From depression to suicide, we need to start talking about our ‘Shades of Blue’
I closed the cover after reading “Shades of Blue: writers on depression, suicide, and feeling blue,” letting it sink in, and realized I’d had this experience before.
And then I remembered: in a 12-Step meeting for adult children of alcoholics.
If you’ve never been to a 12-Step group, it’s not like a support group, where there’s a facilitator, questions, and people talking back and forth. In a 12-Step group, only one person speaks at a time on the day’s topic, for however long s/he needs to. Whoever else wants to speak does, and those who don’t — don’t.
The first time I went to a meeting, I just sat there absorbing stories from all sorts of different people with all sorts of different circumstances, but with one common denominator: the experience, and fallout, of having an alcoholic parent, or parents.
As people shared their pain, sorrow, shame and anger, it hit me: “I’m not unusual or weird or defective. I’m not alone.” They ended the meeting holding hands in a circle, and chanted in unison, “Keep coming back — it works!” I did, and it did. It may have saved my life.
There was one pivotal point in particular, when someone at the meeting led a guided meditation on taking your inner child for a walk. Well, my inner child and I found ourselves in a burning building, with flaming embers falling all around us, the structure groaning and crackling in an orange fireball, and this realization popped into my head: “We have to get out of here right now or we’ll die.” In my mind, I scooped her up and we fled to safety. In real life, I ended a marriage that was devouring me emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Had I stayed… I might not be here right now, telling you this story.
That’s the power of listening to others’ stories, feelings and strategies, and sharing your own… of finding complete and total acceptance, ugly feelings and all… our “blue” sides that we don’t want to reveal, let alone talk about. But feeling the feelings and talking about them anyway is the key to recovery.
John Bradshaw, an expert on alcoholism and its effect on the family, used to tell a story of a man stuck in a dark cave, scratching at a hole through which shone a tiny ray of light. The man died trying to reach that light, never willing to venture into the darkest corner of the cave, where there was a tunnel — that led to freedom. Bradshaw would summarize, “The way out is through.” This is so true of our darker thoughts and feelings. You can’t run from them, you can’t hide from them. They are swifter and more cunning than you. The only way to slay the dragon is to turn and face it. And, the weapon is words.
This epiphany came to my friend, author and screenwriter Amy Ferris, who was as deeply shocked and devastated as everyone else when Robin Williams committed suicide. His death was the ultimate expression of keeping up a bright, bold front on the outside, but inside, you’re aching with despair. Amy decided that the conversation about our blue feelings needed to start. She enlisted 34 of her writing colleagues, of which I am one, and asked us to expose our blue sides, whatever the saturation. And we did — mostly because of Amy, who is a force of nature, a one-woman oracle of inspiration and encouragement. To be invited to join her in this heartfelt project was truly an honor.
And, also difficult.
You see, I haven’t revisited my blue years, which span decades, literally from the day I was born, in a long, long while. I wouldn’t have pulled the scar off those emotional wounds, which are still full of pus, had Amy not asked me to. I’m grateful I did, though, because it provided exquisite clarity about what happened, what choices I made because of that, and where I am now. Hindsight is 20-20, particularly if you wipe the fog of denial off your glasses and peer closer.
Dang, that’s some ugly stuff there.
Each of Amy’s writers revealed their own ugly blue stuff, and wow, what a spectrum. But whatever the hue, whatever the story, we’re all strung together by this wish: That someone drowning in chronic depression or, worse yet, considering ending his/her own life, could read these stories, privately, safely, and discover, just as I did in that 12-Step group so long ago, “I’m not unique. I’m not unusual or weird or defective. I’m not alone.” And, moreover, “I want to live.”
One of the factors in suicide is “feeling alone” — that there’s no one who understands and, in particular, no one who cares. “Shades of Blue” is a hand reaching out to those who feel alone. You aren’t. There are others who have felt this way. We don’t have quick, easy solutions, but we do offer hope that you may not always feel the way you feel now. Just for today — stick with us. For however many todays it takes. Tomorrow is possible.
A friend told me yesterday that she’d just ordered her copy of “Shades of Blue,” which will be released by Seal Press on Sept. 28. I thanked her, assuming she’d done so just to be supportive. But the expression on her face hinted otherwise. I asked this person, who is bubbly and funny, smart and successful, if she’d struggled with depression, and was floored when she replied, “Oh, heck yeah.”
And then I asked, “And suicidal thoughts?”
She nodded her head, and said, “Doesn’t everybody? I mean, we just don’t talk about it.”
Wow. Amy was spot-on. We must start talking. It will save lives.
You know, upon further thought, “Shades” isn’t really about depression and suicide after all. It’s about courage — gathering courage from the safety and comfort of others who have been — and maybe still are — blue… and, finally, talking about it.