i never wanted to write about depression – in fact i couldn’t have been more opposed to it. every therapist i have seen since i was 13 told me to write. write it out. keep a journal. let it flow. spill your guts. and i would always say no, no, no. no way. i didn’t want to write about my feelings. it felt stupid, uncomfortable, fake. what would i even say? dear diary, i’m still sad? forget it, i would say. let’s just talk.
but by february 2015 – just twelve months ago – something had changed. i had been sick – very sick – for the previous year. depression had rocked my world and i was just beginning to pick up the pieces. i had so many thoughts and feelings bubbling to the surface that i had never allowed myself to feel – rage. shame. despair. confusion. all mixed up in a tangled mess, like a giant knot of rope that i didn’t know how i could ever sort out.
so i don’t remember why but i started my blog – almost exactly one year ago. i didn’t want to write – i needed to write. i was finally ready. and from my very first post the emotion just flew out of me – the dam had broken and i had to just let it pour. to be honest, i didn’t start writing to help anyone but myself. i had these memories and thoughts and dreams inside of me that needed to be released out into the world. i held them inside for too long – ashamed and silent. and for me, for my own well-being, i needed to write them free.
but last week gave me an incredible wake up call about the power of stories. about the reason why i share.
i wrote an article for the washington post. i wrote about my father’s suicide in 1996. about walking in and finding his body. and about my 20-year journey as a survivor. about my own struggle with depression and anxiety. about how my dad hid his depression and my choice to be open about mine. if someone had told me two years ago that i would write about suicide and depression and ptsd in the nation’s most widely-read newspaper i would have laughed out loud in disbelief. never, i would have said, no way.
in the first day alone my article was viewed over 300,000 times on the washington post website. it was re-printed by the sydney morning herald and the chicago tribune. and it was liked or shared 40,000+ times on facebook – by NAMI, the american foundation for suicide prevention (afsp) and the american counselors association, among so many others. i have received hundreds and hundreds of emails from people i know well and from people i have never met. people in the united states, in canada, in chile, france, india and new zealand. from moms and dads and sons and daughters whose lives have been impacted by suicide loss or depression or both. and the messages all carried a similar refrain: my story is your story.
far more than being a personal success, i view this as hard evidence in the case for talking out loud about mental illness. take it from me – we are never the only one dealing with these issues. i got messages this week from people i have idolized for my entire life, telling me about their secret struggles with mental illness. i am no longer surprised when someone tells me that they have depression or anxiety. so often i have felt like it’s just me – i see now more than ever before that i am not alone. i have come to believe that having a mental illness doesn’t make me crazy or defective. it makes me human.
i have been rewarded for my choice to be vulnerable with the most precious of gifts: the stories of people’s lives. i wish i could share all of the incredible and brave notes i received this week. from warriors battling against mental illnesses. from survivors moving forward with life after devastating suicide losses. i will share the text just one – one that speaks to why i write about depression. why i choose to share my story.
your story is my story. except i am 18. and i found him yesterday. i don’t know if i can do this. finding your story makes me think that maybe i can. thank you.
no, my friend. thank you. thank you all so very much.