Are you watching professional sports lately? The other day I tuned in briefly to a baseball game and was amused at the cardboard fans in the seats. The accompanying soundtrack of crowd noises brought a sitcom laugh-trackfeel to the scene unfolding on my screen. I don’t like sitcoms, and my mind wandered, but I’m told the sound effects are played over the loudspeaker so that the players can hear them and imagine a crowd, cheering them on.Evidently, encouragement matters to even these high performing, skilled players – the cream of the crop, upper echelon athletes need us – the fans. Wild, huh? Did you know you were so necessary? That your voice mattered so much?
I have a friend who is struggling right now. She is not playing a game. She did not train for this. She is not a “skilled player” in the arena. She has been fighting a mighty and courageous battle against a foe who threatens often to take her down – out of the fight and into a bondage so strong that mere survival is her greatest hope. My friend is tired. She is losing hope. And she needs help.But she struggles in secret. No crowd cheers her on. You see, her battle is with depression. And she mostly struggles alone, because it’s so risky to talk about her illness. People avoid it, like it’s contagious. And that has fostered shame and secrecy and defensive layers of silence. And I find myself asking, “Why? Why is it shameful?”
If she had cancer, she would likely have the support of friends, bringing meals and sending flowers. She could ask for help. If she was wheelchair bound, she would surely get the help she needed from the community around her, probably without even asking. If she was stricken with an auto-immune disease, there would be meal trains arranged for her in her bad periods and maybe even offers to help her clean or accomplish the little daily tasks that back up and leave us overwhelmed. People would ask her, “How are you doing these days?” But she doesn’t have those things. She has depression. And we can’t talk about that. Somehow it is shameful to admit. Somewhere along the way, the collective “we” decided that all illnesses should stop at our jawlines and anything north of that is our own fault, and if we could only muster enough fortitude, we could talk ourselves cheery and get on with it.
And so I’m asking, how is it that my friend, who works harder than anyone I know to stay healthy, but is occasionally stricken out of the blue by an illness that debilitates and consumes her, crushing her spirit, her energy and her potential, can’t talk about it openly?
I know it’s complicated, but I’m asking, why can’t my friend talk about her experience without shame hooding her eyes? Why we can’t tenderly and sensitively rally around her and all of our friends with mental illness, lending support and encouraging them in their battle? And what can we do to remove the ridiculous stigma from the physiological effects of a brain-based illness not in our control so that the fighter feels supported and worthy and loved?
Can we destigmatize mental illness? Maybe not by ourselves, but I think that together we can begin to chip away at this issue. The knowledge that we have friends that are for us in our battles is life-giving. The impact of a supporting team of loving, understanding people in the life of one who suffers and struggles with mental illness can be life-saving.
And so I’m asking you, for my friend… Do you know that you are necessary?
No soundtrack can do what you can. The battle is exhausting and hard and your encouragement is needed.
Your voice matters so much.
If you or someone you love is struggling in silence while dealing with a mental illness, please consider a CCAclass in which we’ll link arms, tackle the shame and isolation which so often accompany mental illness and work together toward hope for a better future. Reserveyour space today.