The Burden of Secrets: Overcoming Depression
This motivational speaker identifies his 7 steps to healing
(This article previously appeared on the website of S.L. Young.)
I’m often asked about my ability to make positive forward-progress after a near suicide. The questions normally asked are: what changed and what drives your ability to persevere?
My usual answer is: “I simply decided to move forward,” despite having severe depression. This response is frustrating to some, but it truthfully describes my action. However, upon further consideration, the drivers of my ability to begin my healing process are more complex.
There were actually seven steps to my healing.
First, I recognized that something about me was different. During this initial awareness, there wasn't a complete understanding about the manifestations of these changes, although something didn’t feel normal.
Second, I started to write to proactively manage the differences and growing distress I felt throughout my body, especially in my mind. This was an important step because it allowed me to process, analyze and address some of the unrecognizable feelings that started to grow stronger.
Third, a critical step that almost came too late, I sought help … but it wasn’t for me. As my mother’s caregiver, I needed to ensure that my mom would be taken care of once I was gone. This action also did something I didn’t plan, which was to disclose — to someone who cared about me — that I was experiencing a medical emergency (e.g. mental, emotional and physical distress).
(MORE: Suicide Risk in the Elderly)
Fourth, after some of my siblings became aware of my medical emergency, I disclosed the reason for my severe depression, along with my feelings of desperation and despair. These disclosures helped me to release the enormous stress that I hadn’t previously shared, which had the added benefit of allowing me to decompress from my mental, emotional and physical distress.
Fifth, I wrote my book Choosing to Take a Stand: Changed me, my life, and my destiny to heal myself, document my journey, analyze my capabilities and to help others who have faced or are facing similar challenges. This step was important because it allowed me to analyze and address my life challenges that led to my near-suicide. But more importantly, it initiated the process I used to heal myself and start to engage with others socially again.
Sixth, a Facebook friend of a friend wrote a judgmental comment about the reasons an individual would give up on life after Robin Williams’ suicide. My reaction to this comment led to a soft disclosure about my depression to family and friends. Then, the next day, I went even further to make a detailed disclosure about my depression and near-suicide. This was a significant moment, which allowed me to release additional and unnecessary stress related to wondering about others’ considerations about my depression — and the circumstances that led to my legitimate medical emergency.
(MORE: Robin Williams, Depression and Suicide in Midlife)
After my challenges were shared publicly, I immediately felt better and the best that I had in years. These sudden mental, emotional and physical improvements were because I was no longer burdened by internal stress and conflict, which were related to worrying about others’ opinions about my medical challenges. Moreover, the support received from friends and family was overwhelming. This also caused me to remember something that I should have already known, which was that I was loved and wasn't alone — and I didn’t have to deal with my life challenges by myself.
Seventh, I did something a week later that I couldn’t have ever imagined, I disclosed my battle with depression and near-suicide to a national radio audience. My ability to widely share my story allowed me to further release my stress. At this point, I was no longer tormented by a major source of my depression — the secrecy. By being vulnerable, I removed personal barriers and limitations to discover the courage to allow myself to share my story — while I began my recovery.
The sixth and seventh points are significant and life-altering for me because individuals who battle depression or their loved ones started to contact me about dealing with depression. These contacts from individuals who needed assistance helped me to realize that by being vulnerable about my mental health challenges, I helped others, too. This realization gave my life a greater purpose, significance and reasons not to give up on my life.
By sharing my struggles, I’m now doing something that I couldn’t have imagined a short time ago — helping others on their journey to resolve their, or others’, depression through my writing, speaking and teaching.
Now, I understand that my life has a purpose; however, I almost didn’t fulfill my life’s potential due to momentary struggles. It’s important to remember that life is about cumulative moments, which won’t always be great. If I gave up on my life, I would have cheated myself and numerous others who have benefited as a result of my decision, desire and determination to fight for my life — and also share my journey to recover from depression and a near-suicide.
My path toward recovery might not be appropriate for others, but the purpose of my communication is for others to identify something that will help them. During challenging moments, it may feel as if there isn’t anyone who cares or can help. But understand that there’s always someone who is willing to provide assistance. The challenge — many times — is to be willing to identify assistance and give someone an opportunity to help.
Remember, no matter the length of your journey, don’t forget to be your best!
Anyone who needs assistance should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at suicidepreventionlifeline.org or 1-800-273-8255.