When did I become invisible? Maybe it didn’t happen all at once. Maybe it was a slow fade so gradual that I didn’t notice it. Whatever the timeframe, I am now unseen. Friends no longer acknowledge me. They don’t return text messages or emails, social media has dried up, and I can no longer be heard on voice mail. In the physical presence of my pals, they ignore me, look past or through me, don’t hear me calling for them. Maybe I’m dead and don’t know it and that’s why things have changed. How did I die? Does anybody care? I don’t feel dead but what does dead feel like except that no one sees or hears you anymore. Could a psychic medium tell me what happened? It works in films. But people see and hear me when I buy groceries, spend money in shops, and earn a living. I’m only invisible to those dearest to me. What changed? Must be more forceful. My “friend” Helen frequents a coffee shop. Maybe a one on one encounter could improve my visibility.
Helen was leaving the shop with her latte as I approached. I called to her but, of course, there was no response. Running after her, I touched her arm. “Helen!” she stopped and hesitated as though considering whether or not to turn. She took a deep breath, fortifying herself, and then faced me. Her expression suggested discomfort. “Helen, we need to talk. What has happened between us? Can we have a meaningful discussion?” Expecting her to find some way to excuse herself from a conversation, I waited. To my surprise, she agreed to a meeting. We sat at a vacant table outside the bistro.
“Helen, what has happened? I had such a nice group of friends and now you’ve all abandoned me. Why? What did I do?” her face seemed to sadden.
“There’s no one thing that has alienated us. It’s an accumulation over time. Since Vince died, you’ve changed.”
“You try living with an anxious, depressed, alcoholic artist for 25 years, lose him and not change.”
“I understand that. Remember we witnessed the decline with you. We saw that witty, talented, wonderful person dissolve along with you and supported you in many ways.”
“So, what’s different now?” She took a deep breath taking time to formulate a response.
“You’re so intense now. So… so …”
“Crazy? Is that the word you’re looking for?”
She winced. “That’s not the word I wanted to use. I’d say . . . obsessed.”
“I am determined. I’ll give you that. Vince didn’t have to die.” Helen interrupted my thought.
“And you did everything humanly possible to prevent it knowing what you knew.”
“But it wasn’t enough, was it.”
“And now you want to help others do what you could not. You want to push an agenda. I get it. You have a cause — a crusade — and you want crusaders to fight along with you.”
“And what’s wrong with that? One voice won’t be heard. It takes many voices.”
“We’re not heartless. We contribute to many causes and we’ve appeared to help you clean up the bay or pound nails with Habitat, write letters for Amnesty International … fund raising dinners for Heifer. The list goes on and on. You’re trying to save the world but you can’t seem to find a cause to focus on. It’s cause du jour and we’re tired of being sucked into your tornado.” When she ended her rant, she sat back and looked as though she had emptied a stuffed closet and was proud of her effort. Relieved, she took a gulp of her latte. I remained silent for a while digesting all that she said. She had a point. I want to do so much and have so many interests in so many causes can I really be effective at any one of them?
“Okay. That is behind me. I’m now focused on mental health. Maybe I am obsessed but look at all the obsessed have accomplished.” My thoughts raced. “You’re a woman of color with an advanced degree, a well-paying job, a nice home, etc., etc. How do you think you got where you are? Some obsessive women got you the right to vote, other obsessives, like Martin Luther King, worked hard to ensure and expand your rights. You can feel safer driving your car because some obsessive mothers got MADD and worked hard to legislate for drunk diving punishments. Researchers obsessed to find cures and treatment for a multitude of ailments and that list goes on and on. Do you realize that 1 in 5 people will face a mental health crisis in their lifetime? Maybe, some day, when a disaster occurs in your life and you are drowning in sadness, you won’t feel embarrassed or ashamed to visit a mental health professional because some obsessive like me has made reaching for help more comfortable.”
I paused, still thinking. “We don’t have to agree on everything to be friends. But, Helen, you should realize that you enjoy the life you live now thanks to the obsessives that came before you—the ones that tried to make the world a better place.” I ended my tirade and leaned back in my chair amazed at the thoughts disgorged. Her face told me that I had struck a nerve. Rising, I calmed myself.
“I’m sorry that I expect as much from my friends as I do from myself. Each person contributes to humankind in his own way. Call me sometime.” Leaving the table, I merged with the stream of urban bodies.
As I put one foot in front of the other, emotions welled from deep inside — anger, disappointment, guilt, frustration, self-doubt. There must be thousands of people feeling the same way. Those of us that have faced a tragedy and try to make change for the better and face obstacles to that change. Post Tragedy Activist Syndrome? Where is the line between dedication and obsession? When does obsession become pathologic? Is there a support group — obsessives anonymous. But my mania has a noble purpose. I shouldn’t quit.
As for my cause, I’m right where I started. My friends won’t discuss mental health, how can I encourage strangers to do it? I imagine myself in an unfamiliar group of people. They seem cordial and engaging, but as soon as I steer the conversation toward mind health, I become invisible again. We’ve been taught the taboo subjects at a gathering are politics and religion. We could add mental health to the list. I’m preaching the gospel of mental health and it’s a sermon that no one wants to hear.
Individuals, who comprise the public, only become interested in mental health issues if they lose someone they care about to a mental illness or a distressed party does something tragic and makes the news headlines. They need a slap in the face. I could do something dramatic! Yea, that’s it. Something dramatic. Wrap up all my experience with pain in a neat, little package to get attention. Something dramatic . . . hmm . . . like write a play.
Learn more at “Time to Talk: Tips for Talking About Your Mental Health.” Mental Health America. Sponsored by betterhelp. Accessed Feb. 7, 2021 from URL: https://www.mhanational.org/time-talk-tips-talking-about-your-mental-health