Behind the Smile, by Michael Garuiccio

Let me preface this by saying, I am not writing this for any reason other than wanting to tell part of my story. I am not looking for pity, or social media responses. Simply, I want people to know that the truth can be misleading. That the people who look the most put together, can be the most broken. Mostly, I want to say what I have been feeling needs to be said aloud. Maybe it will resonate with someone else. Maybe it will not.

For those who know me well, mental health is an important topic for me. On the surface it would make sense, being that my roommate and good friend has survived multiple suicide attempts and has taken on advocacy as a vocation and profession. One of my close friends from high school died by suicide suddenly during our freshman year of college. So naturally, this issue has been close to my heart. However, unbeknownst to most I have struggled on and off with depression for more than a decade. So literally, this has always hit home for me.

In 2015, my roommate Drew attended a gala in New York raising money for his job, a non-­‐profit that does mental health education programs for young people across the country. When he returned from New York, Drew was blown away by what he had seen. The event, A Celebration of Life, was started by a group of fraternity brothers at Vanderbilt University who lost one of their brothers to suicide. To try and raise awareness, they threw a concert to raise money for mental health advocacy. Years later, as these men had grown into their careers and moved across the country, they had decided to turn it into a gala. The event had 300 young professionals come together in New York City and raised $125,000.

Drew had told me this, and said to me: “This is an amazing event, we can do this.” For me, it was a no brainer. I would do whatever I could to help Drew along the way. A Celebration of Life: Philadelphia was born. The months went by, and we began to see it come together. Sponsors, donations, ticket sales; the vision was becoming reality. We were incredibly excited for this amazing night that would not only raise money for our cause, but also would bring so many incredible people together to celebrate life (and party all night).

The night before the gala, I was out with some friends in the city. I had gotten to a bad place mentally, via alcohol. This had become a pattern for me at that time. Drinking and going out would be a vessel of hope for me. The possibility of making new friends, and meeting someone, was always exciting and made me hopeful of change regardless of my mental state.

Unfortunately, drinking began to open mental barriers I have developed over time to hold my anxieties and depression at bay. I would begin to fall into deep depressive states late at night after drinking, and over time it would grow into suicide ideation.

That night, I began to think about and dwell on the loneliness I had felt for much of my life. I sat on a street corner by myself in the night crying, feeling hopeless and not able to see change. I walked to a parking garage in the city, and climbed the stairs to the top. The same parking garage Madison Holleran jumped off of two years earlier. For whatever reason, I had always felt a connection to Madison. She and I had never met, but she died the same week my friend had. We were struggling at the same time, in the same city, for many of the same reasons. I was always walking in the city, out and about. I would wonder why we never crossed paths. Maybe we could have connected; maybe we would have become friends, maybe.

I stood at the ledge, looking to the street. Thinking on my life. Thinking of my struggles. Wanting to simply not be sad anymore. As I stood there, I began to think more of the change I was desperate for. For whatever reason, I made a phone call. I called a friend, who honestly today I cannot tell you who it was. They did not answer. I called another friend, no answer. I called one last person, at 4:00am. My friend Patty, at 4 o’clock in the morning, answered the call. Patty talked to me for what seemed like hours, though it was probably closer to 20 minutes. She got in her car and drove to pick me up. She took me to her office where in the early hours of the morning, she talked me through and developed a new plan to get my mental health on track.

I was worried now that I would not be able to attend our event, which was so important to Drew and me. After some sleep, I had come back to a manageable place. We had our event, and it was a great party that lasted deep into the night. We are now going into our third Celebration of Life:Philadelphia now having raised over $150,000 combined over the first two years.

I tell this story, simply because in a time in my life where I am struggling for much different reasons, I wanted to tell some truth about my past. That you never really know someone simply by surface. That pictures rarely tell the truth. That someone who looks so happy could have almost attempted suicide just 24 hours before.

Mike Garuccio blog

I hope that if you are struggling, you have the courage to reach out. I know I would not be here today, if many times over I had not reached out for help. I still struggle every day, but I have the tools to beat mental illness. I will always try to help and support those who need it, to the best of my ability. Whether it is through our advocacy work with A Celebration of Life, or simply a hug or phone call. Please know, there will always be someone who cares.