A Top Priority


This is a statement written by Liz Pritchard, this is her own recollection of events and personal opinion on the topic. Only evidence listed as fact should be taken as such.

My name is Elizabeth Pritchard. Most call me Liz or Lizzy. For the majority of my life, I have spent too much time worrying about the consequences of being honest. Afraid to tell the truth out of fear of being ridiculed. It has kept me trapped and silenced for years. I now feel that I have reached a place to let my voice be heard. For anyone who needs a partial explanation on who I am, this is it.  

When I was 17, I was diagnosed with severe mental depression and anxiety. But I didn’t need a doctor to tell me that. I had already known this information since I was a little girl. No child should feel uncomfortable in their skin, but I did. After enduring years of bullying and trauma, I started self-harming in 8th grade. I’ve tried to commit suicide three times. Each morning that I woke up after an attempt made me feel worse about being alive. Like I couldn’t even die correctly. Although I’m a high-functioning person, I can say that I have depression.

I tend to keep myself occupied by things that take up time and can distract me. That’s part of the reason why I fell in love with percussion. I started learning to play in 5th grade and joined band in middle school. Although I said I’d quit after every year, I never did. I joined marching band when I got to high school, which was better and worse all in one. It became fully apparent to me how music educators treat their students; abusive and disrespectful. As if they’re no longer people once they step onto a field, just programmed robots. 

I remember my senior year of high school, I had gotten kicked out of my house for a short period of time. It was the week of the Tournament of Bands Marching Festival. I had missed morning rehearsal because any 17 year old that gets kicked out wouldn’t be focused on attending classes on time. My band director knew about my situation as my mother had updated all my teachers and his response to my absence was to be on time because it’s competition week. That was apparently the most important thing to tell me. A young girl in need should prioritize a band competition over herself. I witnessed this kind of behavior multiple times over my time in high school. This didn’t stop there.

I’m currently 20 years old and a junior in college. I decided to join the marching band my freshman year, continuing my musical hobby. As much as I have a deep connection to music and percussion, being in college marching band was…quite the experience. I could go deeper into that, but the point of this statement is to talk about this past school semester. On Friday, October 18, 2019, I chose not to attend the standard marching rehearsal that afternoon because I felt that I needed to take a mental health day. To me, mental health days consist of taking care of yourself, taking a break from the consistent routine that you go through each day. That morning was destined to be a negative day. I knew I was going to have a depressive episode from the minute I woke up. My brain instantly attacked me and I felt awful. I still went to campus because I thought being around friends would change my mood. It didn’t. Before 3 PM, I texted our percussion technician that I couldn’t go to practice because of how I was feeling. Shortly after that, I missed 2 calls from them and the director. 

On Saturday, October 19, 2019, the school hosted the Zia Marching Festival as they do every year and I was in attendance for that because I understand the importance of a performance. [I’ve been performing since I was a toddler and I have never missed a performance. And that’s true.] The weekend passed, Monday rolled around and the band didn’t have an official rehearsal since we did a parade march to the Presidents’ House. I went to rehearsal on Wednesday as scheduled. That afternoon, the director pulled me aside and wished to know my reason for missing the last Friday rehearsal. Without going too much into detail, all I said was I wasn’t feeling good and needed that mental health day. That didn’t seem to mean anything to him as his response was that I let the band down. He said that he has grounds to cut me, but wouldn’t. He told me that I disappointed him, disappointed the drumline and I owe my section an explanation. That was it. As I normally would, I didn’t let this affect me. This director has said some outrageous things to me and other members over my time in college, so I went about my day and finished rehearsal.

The next day, October 26th, was the Homecoming football game. I had showed up late to the morning practice at the football stadium as a person may do. This wasn’t a big deal, but the director was determined to turn into that. He started by calling over my percussion tech and asked him what he should with me because after last Friday, he just ‘didn’t know what to do with me anymore.’ Managing to contain my facial expressions of disbelief and ‘shookethness,’ I calmly explained that in my personal opinion, he shouldn’t do anything as this has never been a common occurance and I already told him my reason for missing Friday. I turned to my percussion tech and asked him if I’ve ever missed a practice or a game day like this before, to which he replied no. The director proceeded to say that he doesn’t care about my opinion, told me to leave my uniform and said I’m done. I said okay and did exactly that. 

Now, I’m not upset for being kicked out. At the end of the day, I always viewed band as a hobby. And after this, I realized it didn’t provide me happiness. (If anything, I blame 80% of my crooked spine on it.) I’m upset because of the message behind his actions, behind his words. He refused to examine all the facts, strip down the power dynamic titles, and view me as a human being. When I was explaining why I missed that Friday rehearsal, I didn’t think it would’ve been appropriate to say what I was actually thinking; that I had a depressive episode and was contemplating death that day. That I believed my energy would’ve made the environment a negative place. I don’t think saying that would’ve changed anything, but it wasn’t the time or place to do so. That’s why I said ‘mental health day’ because people should know what that means. 

