The Burden of Mental Illness
As a daughter of immigrants, I am very lucky to have two brave, selfless, loving parents who sacrificed everything to put a roof over my head and a college education on my resume. I have a younger sister who looked to me for guidance and support while we were growing up, and who provided both when I was struggling. I have friends who showed me their homes and their hearts year after year, and even after everything I put them through, they never left my side.
And it's because of those people that this page is here. The only reason I made it as far as I did is because of the people in my life whom I felt I owed it to to keep fighting. I didn't want to abandon them. I didn't want to burden them. I didn't want to let them down.
But to be honest, I'm tired. I'm tired of fighting. I'm tired of feeling like a prisoner in my own body. Like a spectator of my own life. That's what mental illness does to you. I tried to hold out for as long as I could. But every bad day, every disappointment, every heartbreak, every anxiety attack just reminded me that my time here had an expiration date.
My illness is not what some would call legitimate. Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, borderline personality. These problems do not always manifest themselves in a way that others can see. They are invisible sicknesses. They do not definitively show up on brain scans or blood tests, not even the ones the nurses took when I landed in the hospital for my third suicide attempt. They may be physically painful, but not enough to draw sympathy from others who have never experienced them before. There are no common remedies. People won't bring you dinner or write you cards or take you to Disney World when you want to kill yourself. It's not the same as really dying, because it's your fault. And it's not that physical illnesses like cancer aren't absolutely devastating to a person and their loved ones as well. But depression, recognized by the World Health Organization as the number one disability in the world, is still not recognized as a real problem on a global scale. When people find out about it, they don't rush in to help. They turn away. They awkwardly pretend it isn't there.
So there is no foundation to help me in the aftermath of this illness. Even if my sickness weren't real, the debt I have left behind is. There are hospital bills and college loans that I incurred while I struggled through my depression and anxiety.
I realized during my senior year of high school that I may have anxiety, and I started seeing a psychiatrist and taking a medication. Perhaps because I was so young, or because of the stressful environment of my residential science and math high school, I became overwhelmed by my symptoms and made my first suicide attempt in the spring of 2009. I spent a week in a behavioral health center and when I came back, despite a letter from my therapist explaining I was fit to return, I had a lot of difficulty convincing my administration to allow me to continue my schooling and graduate. I felt like a criminal, as if I had done something wrong because my depression and anxiety had gotten the best of me.
However, thanks to my family and friends, I was able to pull myself out of the darkness and had three great years at my university. My grades actually improved over time, I joined a dance team, and became very active in public service. Things seemed to be going well.
Then, things took a turn for the worse my junior year of college in the fall of 2011. I was raped by an acquaintaince and endured an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship for almost six months. While I was able to cut that individual out of my life and have a much more productive and happy spring semester, the effects of that trauma never left me. I had another breakdown during the fall of my senior year in the spring of 2013 and made a second attempt on my life. Stressed about my mounting hospital bills, I wanted to come back immediately after and graduate to avoid placing a financial strain on my family, but the administration yet again pressured me to leave school. They may have thought they were acting in my best interests, but they didn't understand the burden my family would have to deal with if I had to spend another semester at school.
Once again, however, my support network never let me give up. I was able to graduate the following spring and served for a year through AmeriCorps. Giving back to my community made me feel empowered and fulfilled, but it was not enough to overcome the trauma I had faced years before. I had a third crisis this past fall in 2015 and ended up in the hospital again after a nearly lethal overdose. While I was released from the hopsital after a very brief stay, I came out with very little therapeutic benefit and a mountain of bills.
Having a mental illness is expensive. My current medical bills total to a little over $13,000 and my family is still paying off some of my hospital bills from three years ago. My student loans are now about $7,800 dollars. I tried to stay alive long enough to repay them, but I kept succumbing to the unbearable desire to end my pain. My family does not deserve to suffer while I am gone. I want to help them, but I can't. I know I owe them more than this. I am asking you to help me. Please help me help them. If you have anything to spare, even if it's not a monetary donation, I know they could use your help. Maybe you could send them a letter, or bring them dinner. If you won't donate towards my cause, maybe you could give money to an organization that helps people suffering like me. In college, I gave my time towards my school's chapter of Active Minds, a nonprofit that seeks to decrease stigma and support those dealing with suicide and other mental illnesses.
