As a young girl in high school, I was introduced to alcohol. Wine cooler stained drawstring bags and shots of gin hidden under kitchen sinks. I had heard word around town about Mary Jane and even caught her scent a few times but I hadn’t formally met her until I was 21. All of my vices walked up and shook hands with me, embraced me like a loved one, made me feel seen and heard, needed and wanted and I reciprocated in return. My run in with mental health was never as grand nor as memorable. It was more like a quiet tap on the shoulder in a house of silence when all of my vices left vacancies and baggage unattended. I took it for granted. I never acknowledged your existence until you threatened to leave because you felt invisible. Depression never wanted us to meet. My demons hated the thought of us actually cultivating a connection that could heal the damage done at the hands of darkness. Mental health wasn’t something to admire in my adolescence. It was a sign of vulnerability, a symbol of weakness, a message of misery. My insecurities were more comfortable when you went unnoticed. At 12 years old, in my natural curiosity, I cracked open my mother’s diary and quickly found out that she had given you the cold shoulder on more than one occasion. Suicide started to whisper bittersweet symphonies of insanity into the cracks of her resolve and ending it all sounded like the solution to her painful solitude. Her spirit cried in ways I couldn’t grasp at the time but her sadness resonated with me, every day. I can admit that I was angry with you for not holding her hand through that process and letting her know that her sorrow wasn’t a permanent fixture but an unwelcomed visitor that needed to be shown the door. She let them in because nobody warned her of the strangers that would come knocking. I hadn’t been warned either, unless we count the pages of my mother’s diary as a prologue to the pain. To this day, I haven’t confessed to my mother about the day I read her broken hearted entries but I held her tighter after that. Being an artist, I gravitated to creation, not realizing that it was an innate coping mechanism for the chaos of life. Music, poetry, film, painting, photography…it was all a way for me to manifest the beauty I wished to feel when I couldn’t find it in myself. It took me a while to realize that my relationship with you, mental health, was solely dependent on how much I was willing to embrace you because you waited for me to recognize your presence. I used to not be able to look you in the eye and now I couldn’t imagine ever letting you go.