Just Getting Over It Is Not Quite as Simple as it SoundsIt's important to talk about mental illness the same way we talk about physical ailments. We can learn from Sharon Fawcett who made her story of depression public.
I felt a little sheepish but the confession seemed important.
“You know,” I said to the woman sitting across from me in the coffee shop, “for most of my life, I haven’t had much sympathy for depressed people. I mostly wanted to tell them, ‘just get over it.’”
I probably could have chosen another conversational tact. After all, I was speaking to a woman who had just written a deeply personal book about the very subject I so easily dismissed.
But my words were greeted with a nod and a knowing smile. “Me, too,” she said. “Me, too.”
Her irony made me laugh. Her transparency made me want to read her book. Her story is giving me one more reason (and there have already been others – they have names and faces) to respond to depressed people with patience rather than impatience, with empathy rather than pity.
While I can’t write about friends who have trusted me with the private realities of their own depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, I can write about Sharon Fawcett for she has bravely chosen to make her story public.
Her book, Hope for Wholeness: The Spiritual Path to Freedom from Depression, was published by NavPress this fall. But even before writing the book Sharon began to tell her story to audiences all over New Brunswick and in other parts of the world.
This past year she joined a courageous group of Canadians who are part of the Face Mental Illness Campaign, which, through media, is publishing the stories of people who have lived with some sort of mental illness. The campaign was part of National Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada in October.
The point of the campaign is to make mental illness a mainstream discussion in Canada, with the goal that more people will get more help and thereby live healthier lives. The National Mental Illness website says almost one in five Canadians is affected by some form of mental illness. With statistics like those, one wonders how mental illness could not be a mainstream topic of discussion.
But then, there’s the stigma. As a society, we still don’t like to talk about people who are mentally ill. Many of them don’t want to talk about themselves. And there are people like me. Sunny, cheerful, optimistic, rarely having a down day, let alone a down week, month, year or decade. Just get over it, we say.
No wonder people who can’t just get over it find it hard to admit they even need help.
For Sharon, who up until now has lived a quiet and fairly private life in Petitcodiac, the Face Mental Illness Campaign is just one more step into what is undoubtedly becoming a hectic and fairly public life. She is working hard to promote her book, not just because, like most authors, she wants people to read her words, but because she no longer expects people to ‘just get over it.’ She wants to help them find a way out of the darkness.
Through her own experience (and that of her family) Sharon catalogues every aspect of treatment available to treat and heal mental illness. Years of psychiatric therapy and hospitalization, as well as plenty of medications, were all part of her treatment. But they were not the ultimate answer.
For Sharon, nine years of depression ended when she began, through the help of a Christian counselor, to explore and face the spiritual roots of her depression. It was, as the book’s subtitle suggests, this route that finally led Sharon to peace and a restored mind, body and soul.
Sharon chronicles her suffering in stark and what might seem like embarrassing detail. But she tempers her transparency with pages and pages of thoughtful help and resources. Her book is meant to be a resource. It’s meant to help other people find their way out of the maze of mental illness.
During our coffee shop conversation, Sharon tempered her ‘just get over it’ attitude with another point of view. There is, she believes, choice involved for people who are depressed, anxious or mentally troubled in some other way. She believes if they must choose to take steps toward healing.
I’ve never suffered from clinical depression or any other mental illness for that matter. But over the years I’ve known people who have lived with, and lived through these debilitating problems. These friends have been the ones who first taught me that ‘just get over it’ isn’t wise or helpful advice.
These friends have also been the ones who have shown me the importance of talking about mental illness the same way we talk about cancer or heart disease or a broken leg. None of those illnesses strip away the worth, gifts and talents of a person. Neither does mental illness. But sometimes all those good qualities get lost under its weight.
Public campaigns and books like Hope for Wholeness go a long way toward erasing the stigma of mental illness. But we also need changed attitudes and there is choice involved in such change. People who think like I used to, need to ‘just get over it’ themselves.
Hope for Wholeness. Sharon Fawcett. NavPress, 2008, 255 pg.
Lynda MacGibbon is a writer based in Riverview New Brunswick and the NB/PEI Director for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in Moncton Times & Transcipt, Moncton, NB, October 11, 2008, and simultaneously on www.canadaeast.com.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2008 Christianity.ca.