There are plenty of reasons to be anxious and depressed right now. Mass shootings, communities devastated by hurricanes and earthquakes, threats of nuclear war. In these chaotic times, it’s normal to feel like things are spinning out of control.
But in my tiny corner of the world, the chaos feels closer to home—a deep grief, visceral and pulsing.
My mother died August 24th. It’s an event so surreal I hardly know what to make of it. How do you exist in the world without your mother? None of us know how to until we have to. Whether we have had biological or adoptive mothers, from the beginning we are nurtured by women who become our biggest cheerleaders, even if we don’t fully appreciate or grasp how much they love and root for us.
At 77, my mother lost her will to live. It had been slipping away from her during six decades of severe depression and anxiety, suicide attempts and suicidal ideation, and she was finally ready to let go.
But I wanted to keep her.
Just like we all wanted to keep Lindsay.
My mother and my childhood best friend, Lindsay, suffered similarly. They were both stoic women, fighting feverishly to assure the outside world—and even those closest to them—that everything was OK. They had a knack for authentic listening and empathy, such that they made you feel like the center of the universe. Their attention was always reassuring, but it meant their focus could be easily shifted from themselves to others, in order to keep hidden what was really going on with them.
This is the nature of depression, anxiety, and isolation; there continues to be a stigma that it’s not OK to be not OK. Instead, those in the depths—like Mom and Lindsay—will hide, disappear, or redirect us because they have no energy to navigate the holes in which they are stuck. When you feel like this, it’s hard to let others in.
In her twenties, my mother attempted suicide. She’d been in her self-described “black dog” state since age 19, when her father committed suicide in the bathroom of their family home. Four years later, after she gave birth to my brother, her post-partum syndrome became unbearable. At 23, her suicide attempt would have been completed, had her then-husband not returned home early due to a cancelled softball game and got her life-saving emergency care at the local hospital.
Lindsay’s October 2010 suicide attempt was completed, and my mom’s so easily could have been too. Were that the case, I would never have met Lindsay—who had one of the earliest profound affects on my becoming a writer. I only wish I could have told her that.
Today is World Mental Health Day. It’s a day to tell others how much they mean to us, and to support those for whom we suspect there is something larger beneath the surface of “OK” or “fine.” It’s a day to share our stories, to show we are listening, to advocate for empathy and resources, to speak truth to the deep isolation those who suffer from mental illness feel in this world.
None of us are immune from mental illness, and it’s time to stop pretending like we are. When we give voice to real struggles, lives are saved. When we ask one another, “How are you doing?” and we are open, real, and vulnerable, lives are saved. Let’s climb down into the holes with each other, not trying to “fix” everything, but instead being fully present—showing we care and that we are ready to join hands together to move toward the direction of safety, before it’s too late.
I now have this beautiful vision of my mother and Lindsay hugging in heaven. Two kindred souls, who each fought so hard to survive as long as they could. I imagine the joy they feel when they trade notes on loved ones—those whom they nurtured, formed, and shaped. I see pride too. Pride at the fact that their lives and legacies continue to influence me and so many others.
There are plenty of reasons to feel overwhelmed right now. But we are stronger in connection, not isolation. Even when the world seems like it’s spinning out of control, I see Mom and Lindsay, and I know we will all be alright—as long as we reach out to one another, lifting the veil on the hard stuff. This is how we can march forward in love, saving one life at a time.
Join me in supporting Team Loving Lindsay’s Out of Darkness Walk, held Saturday, October 21 at 8:00 a.m., at Triad Park in Kernersville, NC.
Read about Lindsay’s story; help us keep her memory alive!