A friend recently shared disturbing news of a somewhat-related-by-marriage 23 year old who attempted suicide. My friend described her as a genuinely nice and polite girl, the cheeriest in her family. She is still in the hospital, so please join me in prayers for her healing.
The story struck a chord in me, because a young man somewhat-related-by-marriage to me recently took his own life at age 20. There are no words for the gaping painful void experienced by those who survive him. I recently had dinner with someone who held him as a newborn and loved him. This person is a medical doctor who specializes in end of life care. She was a Hospice doctor for years. For all her experience and insights on death and dying, this death undid her. It seemed to make her question bedrock things she thought she knew. So, please join me in healing prayers also for his family and friends.
These revelations instigated a conversation about the depths of depression, how some people send signals for help, and how others hide it. One friend commented:
Having suffered depression, I can empathize with those who find themselves at such a low point in their lives. It’s a prison that is very difficult to escape. For many reasons, those who suffer from depression find it almost impossible to talk about their feelings. I think there’s a certain feeling of shame associated with depression. I know I felt like no one else would understand, I must be unworthy of love or happiness, and I couldn’t complain when everyone else seemed to be able to deal with life. It felt like huge and insurmountable failure on my part and the loneliest feeling. That first step is so hard and such a relief, as well, to finally be able to talk and be heard.
The invitation to explore depression as a source of shame is too compelling to pass by. The stakes are too high. As recent posts have explored, shame arises from false messages we believe about ourselves. For one in the jaws of depression, the false messages include: I’m different. Everyone else can deal with life. I alone am a failure.
Rather significantly, the women sharing these feelings all found Buddhist teaching to be the salve that saved them from the depths. I wondered if it is because the first Noble Truth—life is suffering—meets us where we are with no apology, no facade, and no reason to hide the truth. Everyone who experiences life experiences suffering, so I am not different, I am not alone, and I have nothing to hide. I am alive. Another friend responded that Buddhist teachings about releasing attachments to ideas, especially ideas about self-identity, helped her shed layers of past hurt, guilt and conditioning.
Our self-made culture conditions us to hide suffering, but it also conditions us not to see it. If we notice too much, we might expose or embarrass someone or we might intrude uninvited on someone’s private matters. Or maybe we just tell ourselves we’re respecting another’s privacy when the truth is we’re afraid to encounter another’s suffering. Airbrushing suffering paints an unreal picture, and it costs way too much. How much better would our world it be if we all had the courage to encounter suffering—our own and each other’s?
Join the conversation. Do you have a friend that needs to talk and to be heard?
Copyright 2013 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.