Monday morning, folks… Monday morning was magical. By Monday afternoon, we had raised all of the $1000 plus some extra for Rylie’s hot wheels. So. Much. Joy. Curt has been out of town all week, but you better believe I clapped and danced all day long… and ever since. You are remarkable, brave, and generous people and we are so blessed to walk this life with you. We’ll talk a bit more about this project after the weekend. Who am I kidding? We’ll talk A LOT more about this.
Monday night, the world lost the great Robin Williams to suicide after battling depression. I wish I could say, “I can’t imagine,” but the bare truth is I can. I absolutely can. Darkness is a very real presence at my table and an open topic in my marriage. We’ll talk a lot more about all this, too. But, later.
There have been some ridiculous, hurtful, and ignorant words publicly written about mental health and faith in the last couple days. There have also been some glorious, hopeful, life-giving words. The following two responses have been my favorite because of their specific truth in my life:
by Ann Voskamp
Late Monday evening, a dear friend of mine emailed and asked if I would make room on my blog for her words. She needed a place to lay it all down. Since this is a safe and kind and honest kind of neighborhood here, and since I am the boss of me, I said absolutely. Today, we make room for her story:
• By Good Day Sunshine
Robin Williams died today.
To some it was just another heartbreaking, tragic Hollywood story. As a child who grew up with Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire, Aladdin and even a little bit of Mork & Mindy, just to name a few, it was like this person I ‘knew’ was suddenly gone.
And it was also SO much more than that.
My mother called to tell me. I’d been washing dishes and barely heard the phone ring for the last time as I turned off the water. I missed the call and called her back, and she broke the news she’d just heard on television – he was gone, and of an apparent suicide. And then, almost as if on cue, she said something I’ve heard her say my whole life – “you just never know what people are dealing with” – and I’d never heard it so clearly.
It was so clear because, against anything I would have ever seen coming, MY family has been those ‘people’ over the past few years. And, again, like she said, you just never would have known.
A little over 3 years ago, just before my 30th birthday, my world started unraveling. The very, very short story (that I know won’t seem short) is this:
My father suddenly started acting VERY bizarrely shortly after an operation he’d had. We couldn’t figure out what was going on, and finally got him to the Emergency Room. Like a punch to the face, we left that day carrying a diagnosis for him of bipolar disease. You know, one of those things that doesn’t happen to people you know. To your family. He was in the ‘manic’ phase – really, really happy, not sleeping, unbelievable energy, spending money frivolously, all very ‘high’ things. Therapy and medication helped level him out fairly soon (although living it seemed like 46 eternities) and we hoped we were home free.
Not so fast.
The stress and insanity of the few months our family went through this did two big things: really, really upset a chronic illness that I have and made me very, very sick, and also uncovered a drinking problem that my mother had. Again, something that doesn’t happen to your people, right?
After therapy, anti-depressants, medication for panic attacks and about a million doctors visits and trips to specialists, I got myself situated. My mother did not.
Fast forward a few months and I am sitting in the office of a professional interventionist, planning with my family to ambush (as I saw it at the time) my mother and take her – on the spot – to a rehabilitation facility nearby. I felt so deceitful, so dishonest. I had never ever lied to my mother and doing all of this brought with it a ton of lying and sneaking around.
Ringing the front doorbell to the house that I grew up in, in line with my sister, aunts and uncles, to surprise my mother and tell her all the reasons she needed help and needed to go away was the most nauseating thing I have EVER done. It is also, believe it or not, the thing in my life I’m the most proud of. I knew, way down deep, that we were saving her life. Rehab was a precious gift to our family. It’s not been the smoothest path since she finished, but it has been so so much better than it could have been.
So we’re good now, right?
Opposite of the mania, the other end of bipolar disease is depression. Most folks tend to go that way first, then mania next. Dad went the other way. The mania was first and was very, very worrisome and unpredictable. The depression? I don’t know that I have ever watched something so heartbreaking. My father, the former college athlete, the astute businessman, the ‘father to everyone,’ the guy who doesn’t shut up ever because he never meets a stranger and wants to talk to everyone – he was disappearing before our very eyes. Losing amazing amounts of weight, hallucinating, sleeping ALL the time, avoiding anything and everything social, convincing himself he was in financial ruins and that everything we knew in life was about to be taken away… I have never been so terrified in my life. Another Emergency Room visit, 3 days in a psych holding unit (I now know exactly what Hell looks like) and another 4 in a locked psych unit. And then several months after where he hated us all for putting him there.
So sure, some people close to us knew about all of this (and they were and are incredible heroes to us), but very few. And otherwise? You never would have had a clue. My parents, in their nice house with the pretty dogs and perfect lawn. Me, with my good job and shiny SUV. But the truth was, we lived an absolute nightmare for the better part of about 3 years.
And all of it – ALL OF IT – was because of two different mental illnesses. You know, those things that don’t happen to ‘our people’. For us, it was bipolar disease and addiction.
I’ve stood in an ER parking lot convincing security guards that my dad, who was in a mental state and screaming and swinging at me, was not a mean person, but was sick…I’ve sat in the office of a professional therapist and had to admit, through choking sobs, that my mother is an alcoholic… I’ve laid in bed at night and had panic attacks that felt like they may never end…I’ve begged a case worker in a hospital to please admit my father to a psych ward because we were scared to take him home… I’ve emptied a closet in my little sister’s childhood bedroom of so many empty, hidden liquor bottles that I lost count… I have folders full of information marked ‘alcoholism and addiction’ and ‘bipolar disease’ in my file cabinets, sandwiched between the usual tabs of car insurance and power bills.
There’s so much more that happened. So, so much. But, surely you get the picture.
We are okay right now. At this very moment, we are okay. I have learned more than I ever thought possible that ‘one day at a time’ is a very legitimate mantra in life. It might blow up one way or another tomorrow, but at this very second, i think we are good. My parents are absolutely incredible people, and they each have an illness. And I’m not ever going anywhere and will do anything I can to help them when they need it.
We HAVE to talk about mental illnesses. WE HAVE TO. Lives depend on it. Families depend on it. I can guarantee you – I CAN GUARANTEE YOU – that people you know and love and people that they know and love are dealing with these things and YOU HAVE NO IDEA. It’s not your fault that you don’t know. It’s this world where it isn’t ‘okay’ to talk about it until Robin Williams dies and then we all talk about it for about 4 days and how we wish he’d gotten help, and then we don’t talk about it anymore until this all happens again to someone else.
If you need help – TELL SOMEONE. If you know someone who needs help for mental illness – STEP UP AND HELP THEM GET IT. It might get ugly and messy and really, really hard but that’s okay. You might not be able to fix it – actually, you more than likely won’t be the one who can fix it. But, if you can just get them to the people who CAN help, I can promise you, it will make some sort of difference. You will have done SOMETHING.