by: Russ Pitts
I was never a big believer in mental illness.
I would know people who would say they had problems, or who would take this or that drug for this or that disorder, and I would politely condescend. I would smile and tell them how sorry I felt, and then silently remind myself that they were living in a fantasy.
To me, people with mental illness were confused or weak, or worse: just looking for attention. I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from seeking help, but I also wouldn’t encourage them. And I absolutely wouldn’t listen.
I would say, “I wasn’t raised to believe in that sort of thing,” which I’m not really sure is true. But it made for a good conversation ender.
When I realized that I also had a problem, things changed — but not as much as you’d expect. People with depression and anxiety get good at denying what is happening to themselves, and I was no exception. I thought that even if there was something real happening to me, I could outsmart it, or simply suffer through it like it was a bad headache. I was wrong, but it felt good to decide to remain ignorant. I would pat myself on the back for how steadfastly I was sticking to my ideals, meanwhile blithely ignoring a mounting pile of counter-factual evidence. I was forgetting one of my favorite quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
What Emerson meant was that it’s a good thing to be able to change your mind. It’s a good thing to admit that you are wrong. Because sometimes you are.
After years of denying to myself that I had a problem, I finally, one day, began to take seriously the effect my anxiety was having on those around me. I began to see through their eyes what my anxiety looked like, and it wasn’t pretty. I could finally no longer ignore the obvious: I suffered from anxiety, and it wasn’t going away.
Since that day, I’ve paid special attention to those I know who are also suffering. I’ve tried to be encouraging and supportive. I’ve listened. And by being open to their problems, I’ve found that I’m also more open to mine. We heal together.
A few weeks ago, when a freelance writer named Matt Hughes took his own life, I decided that it was time to make a stand. I didn’t know Matt and had never worked with him, but I know countless people like him. People who suffer in silence, alone, because the thought of admitting a problem is more painful to them than the problem itself.
As I thought about Matt and all of those like him I asked myself, “What could we, as a community, have done for Matt? And how can we do better for everyone else?”
Take This was founded to be a voice in the darkness for people suffering from depression and anxiety. It is our hope that through the sharing of our stories we can bring some peace to others who suffer, so that they will at least know that they aren’t alone.
Already, just in the organizing of Take This, our members have shared with each other their stories and individually gained some small measure of comfort and healing. It’s been remarkable to see, and I can’t wait to be able to bring that same spirit of openness and caring to a larger community.
In the days ahead, to start with, we will be sharing our personal stories of depression and recovery on this blog. Where it goes from there is up to you.
I hope that when this project gets into full swing — and the true depth and nature of the epidemic of depression and anxiety is revealed — it will no longer be possible for any of us to continue to ignore this terrible disease.
Depression and anxiety are real. It affects people all over the world, from all walks of life. It affects rich people and poor people, Democrats and Republicans. It affects smart people and particularly creative people. And it affects people who may not even be suffering from it themselves.
If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, we want you to take this. Because it’s dangerous to go alone.
-Russ Pitts, 11/18/2012