In 1988, “Gorillas in the Mist” was a big hit. I went with my boyfriend, now husband-Pete, and our friends, Teri and Jack. The movie is the true story of naturalist Dian Essey, protector of hunted gorillas. Blood is featured prominently throughout as gorillas are hunted for cash, gorgeous animals with huge hearts attacked for no reason, their hands sold as ash trays. Essey lived and died among these rare creatures. The last scene is especially bloody. Essey’s throat is cut. Viewers see the knife slice and blood dripping from her neck. Her assailant is never identified.
As we stood up to leave the movie, I realized I could not speak. Unbeknownst to me, the movie had touched some hidden well-spring releasing a huge surge of darkness that engulfed my senses. The only two bright spots were: 1. I knew something was terribly wrong and 2. I was surrounded by supportive friends. By morning I was able to talk but dark shadows were still hovering like ghostly cobwebs in the corners of my mind. I would not wish that catatonic blackness on anyone. I understand some people can’t surface on their own towards the glimmering light of reality as I had. Trapped in that blackness for a significant period of time, I would find the experience unnerving, unbearable and ultimately unlivable.
While the initial depressive episode was almost 30 years ago, I was reminded of the experience this week while visiting Wyoming friends in Colorado and Arizona. While I was in Colorado, my friends Teri and Jack drove down from Cheyenne to see me. We laughed about our many shared good times, i.e. Like when their cat, Tiger, stole the pork roast, bigger than he off the table as we were sitting done to eat. We don’t talk about how I couldn’t get to their wedding in Jackson even though Pete was the best man because I was struggling to keep the darkness at bay and wouldn’t travel for an extended period of time. I had lunch in Phoenix with my dear friend, Holly. During my mental health struggles I would camp out on Holly’s couch for the night to make sure I wasn’t alone. Excellent counseling, medication, funds to pay for it, and a strong support system of friends helped sweep my blackness away though I still watch for triggers, such as no depressing movies. I am always thankful for the light.
I have been planning a spring break trip to California for my daughter and her friends to tour universities the last couple of weeks. She wants to go because her brother and his friend made the trek with my sister and I six years ago. The circumstances of that trip were very different than the one we are contemplating now. When I planned the trip in 2011, I didn’t know the challenges we would face. The week we were to leave I received a call from the friend’s father. He told me his wife had killed herself the night before while the family was in the house. I told him we would the cancel the trip but he insisted we go.
Right after the mom’s funeral in a Boise Episcopal church filled with Juniors in high school, we started out to California. We wound our way down the California coast, touring Stanford, UCLA, Santa Clara and finishing in San Diego. We turned home driving through Yosemite. After the park, we drove straight home, a week away in La La land resulted in my son’s friend beginning to come to terms with his mother’s death. Understandably, he wanted to get home as quickly as possible. I was so pleased this December when my son’s friend, a first generation college graduate crossed the stage at University of Idaho. After such a tragic beginning to his college career, his success gave all of us in our family a spurt of joy.
Over the years, mental health issues have grabbed more of the spotlight. The Affordable Care Act(ACA/ObamaCare) now about to be repealed requires that insurers pay for behavioral health treatment at the same level as other medical services (the technical term is parity and insurance payment for mental health is a recent development). I am an example of the success of having access to resources. Unfortunately, treatment still carries a stigma unlike cancer and too many people can’t access appropriate care either because it isn’t available or they are unwilling to admit they need help. Idaho has one of the worst community mental health systems in the nation. Our suicide rate is too high. We can strive to do better as a state. As individuals, we can all be supportive friends to those in need. My friends kept me going when I was surrounded by darkness and despair. Thirty years later whenever I’m with them I bask in their light.