Mental Health Awareness Month

R.B. Wood | Published: April 30, 2024
Co-Founder and President R. B. Wood on Mental Health Awareness Month and what it means to him.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I wanted to take a moment to share my own story on the topic. 

Those of you who know me, know I went through a series of traumatic events nearly ten years ago. I won’t revisit that nightmare here (I’ve spoken about it at length on my personal blog), but in sum, I suffered a heart attack, a pulmonary embolism, 31 strokes, and, not one, but two bouts with head and neck cancers.

Oh, and I died on the operating table. Twice.

Don’t be upset. I got better!

It’s the strokes and the aftermath that are important to speak about—not because of the impact on my memory, motor functions, and executive cognition—but the real aftermath—the help I received that allows me to live with my stroke-induced neurodivergence. 

30 Days later, in Rehab…

While today, discussions of mental health are much more mainstream than they were, it is the treatment and counseling. That, more than the paddles or the brilliant surgeons, saved me.

The “series of unfortunate events” that occurred happened at age fifty. I found myself unable to walk, unable to speak, and my executive functions in tatters. I never thought I would be able to function in the world from a cognitive perspective again. 

I was no longer able to do the work that I’d been doing as a career for the previous thirty years. I couldn’t focus enough to read or write. The pit of despair I fell into was deeper than I thought possible. Despite the fact that I had and have a loving wife who stood by me, I felt alone. Trapped in the remnants of what was my mind.

That’s when I was saved by various therapeutic medicines. Occupational and Physical therapies taught my body how to function properly again (yesterday, for example, I walked 5 miles at a rate of a mile every 16 minutes). But what helped me to make peace with my “new brain-damaged self” and how my mind now functioned, was my team of neurologists and neuropsychologists at Brigham & Women’s hospital in Boston.

They helped me to mourn who I was—and yes, that is a thing—and helped me to discover workarounds for the permanent mental disabilities I now must deal with daily. There are still bad days. But, with help, I’ve learned to deal with them.

“Helping” is why I co-founded House of Gamut as a non-profit. To help marginalized voices tell their stories. I received so much assistance to transform my neurodivergent and damaged brain, that I wanted to turn that positive experience into something that I could do to help others. My little way of trying to give back the love and support I still receive to this day.

And this is more to the point of this article. There are so many forms of mental health ailments, it might seem overwhelming at times. But there are people who can help—no matter the affliction. Medications are improving every day. Therapies are being refined based on new discoveries, and the public is becoming more aware of this health crisis all the time.

And the best part? Social media—for all its shortcomings—allows us to share these experiences and find people and groups who suffer as we do. For free.

There exists today more tools and more information on the mental health crisis than has ever been available before.

If you are looking for help, you can start online at Mental Health First Aid or The Mental Health Coalition

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Awareness leads to acceptance, which in turn leads to hope.

There is hope. And help. And that is the point of my post. Mental health issues do not have to be the end of your life.

Trust me. I’ve been dead before.

Peace and kindness,

Richard (R. B.) Wood

President and Co-Founder, House of Gamut