I felt my heart racing faster than usual. Then I was having trouble catching my breath. It’s hard to describe, but everything was spinning, like my brain was trying to climb out of my head. The air felt thick and heavy. My mouth was like chalk...Really I was just hoping my heart would stop racing. It was like my body was trying to say to me, "You’re about to die." I ended up on the floor in the training room, lying on my back, trying to get enough air to breathe.
Two nights later, after receiving appropriate care and attention, Love returned to the basketball court, and admits, "Call it a stigma or call it fear or insecurity...but what I was worried about wasn't just my own inner struggles but how difficult it was to talk aboutthem. I didn't want people to perceive me as somehow less reliable as a teammate."
Love expresses his reluctance to explore his past with a therapist and recognizes the benefit of self-discovery. He writes:
In the short time I’ve been meeting with the therapist, I’ve seen the power of saying things out loud in a setting like that. And it’s not some magical process. It’s terrifying and awkward and hard, at least in my experience so far. I know you don’t just get rid of problems by talking about them, but I’ve learned that over time maybe you can better understand them and make them more manageable.
One of Love's biggest inspirations came from Toronto Raptors' player DeMar DeRozan's openness about struggling with depression. "I've played against DeMar for years," Love writes, "but I never could’ve guessed that he was struggling with anything. It really makes you think about how we are all walking around with experiences and struggles — all kinds of things — and we sometimes think we’re the only ones going through them." Love hopes that we might create a better environment for discussing issues of mental health. His reflections could not come at a more appropriate time.
Kol Nidreiis a challenging night of honest confession, self-reflection and communal evaluation. How many more celebrities like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain will commit suicide because we are acculturated against sharing our truth? How many more nine-year-old children will die because they are bullied for expressing their sexual orientation? How many more teenagers will suffer from depression and anxiety before we realize the depth of mental health issues that pervade our society? How many other people need to suffer in silence before we change the culture of our world and recognize the necessity of kindness, sensitivity, and active, gentle, supportive listening?
Life happens. Our emotional health suffers from events that are beyond our control. Sometimes the chemicals in our brains don't function the way that we want them to. These struggles become a form of illness, like any other diagnosable physical illness or visible wound, requiring real care, and loving, nonjudgmental attention. 1 in 4 adults, approximately 61.5 million Americans, experience a diagnosable mental disorder, and 1 in 17 live with a serious mental disorder like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
The depth of pain inherent in these truths is profound. One by one, I read and admire the courage of those who share their stories, like Olympic swimmer Missy Franklinor model-turned-actress Cara Delivingne who openly discuss their struggles with depression. We cannot see the gravity of another person's suffering.
Such battles can happen to anyone at any time. I attended a silent retreat for professional and spiritual development in January. Unexpectedly, I began to experience painful flashbacks to events of my childhood and teenaged years. The images, thank God, have begun to settle. My memories are real.
Knowing it is okay to be open carried me through this year. Every single person with whom I spoke received me "without judgment" and "without stigma." Even more importantly, they received me with love. Their presence gave me courage, support and hope through this painful passage. I am stronger today because of therapy and because of the generous assistance that I have received from everyone with whom I spoke, people who reminded me that, "It's okay to not be okay."
I watched the depth of care that I received -- personal conversations, colleagues who held the phone and let me talk or cry, text messages, E-mails, forgiveness that was granted when I behaved insensitively. What I noticed most was a silent presence - a nod, a paucity of words, tears in the eyes of another person, gentle acknowledgment of the difficulty of my journey, a reminder that I had the strength to push through.
The words I heard were a privilege to receive:
"Thank you for trusting me."
"Thank you for making yourself vulnerable."
"I'm sorry that you are going through this."
"Would you let me sit with you for a while as you talk about how you're feeling?"
And sometimes, I found a person who looked me squarely in the eyes, who smiled gently and knowingly, and said, "I've been there. I know how much it hurts."
Companionship, knowing that someone is there, is what we really need. Being given the space to be held as we speak our most open, honest, and vulnerable truths, and reveal the essence of our pain or sadness is a gift beyond words. Knowing someone is remaining withus while we cry is more of what our world desperately needs.
