In my late 40’s I suffered a major depression. That fall into despair was very frightening. I was unable to work for several months, and the generosity of friends who came to spend time with me, to go for walks, was a beacon to me. I have never forgotten the kindness of a friend who met me for lunch every week, in a local greasy spoon.
When I returned to work, I spoke honestly about my experience to the people with whom I worked. I wrote about the depression – I do not say, “my” depression, but rather, I consciously choose to say “the” depression – in a public way. My therapist later told me that when I came to her after the diagnosis, I said: “this is what it is, let’s work with it.” That acceptance was a great gift to me, and I remember clearly that at one point, I had said to God: “I can’t let go!” I didn’t talk to God for a long time after that. Now, I think that God carried me through. I had given all I had, all the resources I had to save myself, and I could not save myself. In my cry, was an admission of my own powerlessness. And in this admission, hope in surrendering to God – although hope did not feel like hope at the time.
Several years later, a young man came to visit the church where I was a pastor, one Sunday morning. As was my custom, I was in the sanctuary before worship bagan, to meet and greet folks I did not know. As I sat with him, and as we talked, I learned that he had been recently discharged from the hospital for a mental illness. At that moment, I realized clearly that I saw him differently than I would have before my own illness. It was as if my sight had gone deeper, beyond his outward appearance, beyond his illness, his suffering. I saw the young man in front of me, afraid, with an illness he would not have chosen. I saw his vulnerability. My own fear – call it “stigma” – of a person who was suffering, had left me.
From that day, I have considered the awareness I was given as a gift. So often our own fears are a barrier to see, to know, to respect the one who is suffering. I did not see the young man again, although I looked for him. I think he was an angel who brought me this gift, this awareness, this consciousness. I am grateful.