‘Good Work…Bad Mental Health Day’
By Kevin Hines
My name is Kevin Hines, I am an international speaker, author, and advocate for mental wellness and suicide prevention. Today it seems as though I have been living on the road. As a traveling public speaker and author, I am in one state, two, three cities, or towns, then on to the next state crossing two time zones, or headed overseas. People are listening; they want to know more about battling and surviving mental illness. They are moved: people’s views and beliefs begin to change. Awareness is spreading. My hope for the future of mental health equality strengthens. They need to know that mental health is for everyone. I am thankful to those who make possible traveling from my hometown San Francisco to share my story of daily recovery while living with a severe mental illness.
I am learning the art of living mentally well as I go. No matter the accolades, or the appreciation for my story of triumph over adversity. No matter the lives moved toward better mental health. There are those days…the ones I title ‘bad mental health’ days. Even though I give each audience my very best, the thoughts and symptoms creep in. It’s inevitable. There is no cure for what I have. There is no stopping my Bipolar Disorder Type I with Psychotic Features. The symptoms I have dealt with for over 16 years still bring me to my knees, from skyrocketing mania, through massive paranoid delusions, spiraling me deep down into dark suicidal depressions, flustering me with panic attacks, then shoving me head on into hallucinations both auditory and visual.
Some believe that I am fully recovered because I have had success as a speaker, author and advocate—because I am “high-functioning.” They assume I no longer have the symptoms. They assume my suicidal thoughts are gone. These views are myth, and reflect a grave misconception. This misconception recently lurched into sharp focus.
Just a few weeks ago, while I was fighting for recovery and preparing to deliver the keynote address at the 2014 Texas Suicide Prevention Symposium, the world was hit with the news….
Mr. Robin Williams, the one and the only, had died by suicide. The international reaction was immediate and heart-felt. People all over the world mourned him. But there was also this underlying refrain: why would this phenomenally successful and popular man, do this? This refrain is another version of the myth of recovery. What happened to Mr. Williams is just like someone dying of cancer, liver, heart, or lung disease. It started in an organ in his body. Robin did not commit an act. He was not an ounce of selfish. No, the man we all knew and adored perished because of his mind, rather, his brain. Disease, mental illness, and addiction took him. For most of us, our brains are organs we take for granted. The brain is the most powerful organ in our body. The brain controls our every action and inaction. It is mostly on automatic mode. Imagine a hard drive in a computer. Robin’s hard drive crashed that day.
On the Golden Gate Bridge in 2000, I attempted to end my life. I jumped. On the walkway of the bridge prior to my leap, I thought about Robin’s film, What Dreams May Come. I thought of Mr. H., my mentor and acting teacher. He had taken his life earlier that year due to the disease of alcoholism and hopelessness. It was psychosis which led me to think that I was going to jump, die, go through the ten circles of hell and rip my mentor away from all that, then rise straight up to the pearly gates. My notion was quite similar to Robin’s film, which had stayed locked in my subconscious until that day. I just wanted my mentor to be where I believed he belonged.
Today as the world still grieves Robin’s death, I think of my mother-in-law who died a few months ago. We had a final Mother’s day with her before she passed from lung and brain cancer. With her passing and all that has occurred over the last few weeks, I have been reflecting on how mortal we really are. Robins Williams’ death and my mother-in-law’s cancer were caused by disease. Even though only one can be seen, and only one is widely understood and accepted. The other, death by suicide, remains elusive, invisible, and taboo. In most places it’s not to be spoken aloud in a crowded room.
Both deaths remind me that anything can happen to anyone at any time. Yet I cannot—we should not—live in fear. We must be forward focused. Steadfastly we are fixed on making the most of our short time here in the physical world. Robin, you will always be in the hearts and minds of those who empathize with your internal battle. No matter how often I have thoughts of ending my life, I will stay alive. This day, I re-commit to treatment and living with astute self-awareness. I hold on to the ability to find the light of hope at the end of every tunnel. No matter the pain, I commit to my future. I will live as mentally well as I can. I pray now that Robin is in comedian heaven, where, I believe wholeheartedly, he is stealing the show.
More about our guest blogger:
Since its construction in 1937, thousands of people have ended their lives by jumping off San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Only 34 have survived the fall. Kevin Hines, our guest blogger today, is one of them. Since his suicide attempt when he was 19 years old, Kevin Hines has become one of the most prominent suicide awareness and prevention activists in the U.S. Through presentations and his memoir “Cracked, Not Broken,” Kevin’s message of striving to live “mentally well” in the face of mental illness has reached and inspired millions.