Masks Off! It’s Time to Talk

It was a beautiful fall day — one of the first ones of the season — and I was enjoying my walk on the newly bricked sidewalk just off of the square. I was headed to a lunch meeting with my girlfriend to discuss an upcoming Downton Abbey event at the library. (Because Downton Abbey is ridiculously addictive and awesome, right?)

While I happily tripped past a local insurance company with thoughts of my favorite British show in my head, I noticed another girlfriend of mine coming out of the door. I’ve known her for years and respect her madly. She’s a pillar in the community and an advocate for the arts — I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy her support through many concerts and performances at the Fly. In other words, I think a lot of her.

I smiled and waved “hi” to her and continued to walk toward my lunch meeting. She called out to me and I stopped. I figured she wanted to talk to me about an upcoming show or an event, but I was wrong.

“Sharon,” she began, “I had no idea you had been having such a rough time of it.”

“Oh. Ye-Yeah,” I said, a bit surprised by the subject of her statement and trying to cover it up.

“I read your article in the paper, and I just felt for you. I’m so glad you are getting the help you need.” She touched my arm and I knew she meant it.

“I am glad too,” I replied. “Things are so much clearer and better these days.”

“Well, that’s just great.” She said, and then she made a statement that I think rings true. “You know, we live in a part of the country where people think these things just don’t happen, but they do, and it’s important to talk about them.”

I nodded my agreement to her and we began to say our “goodbyes” and “have a nice days.”

“Tell your friend that I’m glad things are better for her too.” She called as she walked off into the fall noon-day.

I turned and opened the door to the Italian eatery, smiling as I thought of our sidewalk encounter.

Her sentiments and encouraging words echo my over-flowing inbox. For the past three weeks, I’ve gotten message after message from friends and family since writing my first piece on depression and suicide.

It was scary to tell the world about my dark days and thoughts, but it has been the most healing thing I’ve done. The response has been nothing short of overwhelming. My family, friends, and even strangers have all written me — telling me how they support and love me, how they’ve been through the same thing, and how they are so glad I told them about it.

My friend, Erin, who inspired this whole #MedicatedAndMighty movement posted a status update last week that really got me to thinking about my friends and family. In it she quoted a post she had received from a follower of her blog. To sum it up, it basically said how sad it is when someone takes their own life and their friends are shocked.

“I didn’t even know they were depressed.”

It hit me especially hard because I thought of all of my friends and family who have been shocked to hear of the struggle I went through.

What if I had died by suicide? They would all have been so shocked and, probably, riddled with guilt.

“Why didn’t I see this coming? I’m her friend, after all.”

But the truth is, I hid it underneath layers of smiles and laughter and light-hearted topics. I didn’t want them to know.

In hindsight, I can see what a very sad situation that is — especially since my first column about it hit the stands and I’ve felt everyone’s support.

I’m telling you all of this because I think that it’s important to talk about these things. You need to tell your friends and family that you’re having a rough patch. It’s okay, and there’s no shame in it.

How would you feel if your best friend held something like this back from you because they thought you’d judge them harshly? You’re probably thinking to yourself, “I wouldn’t judge them! I love my best friend!” Well, the truth is your best friend loves you too, and you should let them know if you’re suffering from feelings of depression.

It’s time to take the masks off. Not just to help inspire others, but to help our friends and ourselves.

It’s time to be real, be honest, and begin a conversation — even if you’re talking about it unexpectedly on the sidewalk.

To encourage you further, I thought I’d share a few items from my inbox. Tell your story. There is healing in the telling of it.

“Hey Sharon,
I read your article in the paper today and I wanted to applaud your bravery of how depression/suicide invaded your life. That was not an easy message to write about but you did it anyway. My heart reached out to you through your words and your story will inspire others.”

“Hi Sharon Kay,
I really was inspired by your article; it’s wonderful for you to give a voice to mental illness. So many people suffer from these conditions. I don’t talk about it much but I went through major anxiety and depression since around 20 years old … I finally went to talk to someone after I had my child. I went through some of my darkest moments at that time. I had major postpartum depression and I was thinking I shouldn’t be here. I thought of suicide. I found the right medication with the help of my therapist and it really changed my life. Fast forward two years later, and my husband who never had anxiety or depression in his life (and was always my rock) ended up in a psychiatric ward. I’ve known him for over 20 years … It really can happen to anyone and please know that you are not alone … Don’t be swayed by other’s ‘judgment’ of you, as God is the only judge. I’ve always thought you must have such a challenging time. Life is difficult but you are doing a great job.”

“Hey, Sweetie!
I got on Welbutrin after [my child] was born. I was so cranky and angry for no reason. Yes, it’s a chemical thing. For years before I told family, “God made doctors smart enough to make meds, we should be smart enough to take them.” My husband was the one that told me to talk to my doctor and take my own advice. It’s made a world of difference in our lives. I take it daily and am so glad … All is well. Now I’m the calm one when stressful things come. I’m so happy you’ve taken such a big step. Ignore folks who don’t understand. You don’t need their approval. What good would it do anyway, if you were not around to see it? So happy you’re alive. I love you and your sweet family.”

“I just read your articles about depression/suicide. I just want you to know you are not alone. I started taking antidepressants seven months ago. This quote from your friend is almost verbatim what I have said about my medication … ‘Just within five days, I had stopped having panic attacks,’ Jones said. ‘I was unaware of just how many I was having every day until they stopped being my normal. I get upset. I get nervous. I get anxious, but I don’t flip out, cry, scream, and have breakdowns with daily life now. I feel capable to handle things now. I feel stronger. Steadier. In control.’ Love you, and I am so glad you are getting help. We all need each other!”

“Just read your article … I’m so proud of you. You are indeed right. It’s a pain situation. A pain we fear we can’t escape. It’s very common in parents of special needs children … There is no shame and I pray your article helps just one person to reach out for meds, therapy, and prayer and in a way hope — because we are not alone in these feelings. No matter your religious background or educational level, when pain gets too great the brain chemistry changes. It becomes very dangerous … I just want you to know I love you.”

There are people out there who have been through this too. You are not alone. Tell your story, and you’ll find that out.


If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.