What would our communities look like, if depression were not a factor among its citizens? How would our families be impacted if everyone was mentally healthy and whole?
In May 2006, one month before I was to be married, my grandmother gradually slipped away from us, surrounded by family and bathed in love. Her passing signified a transition in our lives. The passing of the torch from the matriarch who had nurtured us, fed us, rocked and sang to us as babies, cooked, cleaned and kept a home for her husband, served on the missionary board…it was time for her to make her journey to the other side. She’d lived a long life…longer than most. My grandfather soon joined her two years later in 2008. These two had been the glue that kept our fragile family standing. We saw the eventual breakdown of our family gatherings dwindle from every Sunday, to only holidays & funerals, to the occasional visit, to almost non-existent.
Two years later, in 2010 the unthinkable happened. You know how you watch the news and hear about a terrible tragedy, thinking “Oh that poor family. I pray that I never have to experience anything as terrible as that.” My daughter called me the week before and said “Mom, I’m going to be here all by myself this Thanksgiving and I want you to come and spend it with me.” Of course, although my child was a grown adult woman, I couldn’t say no to her request. She had instantly activated my mommy radar. I bought my plane ticket and off to Las Vegas I would go. That morning as I sat at the boarding gate at Will Rogers World Airport, I received a brief, yet urgent voicemail message from my younger sister. “Hey sis. Call me. I just got some news about Matt and it is NOT GOOD.” The tone of her voice was scary, and I gathered my composure so that I could board that plane. All kinds of thoughts were racing through my head as I sat there, helpless and unable to do anything. The flight seemed to last forever, and by this time I was dreading the phone call to my sister. I made my way to the baggage area so that I could collect myself and my things.
By this time, my oldest brother sent a text to me saying, “Call me as soon as possible.” I frantically placed the call and he answered. He asked if I’d heard from the family. I told him about the voicemail from my sister. My brother said, “Go ahead and get your luggage and then call me back when you get situated.” I walked over to the carousel, located my bag and immediately took a seat to call him back. He delivered the news that my youngest brother had been stabbed and killed in a domestic argument with his girlfriend.
I struggled with sharing that story, but I thought it was important to establish the relationship between my recent experience and the topic of this article. I know the dark hole of depression all too well. I was introduced to it at a very young age. I’m the oldest of four kids with at least a five-year gap between me and my oldest brother, then another 10 years between me and my sister, and finally a fifteen-year gap between me and my youngest brother – the one who was tragically murdered.
My personality has always been a little on the melancholy side…that just means I’ve had to try harder than most people all my life to see the cup as half full instead of half empty because that’s my default reaction to life. I’ve gotten much better at taking a positive view of things, with the help of my husband, Mr. Positivity. When I say that I don’t mean he walks around on a white cloud all day humming happy songs, but he does give EVERYONE and EVERYTHING the benefit of the doubt most of the time.
In my role as the oldest child, of course I was the forerunner for all of the promising and positive things that our sibling group was supposed to achieve for our little blended family…high school graduation, college, a thriving career, then successful marriage, etc. Being the defiant one, I forged my own path. I was not going to let anyone tell me how my life should go. I had experienced the trauma of sexual molestation at a young age and it continued to happen throughout my childhood. A near drowning at the age of nine sent me further into a shell. I was somewhat of a misfit at school although I was very intelligent, however; my deep dark secret kept me from fitting in. I was teased, bullied, and picked on daily, but I kept all of these events hidden from my parents. I told no one…after all I was keeping one secret, so the rest didn’t matter.
At one very important crossroads in my life, during my teenaged years, I made an unconscious decision about my life and my self-worth. I felt at the core of my being, that I wasn’t valuable to anyone unless my sexuality or my looks were a factor, so I put it all out there. At that point, I started down a path of making some misguided choices of my own. I became sexually active and that soon resulted in a teenaged pregnancy at the age of 16. By this time, I was well acquainted with depression, still suffering in silence, not knowing that at any moment it could swallow me up and take my life.
If you spent time with a person living with depression, you will find some of the most intelligent, creative and unique individuals. The other facts on the table remain:
If we don’t change the conversation, we can’t change the mindset…
If we don’t change the mindset, we can’t change the culture…
If we don’t change the culture, we will NEVER change the outcomes…
As a speaker and writer, I often lay my personal story out for others to hear. Some may wonder if I’m ashamed to talk about my battle with depression. To that I say a resounding no, because depression doesn’t define me, I have defined it! I’ve created my own “new” normal and taken back the power that was once stripped away due to this terrible disease of the mind.
In counseling, I’d been told on several occasions that I have a “strong constitution” and I had no idea what that meant. So I looked it up:
Noun. 1. the combined value of a person’s inborn traits. 2. more generally, the primary psychological and tangible building blocks of a person, as a result of genetics and somewhat because of events encountered in one’s life as well as elements from one’s surroundings.
Those counselors were right because two of my primary strengths are belief and connectedness. I believe strongly in God, although circumstances in my life weren’t perfect. He has continued to be the source of my strength and hope. When times get tough, I always go back to this foundation and I anchor myself in His word. I also believe that everything in our lives is connected to His higher purpose. I now see depression as a gift – one that creates a deeper understanding of just how fragile we are in the grand scheme of things. I am reminded of how dependent we are on one another for support and guidance. It creates a need to reach from the darkness and step into the marvelous light.
, as a whole…not as an individual, isolated problem. Let’s look at this issue like we address global warming or homeland security, because when we think in broader terms, we take the stigma away and open up the conversation.
Depression is not a BLACK or WHITE issue. It doesn’t discriminate based on gender or socioeconomic background. It affects every sector of society (schools, employers, health care providers, service industry. When someone is depressed, their ability to be themselves is impaired. When a person is caught up in the web of depression, I say, the train has jumped the track. In order to get it back on track and to its destination, some things have to be set in order.
First, denial has to be ripped away so that we see depression for what it is…not a shameful, horrible secret to be kept or swept under the rug, but an acknowledgement of imbalance within the mind/body/spirit.
Once we shed the denial, the proper repair & maintenance has to take place. Treatment, counseling, and a human support system are needed in order to create a stable environment of healing.
Self-care is key, and for most people suffering from depression, neglect of one’s basic care is the first sign of sickness.
Finally, if I were to sum up the ideal picture of what our communities would look like if we all got on board this train, I believe our faith communities should play a larger role in acknowledging the seriousness of depression on a more practical level. We know prayer changes things and God is able, but it might be a good idea to mention that God placed counselors, psychologists and medications in our hands to give us the tools to work with. It’s really hard to do his work on this earth if our moods aren’t stable.
In closing, I want us to remember that there will be no fruit, unless we heal the root. Our communities are only as healthy as our sickest member. If we fail to recognize the hurt in our brother or our sister, where is the humanity? We after all are our brother’s keeper.
Latest posts by Paula McDade (see all)
- Six Tips to Help You Stay Sane in a Crazy World - September 26, 2016
- Out of Denial and into the Light - May 15, 2016
- Paula’s Real Talk Guide to Rebuilding a Life You Love 2.0 - March 12, 2016