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Suffering in Mental Illness: From Torture to Teacher

When my depression was at its very worst, one of the only thoughts in my head was, "please make it stop."

There were times when the darkness in my soul physically hurt my body. I couldn't imagine a more tortured existence. The exquisite pain I experienced during that depressive phase seemed too cruel to have any meaning.

Back then, I didn't understand why it had to happen. Today I don't have a complete answer, but I do know that good people who endure hard experiences can learn things and share them.

I love this video clip from The West Wing. We see Leo, White House Chief of Staff, waiting in the lobby for his deputy, Josh, who walks through the room after a mandatory visit with a therapist. Josh has been the victim of gun violence and struggles with PTSD. He doesn't know how to deal with his explosive emotions. Leo catches him in the lobby, and with the kind of care only a true friend can offer, he tells Josh a little story.

Who are you in this story?

I have been the one in the mental illness hole sending up flares, desperate for help. I've also been the friend who jumps in and knows where to look for the ladder. We all have the capacity to turn our devastating life experience into a rescue mission for our friends who become stranded in the same holes that trapped us.

You might be thinking, "I am not qualified to help anyone! I have just recovered myself (or don't always feel stable, or experience ongoing mental illness, or something else)." Maybe that is true.

Just remember what it feels like when someone jumps in the hole with you. He or she looks in your eyes and wears an expression that says, "You're safe with me." You see that look, and it's all you need. That person can sit with you in the hole until it's time to climb out.

Being the helper in the hole doesn't require professional credentials. The qualifications for helping a fellow sufferer are these: compassion, presence, and a listening ear. That's it.

If you see a friend in a hole, I hope you will do more than toss down a prescription or throw up a prayer - even though there is a place for both on the healing journey.

I hope you'll jump in. Even if you don't know which way out will work best for your friend, I am confident that you are much more likely to find the right way together.

What have you learned through your experience with mental illness that you could pass along to someone who is struggling today?

Are you looking for a great tool that will help you talk about mental illness? When Mommy Feels Sad is an illustrated children's book that teaches about depression and the difficult feelings and experiences that go along with it. Start a conversation about depression with your loved one today.

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