
I’ve sat and listened to dark secrets and feelings of shame among confidants that I could only meet with heartfelt compassion. I almost felt broken hearing some stories, ones where others felt completely alone.
We cried, we laughed, we made promises to each other. It felt good to share and it felt good to listen.
I’ve started to look at the world differently. I like to say that I catch myself in moments of regression to a child-like mental state, back to a state of wonder and awe. I take time to marvel at the little things again like I did when I was a kid and everything was new. I find a small pleasure in enthusiastically shouting and pointing, “RAINBOW”, every time I spot one like it was a personal miracle shot down from heaven itself. I try not to miss a sunset, noticing that no two are ever alike. I am taking time to appreciate the beauty and whims of the world, and in people, –things that I wish I could now share with my cousin to plead for her to see that things aren’t so bad. I am finding happiness in things that are free, moments that we often take for granted, junctures that are like modest slices of heaven on Earth.
I take breaks from the social apps, I lay out in the sun in the quiet, and I try to call my mom more (Hi, mom). I’ll go for walks on the beach (lucky to live on Hawaii) even if it rains and try to conquer my fear of heights by inching closer to a mountain’s edge with each visit. I lend my friends my ear –if I’m feeling in a good enough space to digest their thoughts, and I make sure to drink more water. Wellness and happiness go hand in hand.
Honing in on health of mind should be normalized now more than ever. In a time where social media reigns as king, perception and reality are often flawed. We find ourselves in constant comparison—a rat race to look the best and make the most. I find it interesting that in passing conversations we are often so obliged to ask about job titles as opposed to asking one of the most basic and earnest questions, “Are you happy?”
Though I feel the younger society has to an extent strayed away from the fundamentals of self-care in exchange for selfies, there is a movement of people brewing towards a mental health movement. There is a need being emphasized to get back to ourselves, back to our health, starting from the inside out. I advise myself and you to check on your friends, check on your family, and check yourself. Handling emotions and struggles are a part of all of our lives, whether we face it in silence or aloud.
Giving someone a stage to freely give their mental monologue as opposed to an act and facade of perfection is vital. I encourage vulnerability, I encourage girls AND boys to cry when they feel to do so. Whether someone is ready or not ready to share their feelings it is important that we let them know that someone will be there to listen.
To my friends who bravely shared their experiences with mental health, I hear you and I commend you. I hope that the stigma to talk about unpopular and uncomfortable feelings will relinquish itself to create a portal for peace of mind and peace to the people. To my family that is healing from a hole in our hearts, I wish for clarity, conversation, and continued commemoration of Amanda’s name.
To my cousin, I hope that where you are now, you know you are loved.