Thursday, August 20, 2015


Earlier today, I walked by a man sitting on the street with his knees bent, his feet flat on the ground.  His hands were wrapped around his neck, loose but not still.  He bent his head, down to the side, I could see he sides of his eyes, looking down at the pavement. In that moment his hands were almost massaging his neck, not fast and frenzied but in a way that seemed sad and self-comforting. I felt such fierce sadness coming from him.  Anger and sadness but mostly sadness. He had a sign at his feet and it read, "mad as hell because you all are in paradise."

My heart stopped, startled at the wave of emotion that swept through it. I felt the urge to give him some cash. But just as quickly, I felt both surprised and suddenly ashamed at that impulse.  I am not ashamed to give to people who need money or food but he didn't want my money. He wanted something I couldn't give him. He didn't have anything but a cardboard sign, no cup, no hat. He was out there, sitting alone, nearly crying, opening his heart full of pain to the world around him.  To a world he didn't feel a part of.  To show them, to show us, his pain.

I felt ashamed because to him, I was a part of the "you all." Walking by in my work clothes to home, listening to music on my iphone moving from one part of my day to the next.  To him, I wasn't anyone but a person living in a paradise he didn't feel like he was a part of.

I felt the urge to turn around, walk to him and tell him, that wait, I feel like you too sometimes. There are times that I've felt so angry, so hurt and just so goddamn sad about how I've felt in the world that I think I'm living in a hell no one else is too.  That sometimes, it does really hurt to live in this world because you can feel a lot of pain as a person, that there is a lot of abuse; and sometimes the sadness and the fear and the anger around us on the news, in our lives, in our homes, in our communities, in the world is just overwhelming.

And, I wanted him to know I wasn't in paradise, either. But that,  even though I don't live in paradise, sometimes it can feel so blissful and I can find happiness.  I wanted to look him in the eyes and from deep in my soul say that you may not be able to see it right now and I really get that, but hold on. I know it hurts now, but hold on. So you can try to see something different, later.

I know that just holding on isn't good for every situation, for every person.  I know when people used to tell me that, after over a decade of frequent, long standing bouts of serious depression, it made things worse. Much worse. I felt guilty and blamed myself thinking, I've been holding on for years and it doesn't change! I thought there was something wrong with me, my life.

But it's been in learning to trust that holding on is what's gotten me through and what will get ;me through. That holding on is powerful. It's what has helped me get to a place where even though I'm not in paradise, I am ok.  Still feeling the horrible, but also feeling the great.

That the thing about holding on, is that you are holding on to hope. A hope that it will end and when it does the sun might come out and you might feel different, better.

I kept walking, feeling a guilty I didn't stop but the farther away I got, the harder it was to turn around.  I walked down the road past where the buses are.  I looked into the eyes of a man sitting there and he just looked back into me. I felt a sense of emptiness between us, not in a sad way, it's just here I was in this quick second looking into another person's eyes and I feel a moment of vast emptiness. Not sad entirely, more honest; we didn't know each other. It was like we were living in totally different worlds just connecting for that second to see one another.  And seeing an ocean between us.

Turning a corner, I started walking up a set of stairs. Feeling, more than thinking, about connection. A spit second later, as I placed my first on the first stair, an ambulance raced by, loud, intrusive and startling. And very close.I jumped as my heart skipped a beat.  Thinking about the ambulance, the sounds coming from that truck only mean one thing: pain.  Somewhere, someone is in pain of some kind and they need help.  An ambulance, an answer to a call for help.

The last few moments from the man with the sign to the eyes to the ambulance opened up to me the how I can sometimes feel living in this world, and it feels like anything but paradise.  I let out my breath, just letting it go as the ambulance passed. I took a deep breath and held on to the railing and continued up the stairs.

Man in hell: it's not easy and it's not paradise. But the loud and intrusive and startling parts of pain pass.  Reach out for help if you need to, that's ok.  But just hold on, in whatever way you can. To whatever railings you need to keep you standing though this.  Breathe, cry, scream, whatever. Just hold on. And thank you for trying to connect.  Thank you, for being brave enough to open your heart, especially when it was full of such pain and show the rest of us how you felt.

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Slave Market"

For most of my life I couldn't read or watch things about sexual abuse. My heart would beat really fast and my head would spin and I couldn't breathe. I felt like how I imagine deer feel when all of a sudden they see headlights in the road.  But it wouldn't stop after the car passed so to speak, when I was done reading or watching, it would replay in my head and my body over and over again, sometimes for weeks.

