Why I am passionate about depression

People often ask me why I fight so hard for this disease.  Why I continue to work so much, even when it appears to be draining all of my energy and resources.  Why I am not off doing what I love – traveling, running a business, having kids, and living like a normal person.

They are right.  Establishing a nonprofit might have cost me my for profit, something that I cared deeply, passionately about and gave up my life savings and then some to start.  It has taken a tremendous amount of time and energy away from people I care about, and kept in front of me some things many have long wished to have put in the past.  It has come between many living relationships, because most people do not understand why I would want to be constantly reminded of something that has caused me so much pain – something that caused my family so much pain and everyone would long wish to forget.

I don’t like hurting people, and I certainly don’t like causing people pain, probably furthest thing from it – I hate pain and I feel the pain of others with far too much realism.  I don’t like harassing people and trying to get them to believe in something they don’t and donating to a cause they think is ‘all in our head’.  I don’t like being associated with something that is so fundamentally sad, and bringing up something so personal and tragic, every day.  I certainly don’t like taking away from my business, and potentially ruining the one thing that made me so very proud.

So as I am thinking about all of this and continually questioning myself, I happen to come upon a package, an envelope of memories long put away.  It contains letters to me from a long time ago, when I was a young 19 year old girl who had just lost her father to depression.  It also contains a personal note to me from my father, written before he died but received shortly thereafter.

Now, you may not know, but I was very, very close to my dad.  He was full of energy and brilliant and energetic and funny and generous and giving and treated me like a princess.  He supported all of my events and encouraged me to work hard and rode me on his shoulders and liked to skip with me.  He took me camping and taught me how to drive a car and what birthday celebrations were all about and the importance of integrity.  He had this ability to make me feel like the most important person in the world and I loved him with all of my heart and then some.  I would have done anything for him.

He also had another side, an equally hurtful one that never really made sense to me.  Anger that seemed to destroy all that he loved.  It wasn’t rational anger, it was something much deeper that he could never seem to control or get a grip on.  For men, anger is often a manifestation of depression, an outwardly expression, and had we known then what we know now maybe things would have worked out differently. Unfortunately here we sit.

So right before he died, he was in the hospital, and he talked to me at great lengths about his deep pain at losing his own father, and how he was told ‘not to cry’, to ‘stand up like a man and take care of the family’. And how those emotions ate away at him through his life without him even being conscious of it.  How the buried sadness turned turned to anger as a kind of defense mechanism. That when he got hurt he instantly got frustrated or angry.  My dad’s insight at this point was incredible and I could truly feel his pain.

Yet what was even harder for him was he had buried this pain and fought hard to create the one thing that had caused him so much pain – a family.  And because of burying this pain he had lost it. In retrospect it should have come as no surprise when he took his own life shortly after being released from the hospital, treatment had come too many years into the disease, much too late. 

So I was going through my notes I looked at the one from my dad, and it pretty sums up why I would risk my company’s success, why I would continue pursuing justice for a cause so few understand. Why I would want to make it ‘sexy’, something people talk about, something cheerful and something branded with hope and happiness so that we get people diagnosed and in treatment at a young age.  Why we need to stop focusing time and resources primarily on the outcome of untreated depression (addictions, eating disorders, abuse, etc.) and start learning why it happens, so we can avoid the detrimental consequences down the road.

I have been where my dad was, but through the love of my family and the willingness to be open about it found hope.  I was able to get treatment at a young age, and continue to get treatment, because I am a white woman with resources to do so (i.e. stigma is the lowest among white women, and treatment is expensive).  And I understanding marketing and branding we can change the perception of depression, because it is treatable in up to 80% of cases if we could just talk about it and see the hope.

I will share with you what my dad wrote to me, but I must also express my deep and profound gratitude at the hundreds of letters I received after my father’s passing.  The people that shared their love and their grief and their lack of understanding of such a difficult loss.  One such note came from the CFO of Wal-Mart, Paul Carter, sharing his appreciation for my dad, his friendship, and his brilliant business insights. One from my friend Kirsten, who not only wrote me then, but continued to write me through the years offering encouragement, support, and hope as I navigated those tough channels of life.

And I want to apologize to those I have hurt, not only because of depression but because of my continued pursuit to share what it is / has been to me and and my family and for bringing up the past.  I unfortunately understand too well the pain my dad felt, but hope in the end the good I do reaches far and wide and prevents others from experiencing the same, I believe it already has and believe it will continue to do so.  So I’m sorry it has been hard, and thank you for your continued support even those it has cost you.

Through learning from our past pain may we pave the way to others a better future.

My dad’s final words to me, written on a Valentine’s Day Card in February of 1990:

There is no way I can tell you how happy you have made me, how proud I am of you or just how much you mean to me.
I hope and pray you will never experience the pain and unhappiness, the deep regret that I feel all the time.  Please forgive me for the unhappiness I caused you, the family and your mother. How I could have ruined, messed up the most important thing in my life, my precious family, I will never know. 
I will always love you with all my heart and soul.
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