Hope is what you get when you suddenly realize that a different worldview is possible. –NT Wright
Anthony Bourdain’s death this week has gotten me thinking about how to help people who suffer from depression and mental illness. I tread lightly because I know its a subject that is misunderstood, but I have decided that I will not let fear prevent me from making my best attempt to make a difference.
Over the years, I’ve been impacted by the suicide of a few I was close to. In addition to the sense of tragic loss of life and friendship, I also felt something was lost, much like an athlete might feel after losing a competition. What could have been done to change the outcome? What effort could I have put forth that might have made a difference?
Some might say this second guessing isn’t healthy, that we cant take on that kind of responsibility. Granted, people make their own choices, but none of us can make it in isolation, either. I have decided I would rather err on the side of saying too much than not saying enough. From personal experience I have learned this; depression ferments in silence.
Two summers ago, the life circumstances in which I found myself was creating a despair that included a belief I didn’t have anything worth saying, so I quit writing. I gave up. I gave in. That’s a pretty good warning sign.
Years before this, I met author Mary Pipher (Best known for Reviving Ophelia) in our restaurant. I took the opportunity to tell her how much I appreciated her writing and she said something in reply that took me by surprise.
“I hear you’re a writer, too.”
I stumbled over my response, thinking in my mind, “How did she know that I like to write?” I probably said something stupid and self-deprecating, and was certainly uncomfortable that she drew attention to it. But my point is this. Depression led me away from my true self. If I am a writer, what is causing me to not write?
I titled this post, How I confronted depression. The slow progression I made back to my right mind was a refusal to take identity with it. I deal with depression. I am not Depression. My good friend and colleague deals with mental illness. He has bipolar. He is not Bipolar.
This may just seem like a play of semantics, but I believe its important to distinguish identity from illness. Given the choice of thinking of myself as a writer or as depressed, which would I choose? Not very easy when stuck in the thick of it. But that’s where voices of those close to us become so important.
My sister, who’s advice I respect deeply. Made a significant impact on me when she did two things for me during my darkest hour. One, she acknowledged my pain. She didn’t ignore it or sidestep it. She sat with me in the ashes and grieved my losses with me. But she went one step further. She called me back to my identity. She reminded me that I am needed by many, most importantly my family. “You are their Leader” she said. “And they need their Leader in these times of crisis.”
That was huge.
So from this, I have concluded that I need to continue to write and to speak. I will use my voice to call those around me back to their identity. Staying silent helps no one. I will ask the awkward question. I will address the elephant in the room. And if in doing so, I can encourage one person back into healing and wholeness, I’ll consider it a well fought victory.
You are a writer.
You are leader.
You are not your illness.
You are so much more.