The autumnal change in the air has decided to lay dormant as over a hundred survivors band together in Clinton County, Pennsylvania to walk “Out of Darkness” in memory of their loved one lost to suicide or in solidarity with an attempt survivor who committed to living this day and more.
Memories and tributes and tears flow forth like the river next to them as they walk. The ancient Susquehanna pours her waters effortlessly from her west branch to her main branch continuing to her destiny with the ocean via the opening mouth of the Chesapeake; this is the path and purpose she has expressed since before the mountains collided and peaked, casting a blue pall along their ridges that reflect in her glassy waters.
The people gathered here today also walk along a planned path. And theirs too is in perfect solidarity of their purpose: to prevent losing another soul to suicide.
I am honored to have the opportunity to speak with them. We recognize the power of this day, the power of each other, the power of our stories.
Stories are currency without form or rules or limits. They are deposited and withdrawn freely; the only interest they collect is our attention. They are given to us as inheritance, meant to be shared with another, and another, and another — their lineage cannot always be traced but their legacy is everlasting as long as we continue to share them.
And so we do.
After the walk, a woman asks me to sign my book for her mother. Her brother was lost to suicide this year, and her mother is struggling with the acute pain of his loss. She shares that depression and grief had gripped her mother so tightly, that at one point it led her to believe suicide would end the pain. Thankfully, this daughter’s love along with therapy had the opportunity to intervene.
As I take out my pen and ask for her mother’s name, an older woman approaches.
“Mom,” the woman holds out her arm and envelops the woman into her embrace, “She’s going to sign a book for you.”
I look into her eyes. “I’m so sorry about the loss of your son,” I tell her. “Your daughter has shared with me that you’re having a difficult time, and so I’m going to sign this book for you. But I’d also like to give you a hug.”
She smiles faintly and we hug.
I intuitively feel compelled to kiss her cheek to connect with her more deeply, and immediately sense the frailty beneath her flesh. She hugs me again. Tighter this time.
Her words tumble out. Their weight seem to outweigh her physical form, and she holds our eye contact with large, searching eyes as she repeats the words again, this time with more emphasis. “I’m really scared.”
I nod my head. I know why she’s scared.
We can’t see depression. And because we can’t see it, we don’t know where the bottom is.
I share this with her as she nods emphatically.
With other forms of illness or injury, we know how long it takes to recover. For example, if we break an arm or leg, we know it will take several weeks in a cast followed by several weeks of therapy to recover our mobility. Because we rarely discuss depression — or rarely discuss it openly amongst our friends and family the way we do other maladies — we do not have examples to let us know where we are on the path to recovery, or if we’re even recovering at all.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 18.8 million American adults — almost 9.5% of the adult population — will suffer from a depressive illness in any given year. People of all ages and all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds can experience depression, but it does affect some groups of people more than others, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Depression makes us feel like we’re spinning with no compass, and since few guides have lit the path before us, we don’t know if our current direction is leading us up, or down further in its depths.
Where is the bottom?
“I want you to know you’re on your way up.” I tell her. “I know because I’ve been there. And I can tell the bottom is behind you.”
Her body seems to sigh with relief. “Really? How do you know?”
“Because you’re here. Because you are here with your daughter….”
“My therapist is here, too,” she interjects.
“And because your therapist is here too,” I smile. “And you’re out here connecting with other people. And you’re connecting with me. And you’re out here walking. In the memory of your son. You see, when you’re at the bottom, you don’t want to go out. You don’t want people to know you’re in pain. You want to hide it, you want to crawl inside of it. And you also don’t feel like getting out of bed. For anybody or for any reason.”
“Yes,” she shakes her head knowingly.
“You are here.” I say again. “And that means the worst is behind you. You’ve already hit the bottom. Now you know where it is. You’re on your way up. Keep going.”
She smiles as her daughter hugs her tightly.
I sign the book for her, dedicating it twice. The first, to the memory of her son, and the second, to her, for being here.
Have you ever experienced depression? What can you share with others about your experience? How did you know where “the bottom” was — or when it was behind you? What signs, markers or people let you know you were going in the “right” direction?
(I say “right” direction with full knowledge that sometimes the painful and/or mistake-filled paths are what lead us to true healing as they provide us with the opportunity to “Know Thy Self” — the good, the bad, and the ugly.)
Please share your story and help lead the way for someone who is experiencing the darkness of depression.
Thank you for being part of Power of One.
POWER OF ONE: PREVENTING SUICIDE IN AMERICA is a feature documentary and community outreach campaign that includes essays for print and digital media. It is written, directed and produced by Alivia Tagliaferri.