My recollection — which is wrong — is it happened out of nowhere and for no reason.
It was a Sunday in November 2009. My wife and I and Michael, our youngest son, sat in a Quinpool Road restaurant, waiting too long for the dim sum we’d ordered too much of to finally arrive. Suddenly, Michael started to cry. And couldn’t stop.
He was 26 years old. He’d graduated six months before with his second degree. He was smart, funny, quirky, creative, with a head full of ideas for future books, movies and projects. He had a smart, funny, quirky, creative girlfriend. What could be wrong?
We knew he didn’t have a job, but new-grad jobs were scarce then. We knew he was anxious about the future. We knew he hadn’t been sleeping well.
“It’s going to be OK,” I said.
It wasn’t. He kept crying. We asked for the dim sum to go.
That was the beginning of what Michael calls his “nervous breakdown,” four dark months when his life became “about the things I was leaving behind rather than the future I was going towards.”
I know now just how common Michael’s experience is, especially among smart, funny, quirky, creative kids who grew up believing they could be whatever they chose and suddenly smacked up against a world that could care less.
I know too just how dangerous that time can be. Michael has friends who killed themselves, others who tried.
Michael was lucky.
His mother became his advocate through a mental health system that needs way more of them. We had resources to pay for private counseling. Michael was able to get medication that worked. And he began writing what became Colony of Losers, a widely read blog — “about falling on your face to figure out who you are” — to make sense of the experience for himself and help others understand they were not alone. Over the course of a year, he came through the darkness.
It’s now more than six years later. Michael has a good day job. He’s produced the first season of an independent web TV series, Just Cuddle, and is writing more TV pilots and screenplays than I can keep track of.
He is — we are —lucky. But far too many still fall through the cracks of a system that doesn’t work for most. We need to change that.
This column was written to accompany a series on mental health published by Metro Halifax .