By Nicholas Emeigh, NAMI Bucks County Ending The Silence Presenter
My name is Nick and I was born and raised in Bucks County, PA and attended college in Boston. I was and am always afraid that my technically invisible mental health diagnoses will be visible to those I meet, and worry that I will be judged on things that people can’t see and that I can’t control. What I would like people to know when they meet me is that I’m a published poet, graphic designer, a cake decorator, son, brother, and friend. I am also diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.
I started realizing I was different – mentally and emotionally – in kindergarten, but I was afraid to ask for help. Everyone else seemed to know that something was going on with me, but no one knew enough about mental illness to help me, including myself. I was bullied for being intelligent and introverted and was teased about my sexual orientation before I even knew what that was. I believed that I was an outcast and was treated that way. I came out as gay in my junior year of high school, and while that was difficult, I was still terrified of admitting I had concerns about my mental health.
I was scared and making bad choice after bad choice. I was giving myself a bad look, and it wasn’t reflective of who I knew I was inside. I felt I was a burden, I couldn’t get my act together, and I felt that I was too different to ever fit in. I was certain that if I consulted a doctor or specialist, I’d be diagnosed with the “Nick Disease” and locked away forever. My only choice, I felt at the time, was to end my own life.
With the help of my sister, who I thank God for every day, I finally got help and I now have a great life. I see a therapist and a doctor. I also work with NAMI Bucks County’s Ending The Silence team to speak to students about what they should do to get help if they need it so that they don’t have to go through what I went through. I didn’t know what mental illness was when I was younger, so this program is special to me. I wish someone would have come and talked to me in school to make sense of what I was feeling. The positive feedback I receive from the students I speak to has made me incredibly emotionally wealthy.
The moral of the story is: stigma stole time from me, and I don’t want that to happen to anyone else. People diagnosed with mental illnesses, gay or straight, are not bad people, and getting help is responsible. Life is difficult enough without the challenges of mental health and sexuality. I have learned to embrace my gifts and talents (art, speaking, writing) as my superpowers that I share to empower and inspire others. Even though my journey has been difficult at times, I wouldn’t change a single thing. I am proud of the man I am today, and the love and support I have gotten from my NAMI family have a great deal to do with that.
My advice is to ask for help when you need it because you deserve it. Talking about your feelings and sharing your story will not only help you, but it will help others who feel as alone as you may be feeling right now. There is a place for you in this world. Yes, you are different, AND that’s what makes you valuable. Your sexual preference does not detract from that value, nor do your mental health challenges. I am an example of the successes that come with reclaiming a sad story and giving it the power to help those in need. If you’re reading this and can relate, you’re not alone. As I tell the students I speak to, “you’re epic and irreplaceable – go and make magic.”