If you can't donate, there is still something you can do. You can tell someone you love that you care about them today. You can encourage your friends to talk about their mental health. You can offer to provide a listening ear to someone you know who is struggling, or sign up to volunteer for a crisis hotline. You can research the way that mental health services are funded where you live and how they could be stronger. In the state where I'm from, North Carolina, regional offices cut $110 million dollars from the mental health budget just last year. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to be able to afford help when I was sick, but not everyone is that lucky.
So I am asking you for your help. Please help the people in your life who need it most. And if you can, please help my family. Don't let the illness that made me feel like such a burden while I was alive burden them in my death.
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
― David Foster Wallace
We would like everyone to remember Priya not for how she died, but for how she lived, and how much she achieved in spite of suffering from this cruel disease. She was a proud graduate of NC School of Science and Mathematics and UNC Chapel Hill, a National Merit Scholar, an accomplished dancer, a mental health advocate, an AmeriCorps volunteer and so much more.
Priya had this to say about mental illness (in November 2014) :
“Mental illness is difficult because it's like fighting a battle that your mind convinces you is not actually happening. It is an invisible disease compounded by stigma and ignorance on a global level. This pushes people into dark places of shame and silence. When you get a broken leg or you have diabetes, you see a doctor and sometimes you take medication. Whatever it takes to get better. When you have cancer, people grant you wishes and bring you dinner. They celebrate your little victories. People facing suicidal depression or bipolar disorder or anxiety deserve to navigate their illnesses with the same support, understanding and care."
We will spend the rest of our days honoring Priya's fight and all that she was to us. Thanks to your generosity, some of the money raised has been used to set up the Priya Balagopal Memorial Fund with XDS, Inc, a local not-for-profit. The fund made it possible to deliver weekly produce bags from their farm to 45 severely mentally ill individuals in 26 households, and we hope to extend support to more individuals in her memory.
If you wish to continue to support Priya and her cause, tax deductible donations can be made payable to XDS Inc. (please specify Priya Balagopal Memorial Fund under the memo section). 100% of the funds raised will be spent on supporting those who share her struggle.
Thank you again for the incredible amount of love and support.
For more information on the fund : http://xdsinc.org/donate/
Please continue to cherish and appreciate the people in your life by writing them a note and telling them what it is about them that makes you appreciate them. Please do not wait till someone is dead to share with their family and friends how special they were.
Please continue to remember Priya for the way she fought for over 10 years in spite of the tremendous pain she suffered and for honoring her memory by continuing the conversation about mental illness.
The wonderful people of UNC's Bhangra Elite are donating the funds from this year's Bhangra Sutra to Youth Villages and Active Minds in Priya's name. The event is this Friday - buying a $7 ticket in advance gets you in, gets you delicious catered food, and you get to see groups of amazing dancers as passionate about what they do as my sister once was put on a super fun performance.
Tickets can be purchased here : http://www.etix.com/ticket/p/5748112/bhangra-sutra-2016-111579-chapel-hill-carolina-union?cobrand=CarolinaUnion
I'm going to be speaking at this event for my sister and this is something both supremely important and really scary for me. Please consider attending, your support and presence will genuinely mean a lot in what has been feeling like a never-ending nightmare.
Grieving for my sister feels like an unfathomable experience every day - none of this truly seems like reality as my lifelong reality since birth has always included Priya. We have said it many times now, but thank you everyone so much for the support, love, accommodations, and everything else that I can't cover in an update post. Please do not hesitate to reach out to my family and I for anything. Reaching out has been incredibly difficult for me personally as I struggle with mental illness; depression leads me to feeling withdrawn and unable to communicate with others.
I find comfort in knowing one of the most important things that Priya would be proud of if she were still here would be to embrace her values and share them with others; that includes mindfulness about how inclusive we are when we speak, being a good listener, and fundamentally challenging ourselves to treat others with the respect and concern we likely desire.
