November 22, 2019

By Albert Dabah

I grew up with mental illness in my family. I was the youngest of four siblings — Joan, Victor, Barbara and I — in a Syrian Jewish household. When I was young, Victor and Joan both died by suicide. These losses had, and continue to have, a profound impact on my life.
When I was 10, Victor was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I remember walking past his room and hearing classical music. When we spoke, it was only about baseball. It was his favorite subject and he talked about it passionately for hours. 
Victor became our family’s unspoken secret, hidden away upstairs when guests came over. When I was with my friends and passed him on the street, I prayed that they didn’t realize he was my brother. I was ashamed of his mental illness but even more afraid that I would turn out like him. 
Victor was hospitalized for three years, but it didn't help. His condition worsened over time and one day, he decided to take his own life. 

My family felt the heartbreak, but they couldn’t verbalize it. My father and mother kept all their feelings bottled up. Barbara pretended it didn’t happen. Their silence made me feel like I shouldn’t talk about my grief. I turned to baseball as an escape against my parents’ wishes.
Joan was supportive after Victor’s death. She was a kind and compassionate person, but also headstrong and overly independent. By 18, she had already moved across the country to California and married her first husband. Although 3,000 miles apart, we always kept in contact, and she encouraged me to continue playing baseball.
Joan was a free spirit, totally unpredictable. She could be sweet and innocent one moment and in the next, confrontational and blunt. Her suicide did not come as a surprise to me. She wrote me seven letters in the seven days leading up to her suicide. The letters declared that our father never loved her and detailed her intense loneliness. Joan was the kind of person who was always looking for love and acceptance because she couldn’t find it in herself. 
I had done what I could to help her and although I felt grief, I also felt overpowered by anger. I had just gotten engaged and my life was going well. And now, I had to face yet another loss. I had no control over my life and that feeling was debilitating. I felt like a failure. I couldn’t save my brother, and I couldn’t save my sister. While everyone else in my family just went about their business and avoided talking about the suicides, it was always on my mind.

Finally Sharing My Story

My life returned to a sense of normalcy after years of therapy. My therapist encouraged me to write as a way of healing. I poured all the emotion, grief, guilt, regret and love I felt into writing a feature film screenplay detailing the losses in my life.
My love of baseball came from Victor. Although it might seem obvious to some, I never truly realized it until I had written the film. Joan constantly encouraged me to follow my passions no matter who told me otherwise, and for that I am thankful. The love I have for my siblings has never subsided. My words are a love letter to them, all the things I wish I could have said, all the feelings I wish I had showed. 
I’ve found that writing about my struggles was the greatest way for me to feel comfortable and heal. But, it took a long time. I spent 20 years completing my passion project, my film, “Extra Innings”. I hope that showing this film around the world will start a conversation around breaking the stigma around mental illness and finally bring unspoken secrets from the dark into light. 
There will never be an easy way to deal with grief. There are no right emotions. One’s feelings, no matter how shameful they might be in the moment, are valid because they are real. Every day is a learning process and every day, it can get a little easier.
For anyone who is struggling please always remember, you are not alone. 
Albert Dabah has been in the video production business for forty years, as owner of Simba Productions, which in 2016 was named one of the top 20 production companies in Manhattan. He’s had the opportunity to work with notable directors and actors such as Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise. Albert oversees the company’s productions, spearheading the creative meetings and brainstorming sessions integral to Simba’s success. He recently finished his first feature film that he wrote, directed and starred in, “Extra Innings,” a family drama twenty years in the making based off his life story.  

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We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices. Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.


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