If you've ever met me, I want you to know this.
For those of you that don’t already know, here’s something about me I’ve always been a little reluctant to share.
I deal with clinical depression and anxiety.
It hasn’t always been easy to deal with. In fact, sometimes it is really, really, really hard. You wouldn’t know it because I hide it. It’s a natural reaction to hide it. When my depression flares up, it feels like a weakness, so I do my best to make sure no one sees it. Depression feels like a selfish, guilt-ridden, horrible weakness.
But it isn’t. You know that, right? Clinical depression and anxiety disorders are as physiological as any other ailment. Someone with a mental health issue has a brain that isn’t regulating its chemistry correctly, and/or the circuitry is out of whack. Think diabetes of the mind.
I’m lucky enough to understand this. I’m also lucky enough to have close friends and family who get it, too. I’ve been on the brink of taking my life twice, but it is the people around me that have kept me alive, as well as ultimately knowing, regardless of how irrational my thoughts and behavior became, that it was not me. It was a disorder that could be corrected.
And it can be corrected. Most mental health issues, if detected and treated soon enough, are completely treatable, manageable, and preventable. I’m living proof. It took some time to get everything right, but my brain chemistry is balanced. You don’t have to walk on eggshells around me because I have “depression.” I can handle bad news. And I can enjoy life. In fact, I married the most beautiful, compassionate, goofy girl I have ever met. I’m ecstatic that I get to live out the rest of my life with her.
I’m not proud of the fact that I have depression. But I am proud of the fact that I sought help when I needed it. I’m proud of the fact that it hasn’t destroyed my life. I’m proud of the fact that I have it under control. And I’m proud of the fact that I’m comfortable enough with myself to stand in front of all of you and say, “My name is Ryan Kulage, and I have depression.”
Some people, in fact A LOT of people, aren’t as lucky as I am. They haven’t had the support and the knowledge I have been lucky enough to receive. We lose a lot of young people to these disorders without reason. Suicide the the SECOND leading cause of death for 15-34 year old Americans (and Missourians). Know what the leading cause is? Unintentional accidents. More people die by suicide in that age range than by homicide, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or HIV.
I know this has been long, and if you’ve made it this far down, thanks for sticking around. Now I’m going to ask you to make a difference. I now work for a non-profit agency called CHADS Coalition for Mental Health. It was founded by Larry and Marian McCord after they lost their son, Chad, to suicide. During his struggle, Chad specifically said that once he recovered, he wanted to be able to stand in front of a crowd of people and say, “My name is Chad McCord, and I have depression.” He never got the chance, so his parents became his voice. I just became his voice today.
It goes deeper than that. I owe the McCords for my life. Without them, I’m not sure I’d be here. They gave me knowledge, support, and they dropped everything when I was in crisis on more than one occasion. Not because I’m special, because this mission means that much to them. CHADS Coalition is working to make sure no one suffers in silence again.