You Are Not Alone – A New Buffalo Mural
You see them everywhere, in every part of the city and every neighborhood; Buffalo's Murals. With over 130 at last count and more going up all the time, they're hard to miss. From the "Keep Buffalo A Secret" mural on Main Street (which seems more like a directive than a mural), the "Wings Wings" mural on the side of the Pearl Street Grill and Brewery building, to the "Canalligator" in Medina. They're everywhere.
Once thought of more as "counter-culture" or graffiti, murals like the ones all over Western New York now are a source of pride and artistry while helping to beautify the Queen City.
There's a new mural going up in the Kensington neighborhood, on the side of the Horizon Health Services building on Bailey Avenue near Kensington. Six student artists design it from Buffalo's Center for Arts and Technology, who are getting a helping hand from Western New York artist Tyshaun Tyson who's helping to oversee the whole project.
While all the murals around the City of Good Neighbors have meaning and messages behind them, this one speaks to me more than most. It's called "You Are Not Alone," and its focus is mental health. The timing is perfect because May is Mental Health Awareness month.
You don't know me that well yet, but I have a lot of experience with mental illness in many different ways. Most people dismiss anything associated with mental health for whatever reason. Maybe they're uncomfortable with the idea, maybe they don't understand it, but for whatever reason, mental illness is met with a lot of doubt and disbelief. Most people who've dealt with depression, anxiety, or being bipolar are told they're just having a bad day and just to suck it up.
My father is bipolar. Growing up, no one knew. In the 70s and 80s, being bipolar wasn't widely diagnosed. And even if it was, mental illness wasn't anything talked about openly, that's for sure. Some days he was in a great mood and had a ton of energy. Other days you didn't speak to him. At all. Because you never knew which person you were going to get. Please don't misunderstand what I'm saying. He wasn't abusive or mean it's just that his moods were highly unpredictable. We (the family) just accepted that's who he was and dealt with it the best we could.
It wasn't until he attempted suicide that we started to figure things out with the help of a mental professional. It was at that point, for me, all the pieces began to fall into place. You see, I had tried to kill myself—three different times. I can't tell you why, but for as long as I can remember, there's been a little voice inside my head (well, there are a lot of them, but this one is a constant) that says, "You know what? You should kill yourself. There's no point in your life, and no one will miss you. Just get it over with."
The first time I got the idea into my head, I was four years old. I remember it vividly. That same voice said, "Your parents don't want you around; you're always in trouble, just jump off the roof, and it'll all end. So I did. I still remember hitting the ground; my breath forced out of me as my body compressed in on itself and not being able to breathe. I was scared. I couldn't move. I hurt all over. Then, there was my mother, frantic and yelling for help, trying to get me to breathe.
Luckily, the roof I had just thrown myself off was only about 12 feet high (it was the covered porch outside my bedroom window), but to a four-year-old, that was a long way up! I had just knocked the wind out of myself, and I'm lucky I didn't break anything. I tried again at 19 and again at 23. It wasn't until my father attempted to kill himself that I realized it wasn't just me. I wasn't the only one, and there was a reason behind what I was feeling. I was 27 at that point.
Up until then, I just assumed I was broken, and this was just my life. After my father's incident, I realized I wasn't alone. There was more to this than I had considered or knew. But as they say, once you know, you can't not know. And I knew.
I share all this to say, mental illness is real. If it's never touched your life, count yourself lucky, but understand there are those around you who are suffering and dealing with it in numerous ways every day. If you know someone who's struggling, reach out to them. Don't give up on them. Mental illness is an issue most people take seriously enough. So, as I said before, this new mural speaks to me. And hopefully, it will speak to those who need to hear it; "You Are Not Alone."
If you need help, reach out. If someone you know needs help, reach out. There are people who can help. I promise you; things get better.