We have to look up from our phones, notice, and be present with one another. Another person may not be willing to give us entrance into their lives. They may not want us to care for them. Each of us who goes on a journey of care has the right to choose who we wish to support us, and who we wish to be open with when we are ready to do so.
But as a community, we cannot expect to meet the severity of these issues by simply reposting messages on Facebook or giving the phone number for a suicide hotline. Such actions are a solid beginning. But we can't just simply say, "Just reach out. I'll be here for you." It is not because we don't mean well. We do. Thinking that someone who is in the midst of trauma will reach out and admit that they have a problem is an unfair expectation.
We need to be the ones to reach out. If we notice someone suffering, we shouldn't hesitate to ask the question, "Do you have people who are caring for you, who care about you?" or ask, "Are you having thoughts of harming yourself or taking your own life?"
Maybe there is someone among your friends, family, or collegial network in need of gentle outreach. Maybe someone next to you tonight needs support. Maybe that person is you and you need to come and talk to someone in our professional or lay leadership. We are here for you. We will be present to receive you warmly.
Beyond our synagogue walls we need to be reminded of the availability of resources in our community. The Bergen County Stigma Free initiative is a countywide program aiming to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness by raising awareness of the disease of mental illness, creating a community where residents can feel supported by their community and neighbors and feel free to seek treatment for the disease without fear of stigma. The initiative links people in need to local mental health resources, and helps residents understand that care is accessible regardless of income.
Last year, eight of our members underwent Mental Health First Aid Training, a county-wide program designed to train more of our congregants in this important work. The Stigma Free Initiative has hosted programs on how mental illness affects individuals, families and the community; on understanding childhood anxiety; guiding overwhelmed family caregivers; teen depression and lessons of hope; and the impact of social media on mental health. Our neighbor Central Unitarian Church is in the process of planning its second Interfaith Mental Health Roundtable, this time focusing on children's mental health.
We need to support these resources in our community. We need our congregants to become more aware that these resources exist. There can be so much good that comes from taking notice of another person's pain or sorrow, from allowing someone the safe space to share their truth, or from confidently and confidentially steering another person toward proper resources designed to care for them.
No one should ever have to hide. We should endeavor to create a world without stigma, where it is safe to express our truth, to be listened to, and to be held in our deepest moments of raw vulnerability, a world where it is safe to admit to battling with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, to enduring a bipolar disorder or to living with suicidal ideation. If someone is stricken with cancer, or is injured in an accident, we send meals and flowers. If someone dies, we visit the family during shivaand help them to make a minyan. Shouldn't a person who endures obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, addictions, trauma or complicated grief receive the same level of care? Our society's merit is judged not on how we meet each other in good moments, but by how we meet each other in the painful moments that are an inescapable part and parcel of life itself.
Our awareness, our willingness to be educated, to be responsive, to be sensitive, to be compassionate, might make the difference in someone's life. Dr. Ravi Chandra has written:
Bourdain and Spade’s deaths also reminded me that we sometimes identify with our personas and facades, our roles and our statuses, and not ask for help when we need it...It can feel intolerable to not match what other people think of us or our own ideals. We can get disconnected from the ground of our own humanity. We might think that being “imperfect,” will open us up to criticism and loss...Mental health issues are often either feared or considered private, delicate matters, unlike broken bones. Silence develops. There are unspoken realities. And silence kills.
There are silences that should be kept and respected. But there are silences, especially on the subject of what we wrestle with mentally and emotionally that desperately need to be broken. Share your stories. Share your pain.
There is a story told about two lost people who meet one another in the forest. They tell each other that each of the paths from which they have come do not lead out of the forest. And so they look at one another, and they nod, and they resolve to find their way out of the forest together.
Thank God we don't go through this journey of life alone. Thank God we have one another to support us and there are resources designed to help us. Thank God we are building a world where it can be safe to express our darkest truths and to break our own silence. A dear friend in Australia reminds me repeatedly, "Go gently with yourself and with others." G'mar chatima tova.
Op. cit., Kevin Love.
From a parable attributed to Rabbi Hayyim of Zans found at http://jeumag.com/reflections/way-out-of-the-forest