March 16, 2014

Friends potent medicine against mental illness

A single twig breaks, but a bundle of twigs is strong-Tecumseh

A little black book bound in leather sits on my bedside table.  In it are dozens of handwritten quotes, verses and lyrics. From Tecumseh and the Apostle Paul to Allison Krauss and Eleanor Roosevelt, it is chock full of uplifting words.

My little black book is one of my most cherished possessions, given to me by a special friend during my darkest hour.

The words have lifted me up when I was down. They have reminded me that we can lose everything but everything will be okay. At least long as we have friends.

Ever since we shared my struggles with the world, friends have inspired us. They have taken care of us. They have loved us and they have helped us.

I had been at the Menninger Clinic for a day or two when anxiety overwhelmed me. I worried about my wife and children and felt guilty for the pain I’d caused them. The thought I would be away from them and from home for weeks was torture.

It was hard to focus on my recovery until I heard the excitement in the voices of my children about their upcoming trip. They were to leave the following week for a 7-day Disney cruise.

Some dear friends who wouldn’t take no for an answer insisted on an all-expense paid trip for my wife and children. It turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. More thoughtful friends brought gift cards for restaurants along the drive to the port. Still others brought gifts, care packages and hugs. It didn’t cost us a penny.

It was like Christmas morning for my children, only better.

Their trip lifted my spirits more than anything had in a long time. Knowing they were embarking on the trip of a lifetime gave me peace and helped me focus on my recovery.

Countless other friends showed their love and support too. They fed us for a month with casseroles and gift cards. They cleaned our house while my family was sailing toward Mexico. They cut our grass. They brought breakfast—Pop Tarts, waffles and cereal—so mornings would be a little easier for my wife.

They sent notes of encouragement and prayed for us daily.

When I had a chance to reflect on all our friends have done for us, it made me smile. It also made me think about so many who suffer in silence with little support.
They suffer in silence because of the stigma of mental illness. They feel ashamed. They feel scared to ask for help, and they don’t. So they suffer alone.

Soon after my overdose, I felt God calling me to tell my story. I hoped it would help me cope and give others hope.

What I didn’t understand at the time is telling our story is the best medicine of all. Shame loses its power when we drag our problems into the light.

And it does so much more than that. It lets those who love us care for us and pray for us. When we are not ashamed to admit we are hurting, it lets our friends shower us with love and hold us up when we can’t stand on our own.

Maybe the best thing about the support of friends and family is what it does for our loved ones who suffer as much as we do, just in a different way. They need hope and encouragement too, something friends can only provide if they know mental illness is choking the life out of a family.

I hope someone who is alone and in agony will find the courage to share his or her story. You don’t have to start a blog and share your pain with the whole world. But tell a friend. Tell a family member. Tell a coworker. Tell somebody.

I know it isn’t easy. When we are depressed, we want to withdraw. We want to isolate. We didn’t even feel like answering the phone or returning a text.

But knowing we aren’t alone makes the struggle against mental illness a little bit easier. For me, it has made all the difference in the world.