Last night I attended a meeting dealing with mental health stigma. Lots of young adults, teachers, young filmmakers, clergy, a few of we professionals, but also families of the afflicted. They all worked to extricate ourselves and our communities from the all too common fear or embarrassment of mental illness. Their messages rang out with pain and hope! Good for them – brave folks speaking about what can no longer be hidden. The take home missives were to feel safe in being honest and learning how to ask for help.
I left re-connected to an ever so palpable sensitivity. It is for the suffering of the family of the affected. This expands it so a family is defined more than by blood. It is our collective spirit. What we saw and felt that night made us cry within ourselves, to be sure, but also to cry as a community. What we saw is not of a them or me; it is of us.
The event’s primary sponsor’s ended with a preview, a stirring documentary, about their son who, burdened with a history of horrid schizophrenia, three years ago to the day took his own life. Many of us felt compelled to hug the young man’s mother from our own struggles to soothe her.
Many of those who went to her had also lost family by suicide. Many, like me, who had not so suffered, just needed to outwardly touch her and try, oh so much to try, to give her a fix of peace. Inwardly we feared life because what happened to her could happen to us. It is tendering of love to her, a reality to us, and anger at what we as a community and profession missed that might have saved those people. In all our touching was born again the certainty that in the human reality comes pain to us, but our touching can unfathomably cultivate new strength from those memories.
I went back stage to find the young man’s father. He stood in the wings, looking at a bright but vacant stage. “Thank you, “I said, touching his shoulders from behind, “thank you…” I needed to honor his bravery, to allow him time alone, and somehow shape in him that from his pain another life may be saved.
All that is well and good, but it left me pondering how inside this good man, how hard it must be, how solitary, with feelings so contemplative and poignant, to make sense out of his life.
I wanted to say the same to all who lost lives for all the wrong reasons.
What energy and purification that night brought to we who did not have mental illness but nonetheless suffered its upshots. Imagine the power given to a suffering person who is asked to join us. A first-step ticket from fear and isolation to membership and love!
Break the stigma by making them not afraid to ask to be touched.
Break the stigma by not being afraid to touch them.