I view Mental Health Days as a time when a person truly cannot carry on with the repetition of their everyday process. Wake up, go to classes, go to work, go home. That’s all we do. Sometimes our brains need to take a break to recharge. The brain is a muscle and it can get stressed out. Sometimes, there are days that are worse than others. Some days, it feels like the biggest struggle to get out of bed, to even wake up. Life just doesn’t feel worth living. Having your first thought of the day be, “Damn. I’m still alive.” There are people who go through these depressive episodes and that’s me. It might sound cliche, but that’s the truth that so many people deal with.

After doing research, these were the most recent reports on mental health that I had found. According to 2018 statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 47.6 million (19.1%) adults, ages 18+, have a mental illness. That means 1 in 5 adults has a mental illness. Out of that number, 11.4 million (4.6%) people were considered to have a severe mental illness. That’s 1 in 25 adults. 7.7% of people, ages 18 to 25, have a severe mental illness. That’s 2.6 million people. There are millions of people on this planet who are battling a mental illness. 16.2% are Black/African-American, 37.4% identity as LGBTQ+, 4.3% have thought about suicide. That may not seem like a very high percentage, but it’s 10.7 million people and 1.4 million attempted to take their life. In a 2018 national survey from the Substance Abuse and National Health Services Administration, results found: 

  • 7.2% – 17.7 million people were diagnosed with major depressive episodes.
  • 19.1% – 48 million people were diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
  • 45 – 54% said they couldn’t afford the cost of treatment.
  • 25.4 – 29.6% believed they could handle it themselves.
  • 29.3 – 31.6% said they didn’t know where to go to receive treatment.
  • 21.3% didn’t have time due to school, work, family, etc.
  • 22.5% were afraid of being put on medication or committed to a facility.
  • 20.1% experience homelessness due to a mental health issue. 

These numbers are too high for each of us to not know that someone in our lives, someone we interact with deals with it. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and this is an epidemic. This is a disease that we aren’t working hard enough to find a cure for, if there even is one. 

So my problem here is why didn’t this director care? Perhaps he didn’t know what mental health days meant and I shouldn’t have made assumptions. But even as he was throwing me out, he didn’t care about the truths that I had said. Examining the entire story, he only saw one side and completely ignored the other. More importantly, he only saw one part of a person and refused to see the entirety of a human being. The titles that have been placed on us by whatever institution do not matter when the choices you make as a person affect someone else’s reality. My absence from Friday rehearsal did not affect the band or their reality. Rehearsal still went on as normal. Missing band didn’t affect my reality. I still had a depressive episode and felt terrible. But when you enter others’ realities, the choices that everyone makes affect each other. This directors’ choice drastically affected my reality and my future, now I have to live with that. I don’t know if it was for better or worse, but I’m figuring it out. The point I wish to get across is the lack of respect that people give to those with a mental illness who do not wish to fully disclose it. Honesty is a very strange thing that people tend to dance around and most of the time, we dance out of consideration to the other person. I chose not speak exactly what was on my mind because of that. Now I feel like sometimes it’s important to do exactly that, out of consideration to myself. 

By being kicked out, I believe this director was saying that he didn’t care about my mental health needs because it’s mental health. If I had said I fractured a bone that morning, it’d be a different story. Visually, you can see that proof. But there shouldn’t be any disconnection between physical and mental health. Health is health. Self-care is truly important. For someone to deny another person the right to prioritize their needs over a class is inhumane. Authority positions mean nothing, when above everything, we are all human. We all think, feel, make choices. Any choice that I make for my well-being should not affect anything else. Especially when that thing is a music program. I understand that there is an importance of practicing. I do believe in the phrase “practice how you perform” and it is important to show up. However, there will always come a time to make a decision. Life is a series of making choices. Sometimes you have to choose yourself over everything else. If anyone doesn’t understand that, make them. 

After beginning to protest and raise awareness for this issue, the Dean of Students at my campus is conducting a case against me to determine if my protest classifies as a harassment against the director. I sent this exact statement to them. I brought my case to the Office of Equal Opportunity on campus, but upon reviewing, they decided not to investigate. So doing the thing I know best, I’m speaking my truth here. Perhaps it will inspire something to change. Maybe not. All I wish for people to know is my truth and my perspective. Agree if you’d like, I don’t care if you don’t. But to whoever is reading, it’s just something to think about. Et c’est juste la vie.

Peace, love and happiness,

L.A.M.P.  

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