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"We're going to create a happy memory on this day," my mother told me. It was August 22, 2015. We were getting ready to go see comedian Kevin Hart perform at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri, the latest stop on his worldwide What Now? tour. My mother was doing her makeup with a smile on her face, but she could have easily been crying instead, mascara running down her cheeks. Two years earlier on this day, I had attempted suicide.
I never believed I was cool. I couldn't. Instead, I was wired to dislike myself, to believe I was worthless and that “cool" was reserved for people much more special than I could ever be.
I entered therapy in high school, though, and ever since I've been on a quest to believe in myself healthily and fully so I can, in turn, freely express myself to the world. I began to ask myself what type of people represent the qualities I wish to embody, and it seemed the answer was artists, writers, creative types. Musicians.
I had always thought of going to concerts as a kind of spiritually uplifting and important experience. I began to think more deeply about why I have seen certain musicians perform and why I chose certain people to experience those concerts with me. Asking ourselves "why" is always complicated because it demands honesty, soul-searching, and self-awareness. My soul-searching revealed the ways in which live music and performance have provided a safe place for my mom and me to connect through the tumult of my depression.
On September 24, 2011, when I was a junior in high school, Mom took me to see Taylor Swift at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. It was dark and cold, and we were in nosebleed seats. The next day at school, I heard all about how some of my friends were on the floor and got to dance with, touch, and take pictures with Swift when she wandered into the crowd. I was jealous at the time, but now understand that my experience that night held its own significance. At that time in my life, going out in public and experiencing anything fun was rare. And yet after the concert, I was asleep in Mom's Ford Explorer before we had even left the stadium parking lot. I was content. I felt safe and full of music.
On August 9, 2013, Mom took my younger sister and me to see Bruno Mars on his Moonshine Jungle tour. I was struggling at the time and was in one of the darkest places I have ever been. I battled demons of self-defeat while wearing a brave face for those around me — especially for my mom. I attempted suicide just 13 days later, but that night the three of us laughed, sang, and gave ourselves to the music we loved.
On July 30, 2014, Justin Timberlake performed at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Mom joined me and my sister at the concert: She sang, danced, laughed, and took videos and pictures. She bought us shirts with JT’s face plastered on the front. She didn’t want to forget that night; she didn’t want me to forget. She wanted to give me a bright memory to shine through the darkness that often overtook my brain. To this day, we talk about that show whenever we hear a Justin Timberlake song.
On August 22, 2015, we attended the Kevin Hart show. He is the only non-musician we've seen together, but our reasons resonated just the same: Mom loves his comedy, and it felt like a sign that his tour landed him in Kansas City on the anniversary of my suicide attempt. Once again, we found ourselves immersed in the occasion. We laughed and created a happy memory to help brighten the shadow of that dark day two years earlier, just like Mom wanted us to do.
Depression and anxiety have forced my hand a lot in my life, but I’ve gotten better at channeling them for good over the years. The unwavering support of my mother has been key to doing so. She always claims she doesn't have any talent, but she actually has the most important talent of all: She is great at taking care of people she loves, even when it’s sacrificial, when it’s hard, when she doesn’t immediately know exactly how to help.
Attending these concerts with my mom was how I tried to repay her, how I tried to take care of her — and I didn't even realize it. Most young people might not think it's cool to attend concerts with your mom, but experiencing live music with mine has been paramount in helping me inch toward self-discovery. In fact, it almost felt instinctual for me to spend all of my college graduation money on two Justin Bieber Purpose world tour tickets — one for me, one for Mom.
"I don’t like the idea of you spending your money on me," my mom said to me when I first suggested buying the tickets.
"You’ve spent yourself on me my entire life," I told her. "Let me."
After graduating from college in December, I temporarily moved back in with my parents. Mom and I spent January cleaning out my bedroom, and we came across the dozens of journals I’ve kept, clothes I'll never wear again, pictures I'd forgotten were taken, magazines and books I’ve collected over the years. We also found my tickets from the Justin Timberlake concert and Kevin Hart show, my shirts from Bruno Mars and Drake, my concert book from Taylor Swift. These items, symbolic of experiences and memories I will always hold on to, are my favorite kind of therapy receipts.
As we cleaned, Mom played Justin Bieber’s Purpose album from her phone. She wanted to memorize all of his lyrics before April 6, and she did. We had something to look forward to: Anytime Mom heard Bieber on the radio, she’d say, "It’s our friend! How many more days?"
When our date with Bieber finally arrived, I left all of my troubles and uncertainties behind. The music washed it all away. I stood among a sold-out crowd of people who had shelled out every ounce of emotion, and I thought: What a high it must be, to be on that stage knowing that all of these people are here specifically to see and hear you.
But I also know we all have our own groups of people who are here for us, whom we love and who love us back, who inspire us and whom we hope to inspire. We all need fans, and I’ve never had a bigger fan than my mother.
There’s only one way to describe how I feel when I'm at a concert, in the same room with out-of-this-world musicians I admire, and with Mom, who has dedicated her life to building me up into believing I can be every bit as special as those musicians: Cool.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their emotional health, visit Half of Us for resources and ways to get help.
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