Again, thanks a lot everyone. We really hope to see you this Friday.
PS: Even if you cannot attend please consider buying a ticket! There are lots left over and all the funds will go to two organizations my sister really cared about.
This is Geetha, Priya's and Shalini's mother. We greatly appreciate all the love, support and help during the past few weeks. We would like to especially thank the following:
*Board of Directors and Members of the Greater Carolina Kerala Association for their exemplary support and help in organizing a memorial service for our beloved Priya on Saturday, January 30th at the Cary Senior Center.
*Active Minds at Carolina for organizing the candlelight vigil for Priya on Friday, January 29th.
*Friends and family, some of whom travelled hundreds of miles to attend both the vigil and the memorial service and shared their heartfelt memories of our sweet, strong and goofy Priya. Thank you to those who could not attend but wrote powerful words that were read during the service.
*Compassionate strangers who contributed to Priya’s cause and shared words of comfort and stories of their own pain, loss, and grief.
*Jessica Banov, Editor, The Cary News/Southwest Wake News &The News & Observer for spending many hours with us and allowing us to share a slice of our precious Priya and her immense pain and brave fight in the hope that it may help others who struggle with this cruel and relentless disease. Here is a link to the article
*HSNC for sponsoring and to Renu Jain for organizing a Psychological Health and Wellbeing Panel Discussion tomorrow, Saturday, February 6th from 1:00 – 2:30 pm. If you live in the area and would like to attend the free session, please see details below.
Date: Saturday February 6th 2016
Time: 1:00-2:30 pm
Location: HSNC Mini Hall; 309 Aviation Pkwy, Morrisville, NC 27560
Topics of Panel Discussion
o Common misconceptions
o Recognition of signs and symptoms
o Talking points for family discussion
o When to speak to a trained professional
o Local organizations and resources
We will continue to do all that we can to honor Priya’s life and her powerful message and mission to help other families suffering from this cruel illness. We will also continue to share updates. Thank you again to everyone for your support and help. It is very much appreciated. May God Bless you and yours.
A coworker posted this link and I can not emphasize how badly I wish I could have known such an incredible being like Priya. I have also had depression and anxiety for over seven years and have attempted suicide. Everything Priya said is 100% true. People do not see mental illnesses are as serious as they are or even that they are real. So to the friends and family of Priya, I promise to continue to educate those who do not understand. I promise that if there comes a time that I can not keep pushing on, I will think of her and how upset I am just reading this. I pray you are given the strength to carry out what Priya stood for. And I pray that I will be blessed enough to meet Priya in another life.
Being someone who has suffered from depression and anxiety my entire life, I know the struggles and the pain. The stigma, the hush-hush "don't talk about it in pubic" that is so common especially coming also from NC.. I, personally, have never felt the urge to end my life or the wanting relief of nothingness.. But in 2014, I lost my father to suicide.. He and I had had countless conversations about my depression and anxiety, even down to the last conversation we had the day before he took his life, and not once did he ever in my 28 years confide in me that he was struggling with them also. It's been over a year now since he passed away, and not a day goes by that I don't miss him. But I'm not angry at him for leaving. He couldn't see a way out of whatever was going on at that exact moment.. He chose poorly, leaving his wife (my step-mother), my siblings and I, and his 7 grandchildren.. My son, and only child was only 6 weeks old at the time.. It was the worst and hardest thing I've ever had to experience.. But I know that he is finally at peace ❤️
Hi Shalini, I want you to know that you are not alone. I am sorry for your loss. Your sister was clearly a remarkable woman. I sent you a message on Facebook. I run a mental health non-profit called Stigma Fighters. You are welcome to share your story with us. We are also happy to offer you support.
