Danielle Terrelonge | She had a name, So does her disease
I often observe people. I sit and ‘people-watch’, they call it. I sit from afar and listen to the words and watch for the facial expressions, the exasperation, the laughter, the tears, and even the anger.
I realise we all carry so many emotions. Our bodies and mouths express it ... well, much of it. But because I know, I don’t take it at ‘face value’, as they say.
I often look past it and wonder. I wonder what else is beneath that laughter, what are you not saying and, most important, I look at the person across from them and wonder, what are you not seeing?
Nineteen years ago I learned that the person closest to me, the one I turned to for most anything, suffered from Bipolar Disorder.
My family and I realised very quickly that what we thought was just an overly zealous and often thought “irresponsible” but in my young mind “super cool” approach to life was more often than not the result of a little, talked-about mental disease that would bring the greatest loss we have all ever faced.
We learned about it all in the mania but understood, retrospectively, the depression. We came face-to-face with the erratic but could not avoid the paranoia.
We kicked down doors to get help, we flew far and wide, we read and researched, consulted. We did all we could, but still, that phone call came.
MENTAL ILLNESS IS REAL
Have you ever heard your father wail? Have you ever seen your sister crumble? Have you ever seen those you love truly unknowing whether to sit, stand, hug, stay away, come close, and always at a loss for words?
This, my friends, is what happens when a society keeps quiet about something that is more prevalent than we face up to.
Mental illness is real, and has been real for a long time.
I am here to say it loud and clear. My sister wasn’t of unsound mind and other vanilla phases we use. She wasn’t “Poor Michele”, she wasn’t from any more (or less) of a crazy family than most reading this article. She had a disease and its name is Bipolar Disorder.
She wasn’t just that “crazy Michele”.
She was that beautiful woman who had as equal a disease as the myriad cancer patients around us.
It is about time that we all begin facing the fact that the people around us, the people we love, those we work with, aren’t “just sad”, they aren’t “dat girl mad, yah man”.
It is about time that we embraced mental illness, that we name it and own it.
It is about time that more of us speak about it.
There is no profile. It’s not a poor man’s disease nor a rich man’s. It belongs not to white nor black. It belongs not to women nor men. It’s not an uptown disease or an inner-city plague.
Michele wasn’t her disease. It wasn’t her legacy nor her fame. It wasn’t her label or her accolades.
She was a doctor, a sister, a daughter, a lover, and an empath for most all of us who remember that woman with the most beautiful smile.
She also drove us crazy and annoyed us with fights and tears. She was whole. She wasn’t her diagnosis.
My sister died at her hand. Her life and the rest of mine will be a testimony to the beautiful life she lived and will bring a powerful message that in my prayers, will save the life of even one person.
WE ALL NEED TO DO MORE
We will talk about it. There will be platforms for mental illness opened up. We will have more health funding available for mental illness. We will stop scoffing at the “mad people”. We will get help because after a few weeks you’re not “just down in the dumps”. We will look across at our friends and actually see them and we will, from a place of knowledge, reach over and help them.
We will because my sister’s death will never be in vain.
- Danielle Terrelonge is a marketing consultant in Kingston, Jamaica. Nineteen years ago her family faced the loss of her sister Michele Terrelonge, due to the mental illness, Bipolar Disorder. She is dedicated to bringing awareness to mental illness on the anniversary of Michelle’s death. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org