I began being able to read and watch and talk more about it after I admitted to myself, what happened to me and committed myself to stay on a path of healing, however confusing, difficult and illogical a person's path toward healing can be. I still feel the same way when I come across stories, experiences or videos about sexual abuse; sometimes it's worse than the time before, sometimes it's not as bad. Reading this article by the NYTimes about the sex "Slave Market" run by ISIS, it felt like my heart was beating so hard that I was going to explode into what I can only imagine as a geyser of tears, fears and pain.

But, I read it.  Honoring what I felt, by facing it. It was hard and I am still shaking a bit but I can't close off from what's happening out there...or I can but I feel like I would be hiding.  Sometimes, healing is "hiding." There was a period in my recent past where I needed to block out things that re-triggered me into feeling traumatized because that's what I needed to get more solidly on my own healing path.

But now, it's like I'm looking these, literally thousands of girls and women that ISIS is forcing into their "Slave Market," right in the eyes, seeing their pain, their tears and their fears and walking away by not reading, knowing....and I just can't do that.  I will likely never actually look them in the eyes, but by standing witness to their experience, their abuse, I can stand with them.  I can know. And by knowing, I can do. And through doing something, it will change. Maybe little by little, maybe a little by a lot.

I may not do anything directly related to stopping ISIS' Slave Market, I hope I do in some way, but by staying awake to what's going on in the world about these things, maybe I can see more opportunities more clearly to do something.  And by standing witness, I am doing, in a way. Because by standing witness, by listening, I feel.  And similar to that famous quote by Maya Angelou: "people will forget what you said, what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel" feeling something about this, I will remember.  And through remembering...maybe I can be apart of making progress on eliminating the injustice of using people as sex slaves. If I don't see, I don't hear, I don't stand witness, I don't feel.  I won't remember. I won't know.

Now, I know. And I am going to continue to know.  Sometimes with more presence than others.  But I won't walk away.  Whether in person or in spirit. Because I do believe that we can eliminate this.  I do believe that a world where we don't hurt each other, physically, sexually, and emotionally can exist.  I don't think it's inherent that we hurt each other. I think it's taught and unjust social norms and systems are passed down in action and belief.  Action and belief can change.  I am not interested in looking at data indicating that this has been happening for hundreds of years, thousands of years, or whatever, because focusing on those things isn't focusing on a path toward a future where women and girls aren't sexually abused.  What was and has been doesn't have to be what is and will be.

I believe, however naively, however optimistically, that we can coexist through respecting, loving and supporting each other, all the time.  We are far from that, yes, but closer than we used to be.  I am going to keep soldiering on and some may ridicule me, some may abandon me, some may not understand.  But, of the very small amount of things I truly know, I do know that we can get there. And it starts, by standing witness.  So we can feel. And by feeling remember. And by remembering do.  And by doing, change.

I hope you stand witness your own way at the right times for the right reasons.  I hope your eyes stay open and you stay present. Feeling through it all. Holding on to hope.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

"Just Cheer Up"

I wish everyone, everywhere read, digested and understood what's outlined in this Huffpost article: "12 Things You Should Never Say to Someone with Depression."

Depression is not a choice, it's an illness.  As the article says, "You would never tell someone with a cold to just stop coughing. Depression is also a physical ailment beyond our control; the problem is just in our brains rather than in our throats."

I know there is a stigma, I know that really, really well I just hope we get over it soon. Every one of the 12 things in this is entirely on point and so important.

If you are with someone who is depressed, I know it may be uncomfortable and you may just want to say the right thing to fix it, yes because you care about them, but also maybe because it makes you uncomfortable?...but, really, the best thing to do for someone you love who is feeling depressed is not try to get them to "feel better." If we could all just feel differently when we wanted to no one would ever be heartbroken...

Trying to get a depressed person to change what they feel can easily cause that person to think it's their fault they are feeling depressed because the reality is that with depression, you can't just "feel better." When I've been depressed, I've tried and tried and tried.  But, happiness isn't a choice if it was we'd probably all be happy all the time. Depression isn't a choice.  We can choose what we think about how we feel, which can encourage more opportunities to see joy than other things, but we can't control it.

It's complicated and we don't understand all of it...but if we could all get a good handle on the basics of depression and how to respond to it, I think we could make some good progress on letting go of the stigma of having it.  And if we do that, I think we'll see many more people healed from depression, and addiction and less suicide and suffering in the world.

12 Things You Should Never Say to a Person With Depression