Commentary: What my struggles with mental illness have taught me


Gazette/ staff photo

Max Schwartz is a GBHS senior and co-editor-in-chief of the Granite Bay Gazette.

 I walked into my first-period Spanish 3 class the same way I had every day since the beginning of 11th grade and took my seat.

  Señora Hill stood up at the front of the room and on cue the class recited, “Buenos días, Señora Hill.”

  Before beginning a typical lesson of the day, she had a story to tell us.

  She began to tear up. A student a year earlier, she said, was outgoing, positive and had a great sense of humor. Around the middle of the first semester in her class, he seemed to check out, so she approached him one day after class to ask what was going on. He responded with a tone of indifference concerning his failing grade, which was out of character.

  She then looked him in the eyes and asked if everything was OK. He broke down crying in response and confessed that it was not. Señora Hill skipped lunch that day to take time to continue talking and eventually took him to see the school counselor to get help, which saved him.  

  The student in the story was me.

  What I was feeling in my sophomore year wasn’t sadness – it was emptiness, and I had no way of talking about it because my friends would just tell me to stop being a downer. I didn’t eat much, didn’t pursue my normal interests on the weekends and stayed in my room. I wasn’t myself. After the conversation with Señora Hill in 10th grade, I began to see a therapist every week.

  He made me feel secure in telling him what I was struggling with and listened without judgment, which helped me immensely.

The student in the story was me.

— Max Schwartz

  Fast forward to the middle of my junior year. I had made made very large leaps in the right direction in terms of my overall well being. One morning, I woke up to the news of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain having died by suicide.    

  I’d had enough. I started to Tweet. I wanted to broadcast my illness from a few close friends to my 300 or so followers. I made it clear people should reach out to someone struggling and always check up on their friends. I finished by telling my medium-sized following that anyone could message me at anytime and I would be there for them.

  A huge weight lifted off of my shoulders from a Tweet of 200 words. A passion ignited in me that I haven’t experienced since before my diagnosis. I have a power to do something about this and make my voice heard.

  Months later, and I am in an even better place. I picked up reading for pleasure once again, something I haven’t done since 8th grade. I was deep into “Atlas Shrugged” when I received a call around 1 a.m. from a friend, one of the most popular kids at school. He mumbled the words “I don’t want to be here anymore” under his breath, slurred in his drunken state. He was going to take his life.

  I broke into a sprint, exiting my house yelling to my parents that I’d be back soon, ignoring their confused, just-waking-up calls of “where are you going?”

  Using a location app, I eventually found him at a local park. He had a bottle of bleach in one hand, and an eerie sense of familiarity swept over me. We sat on a bench for an hour or so, just talking about life.

He mumbled the words “I don’t want to be here anymore” under his breath,

— Max Schwartz

  After awhile he handed me that bottle and we poured it out together. We immediately embraced, and I told him how much I cared about him. I took him home, and after talking to his confused parents about what happened, the hurt in his mother’s eyes resembled what I saw in my mom’s a year ago.

  I visited him every day after school, making sure he was eating and telling him about what went on that day. Today, he is doing so much better. I can’t say for sure if I didn’t answer that call if he would still be here. But what I do know is that I found my calling to help others.

  Today, I am a co-editor in chief for our national award-winning newspaper, a captain for our state-recognized wrestling team and an activist for mental health. None of these things would be a part of who I am if I didn’t come to another person about my struggles.

  So if you ever are going through something and feel alone, find someone and reach out.

  Even if it’s in Spanish.