Shalini, getting to spend Thanksgiving with you and Priya was such a pleasure. Being able to give both of you your first "real" Thanksgiving, was such an honor. Our family is deeply sadden by Priya's death. In just a few months, she became an be of our "kids". While I am in shock, she obviously was in so much pain. Her death will not be in vain. She will continue to help people fighting this horrible disease. Please know that we are here if your family needs anything. Please know that her student loans AND medical bills will never have to be paid. If you provide a death certificate to her debtors, all will be wiped clean. Use this money for good. Use it to help your mother and father. Use it to pay for her memorial service. Use it to keep her memory and fight alive. My prayer is that your family finds comfort in stories from those that knew her, from people that you have never met that were impacted by her honesty and her story. Her smile as so bright. She lit the room when she walked in. Her laugh so infectious and contagious. She made making pickles fun for all of the kids. I am so blessed to have gotten to spend time with her. I pray for peace and understanding. I know her life meant more to those around her than she could ever imagine. Thank you...for all that you will continue to do to help others.
I am only wishing that I could talk to Priya or could have. But I understand the feeling of not feeling help from anyone. Its an internal struggle. I really appreciate that woman for sharing that suicide is not evil, it is something to escape the pain. Pain is different for everyone. Even sometimes smiling causes me pain, i dont even associate with my smile. I was also raped and it ruined me for years. May this post from her be a lesson to those who have evil running through them, so that they can stop their selfish behavior. It is not selfish to die, it is selfish to cause others to. I am sorry that life was not easier for her, i am sad that she could not find the light at the end of the tunnel. I wish nothing but the best for the family. She was beautiful.
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Hi, My name is Brooke and while I was doing research on how to start a go fund me account to help save my brothers life..I came across your page. What you're doing for mental health awareness is amazing. I am so very sorry for your loss. Priya was so brave and beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story. Our family is in desperate need of help for my brother. My brother is so very intelegent, he has his master's and actually works (when he's well enough) in the mental health field helping children up to the age of 18. He loves to give back and would do anything to help others in need. However, hes very sick right now. Over the past 2 years he has fallen into a very deep depression, he also deals with anxiety and panic attacks (now more than ever). It took almost a year just to find the "right meds". He continues to take his meds and goes to counseling on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, something triggers his depression to take over so badly he feels like his only option is suicide. Over the past two years he has attempted suicide five times..the most recent attempt was almost two weeks ago..and we almost lost him. His marriage is beginning to fall apart and as his sister I'm just so scared of losing him. When he leaves the hospital his wife isn't going to be at their home..she wants time apart/separation. He cannot go home to that right now or to even be alone. Is there any information you could share with me on how I could raise money for my brother to get long term care (a month or two) where he can focus on himself and getting through this awful time? I'm trying to help him before it's too late..
I am a 2nd generation Indian-American and I’ve lived in the Triangle more than 15 years. I was deeply touched by the interviews your family gave to the Chapel Hill news only two weeks after Priya took her life. While growing up in Southern California and living there as a young adult, I experienced mental illness for years and I felt very isolated even while in contact with my community. I certainly hope that is not your experience. I became a licensed family therapist in large part to heal myself. And it is an honor to serve others in their healing. If anyone in your family would find it useful to speak with me informally, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line. My heart goes out to you guys. Peace be with you on the one year anniversary of Priya’s passing.
Shalini, Ms. Wrayno sends a huge hug, and wants you to know that she would have been at Priya's memorial, but she was sick and didn't want to spread that to others. She loves you. I care about you. And I'm sorry I wasn't able to give you that in person. Please find me, I'd love to speak to you again. :)
Priya, I just wish I knew you while you are here. I would have gone to greatest lengths to keep you around here since planet earth needs more of wonderful humans like you. Just like physical ailments, illnesses bother us, mental illness does too, but more deeper. I myself struggled with the darkness of the depression, not long ago and thanks to my Psychiatrist and the Psychologist, I am able to get back to normalcy. I still am working hard to not let the depression bring me down. I will not and I give you the word that I will look up to you, up there in the heaven to keep persisting. Wishing you the best of the best, up there in heaven! At times, God wants the best flowers in the garden here on earth to be up there as well, so the bloom and the fragrance brightens up the heaven. Rest peacefully without any stress or anxiety, my little sister! Warm regards, - Srini.