For months, I have avoided it. I tried to stay off of social media, and I didn’t want to read the articles or watch the news broadcasts. I continued to push aside any thoughts or feelings brought on by the never ending airing of the culmination of life. I knew these weren’t my stories to tell, but a piece of my heart tugged consistently, asking why I suddenly had so little to say when the opportunity to speak something meaningful had finally presented itself.
Still, in a very human attempt to remain in control, I ignored the whispers, and expected them to pass with time. The problem is, they did not. In fact, they only grew louder and more frequent. I finally found myself in an unwilling surrender as I stood in a narrow clearance aisle with a set of candles in my hands, looking down at the words spelled out in front of me. The box was plain and white other than two simple words: Live Colorfully.
The purse I carry every day is Kate Spade, the sleek phone case I hold for endless hours is Kate Spade, and the navy cross body I pack on every trip is etched with her name. The media has since found new and more exciting ways to attract attention and cause controversy, but her story, her pain, and the pain of every other person struggling with mental health issues have certainly not disappeared. I didn’t know Kate at all, but I was a fan of her work; it was the thing that connected us to one another… or so I thought, until I was standing forever as time seemed to halt, reading and re-reading the words on a box of candles, realizing our mottos for life and work were one in the same.
I’m no expert on politics or mental illness, or even fashion design, but I do have some experience in the area of living colorfully. The first thing to note about life in color, is that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Ironic, isn’t it? There will be days clouded grey, and times when life feels more black and white than a shade on the spectrum. But the truth is, life has to have ups and downs, or it wouldn’t really be life.
In terms of color, however, I think we are wrong to define depression and other forms of mental illness as the black and white of life. In fact, it is the absence of all color: not black and white, but transparency. Suffering from complete hopelessness feels as though anyone could walk or see right through you, like you didn’t exist at all. It is not a feeling of pain, but an absence of feelings altogether—it’s nothingness.
I would argue that it is in our very nature to make lists. We write out the things we want to accomplish, the requests we have, the things we need to pick up at the store—even praises. I am not trying to imply that lists are not helpful, but I do think they have the potential to be harmful. In making lists, we are setting expectations for a life that—whether we care to admit or not—is out of our hands. No matter the amount of planning we do, or millions of lists we write, or even the hundreds of lists we actually complete, there are things we simply cannot account for.
You see, the reason we make lists in the first place is not because we are concerned with proficiency and accomplishment, it’s because we want to foretell the outcome. We are so obsessed with the ending that we forget to trust God in the process.
Life is unpredictable at best. And even though I can’t have things how I want them all the time, and even though I don’t know why the most difficult of things happen, and even though there are things that I cannot change, I still have hope.
Disappointment isn’t anything new. Pain, shame, and guilt have been filling the cracks of brokenness since the first sin of mankind. It wasn’t originally supposed to be this way, but we are less than perfect; all the wrongs we have committed cannot be undone. This is the reality we live in.
We have to let go of the expectations and shed the misconceptions about the way our life and the lives of others should be. One of the largest failures of our society as a whole, is the inherent lack thereof; we are too busy, too selfish, too preoccupied to actually become a community. Simply, we do not care enough about other people.
Van Maanen once said, “We need now more than ever precise, complex, concrete images of one another if we are to continue to occupy this planet as a species.”
If we do not understand one another, we cannot empathize with one another and we cannot connect to each other on any level—whether mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual. It seems we are unable to resist the urge to compare our pain and our problems with the sufferings of others. Pain is pain is pain. And it doesn’t validate you to act inconsiderately. Most importantly, it doesn’t fix the problem or promote healing to focus on the issue of who has it worse.
Mental health, or more accurately, mental un-health is becoming more prevalent in society by the day. Perversely, there a still a large stigma surrounding the issue that only prevents us from addressing the matter. Even further hindering, is the truth that few are ready to talk civilly, few are prepared to venture into the unknown in pursuit of a solution, and many are at the ready with arms bared to fight—even if they have no idea what they are fighting for.
In the same way that we write lists thinking it’s about the aftermath, we live life believing that it’s about the end destination; the reality is, the end of life on earth is just that, the end. The important part, is what happened on the road to the finish.
We must remember the words of S.B. Merriam:
“The interest is in the process rather than the outcome, in context rather than a specific variable, in discovery rather than confirmation.”
Everything that happens in the process of life determines the aftermath of life; the ending itself is actually only a miniscule moment in respect to the complete timeline. We say that in the end it will be alright, and that pain is only momentary, but when pain is all we have ever known, it can be near impossible to see past it.
Mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to hide. The point of humans constantly changing and developing is to increase our abilities and stabilize ourselves and our society.
“To become mature is to develop the power to represent one’s experiences as hunches, words, thoughts, or other symbols. A growing person becomes able to reflect on his past and current experiences, to imagine, anticipate, plan, and hope.” —Heath
I believe that this description of maturity and mental health are interchangeable. Perhaps the root of the problem is the lack of maturity in society. As a child, I couldn’t wait to be an adult. In my mind, grown-ups knew everything, and they didn’t have to face problems; to them, life simply made sense.
Now that I am grown, I realize my momma just had the world’s best poker face.
Most days it feels like life is actually getting more complicated each time I open my eyes and sluggishly reach my arm out to snooze my alarm. I know less and less, and face difficulties more and more. Nothing makes any sense and everything is confusing. And the world is unjust.
I started writing this on the twelfth of June, thinking it was going to be about one person I didn’t even know. Now it’s the twenty-third of August and approximately 6,393 more people have lost the battle raging against their own minds. Some of them I knew, most of them I did not. But every time, it hit a little closer to home. I still cannot believe all that has happened; it honestly doesn’t seem real. The only thing I can think now is: how long until it gets us too?
It’s here and thriving. I can’t tell you how to fix it or make it better. The only thing we can have is hope for ourselves, and love for one another.
A couple weeks ago, this statement in an article I was reading caught my eye:
“I’ll be the first to admit I sometimes bring God into what’s wrong before I thank Him for what’s right.”
This is true. So true. But it’s difficult to approach life in this way when it seems that the ‘wrong’ grows each and every day while the ‘right’ only continues to shrivel. Maybe all we need is a change of perspective, but it is hard to have hope in a world that appears more like a hell than a heaven.
I don’t have all the answers, and most times I don’t know what to do on those days, but I know that today I still hear a voice behind me saying, “This is the way, walk in it”, and all I have to do is have the courage and the bravery to take the next step.