It’s World Suicide Prevention Day and This is Why It Matters (#WSPD14)

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Dan Cumberland

There are some things that I don’t want to write about, but they need to be written. This is one of them: I struggle with depression.

I don’t know when I first felt it. I think it’s always been with me, more or less.

In my younger years I would feel down and go hide somewhere private. I’d go to my room and cry — for no apparent reason. It expressed itself as being volatile sometimes.

In my high school and college years I would have moments where I would be overwhelmed with emotion. A small sadness or difficulty would trigger a flood of overwhelming feelings.

I didn’t have a name for it then. One of my closest friends in college had similar experiences from time to time. He called them “blue days”. That name was helpful, and got me closer to calling it what it was.

I always felt that the ups and downs were linked to each other. I knew that when I felt positive, I was really positive. My optimism would be irrepressible. I’ve always dreamed big dreams and found so much joy and energy in the possibilities of life.

But the downs are also dark and heavy.

That same friend in college told me that the father of a girl he had been seeing had advised his daughter to stay away from him. He said that she should find a guy that’s stable and not a visionary. “The dreamers will always be disappointed,” he said.

Ouch.

And yet it’s true.

The ups are up and the downs are down.

Years later I was in my first job after college. I was working hard to create something that mattered, but continually struggling with the difference between the work I was doing and criticism I was facing.

I was young and impressionable. The tension left me feeling broken— like I was the problem.

I started to crack under the pressure— having emotional breakdowns every week. The downs I felt got darker and a little harder to recover from every time.

I couldn’t go on. But I also didn’t know what else to do.

At the recommendation of a mentor-figure who I met only in passing, I called a therapist. That was one of the hardest phone calls I’d ever made. I was admitting that something was very wrong. I was admitting that I couldn’t fix myself.

That phone call was also one of the single most important actions I’ve ever taken. It was in therapy that I first allowed myself to say that I was “depressed”.

It was the beginning of a new relationship with myself.

I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy since. And a lot of time writing and telling my stories. I’m healthier now than I ever have been, but I’d be lying if I were to tell you that I no longer struggle.

It’s like taking 5 steps forward and then taking 5 steps back. It doesn’t feel like “progress” or “healing” and it takes a very long time. But over time you realize that some of those steps back were the tiniest bit smaller than the forward steps— offering an imperceptible net gain.

And even that doesn’t feel accurate. I can’t tell you about making a “net gain” on depression, because I still feel it. It’s still with me — seven years after I made that phone call.

I suppose that’s what I want to say most about all of this. I’ve learned over the years that I have a relationship with depression. It’s not like a tumor you have and it gets removed. It’s a part of you—a part that doesn’t feel good to talk about, but is there whether or not you admit it.

These days I can sometimes go weeks without feeling it. Sometimes it can be even months. But it always seems to come back.

I like to hope that someday it won’t, but in the meantime I have learned to work with it and with myself in it. It doesn’t define me, yet it is a part of my life.

Being an entrepreneur with depression is difficult. So much of what I do is self-motivated, yet there are days when I’m not able to get much done. Some days I have to put the to-do list aside.

Some days, just getting through is enough.[Tweet this]

There’s such a taboo around depression. Even as I write this I know that it will be terrifying to ever let it see the light of day. I worry what you will think of me and if you will write me off in some way because I struggle. But I also know that there are some of you that need to hear this.

I went to a small college. There were only 1,500 of us. On spring break my senior year, we all left to pursue our plans. And we all came back except for one: his name was Clark. He took his life that week.

None of us saw it coming. I was his friend. We’d share meals often and always stop to talk when we saw each other in passing. He was charismatic and friendly. Everyone knew him.

But no one knew how much he struggled, and that’s the hardest part.

It’s been nearly 10 years and I am still mourning the loss.

I’m telling this story for a couple reasons. I’m writing this because I want you to know that I too struggle. I’m writing because the taboo needs to be broken. I’m writing because if you haven’t known depression yourself, you know someone who has.

I’m writing this for Clark: we all still miss you.

I’m writing this because today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

I’m writing this because men need to talk about it, in particular.

I’m writing this because entrepreneurs and other leaders and visionaries need to talk about it.

If you’ve known depression, you’re not alone. There are others who struggle with you.

Never give up.

Find help. Call a hotline (1-800-273-TALK). Find a therapist. Reach out. We need you to.

Today is suicide prevention day. Whether or not you’ve known depression, would you share something about it with your social network? Share this article, or someone else’s. Share your story or that of someone you know. And use the hashtag #WSPD14.

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

There Are 44 Comments On This Post.

  1. Steven

    Thanks for sharing Dan.

  2. Bethany

    I’ve lost too many friends to suicide, and the conversation about depression that feels shameful or wrong. Thanks for being brave enough to share your story, Dan. And inviting others to share theirs. It’s important.

    • I’m sorry for your losses and hopeful that hope can be found in the darker stories that we tell. Thanks for your kind words 🙂

  3. Megan Marcoux

    Kudos to you Dan, for being so brave in sharing this very important piece of your story. You are an inspiration, my friend. Keep up the wonderful, courageous work.

    • Thanks Megan. I’m so grateful to hear that you’re inspired by all of it. Thanks for saying so!

  4. Rachel Solis

    dan thank you so much for writing that. it really was beautiful. God Has given you a true gift. thank you for being open and honest it can’t be easy. thank you for mentioning Clark as well I can’t believe it’s already been 10 years

    • Thanks for reading, Rachel. I can’t believe it’s been that long either. It’s unreal.

  5. Lizzy Brady

    These are undoubtedly words of a catalyst, my friend. I definitely feel the weight of this story, but I’m thankful for your bravery, courage, perseverance.

  6. Dan, I was teary before I even started reading because I too have not stopped grieving Clark. Thanks for writing.

    • Thanks for reading and writing, Kacie. I’m with you in that grief, and I know there are many many others still mourning Clark as well. It’s good to know we’re not alone.

  7. Thanks for your courageous words Dan. Your vulnerability invites others (myself included) to acknowledge our whole, true selves. So grateful for the daring journey you continue to walk. Your insights and truths are changing people. Love you and that beautiful wife of yours.

  8. Becky Stevenson

    Dan, Thanks for sharing your heart here. You are courageous in taking this step, and I admire that. No judging going on here. Just a lot of respect. And thanks for remembering Clark. I miss him too. Think about him every March. What a hard thing. Love you, brother.

  9. Kathryn Hodges

    This is a fantastic post. The brutal honesty is so refreshing. I am so thankful that you have found your voice, that you are allowing your creative arc to grow in the midst of – in spite of – such easily debilitating thoughts. I find great courage in these words.

  10. Lindie Patterson

    Well written, Dan, and I appreciate your courage in sharing it. I still find myself affected by Clark’s death as well. You’re absolutely right that it’s a message which needs to be heard – thank you for speaking up.

  11. It was a privilege to live with you as you had the courage to dive into counseling and start being really open about where you were at. Your courage allowed other people to struggle, and thus live healthier lives. It was also awesome to watch Stacia love you so well through those times. I think you should have Stacia write at some point on how to love someone struggling with depression. She’s one of my heroes.

    • Thanks Bill, and thanks for mentioning Stacia. She deserves to be mentioned and celebrated. She is a hero, no doubt about it.

      • Stacy

        I would also love to read an article / blog written by someone who has walked through this with you. I have a friend who struggles with everything you’ve described. In the good times, she’s easy to talk to but when the dark days come, I never quite know how to communicate with her except just to say that I’m there if she needs to talk and encouraging her. Saying something like “hang in there” seems way too trivial…….. Thanks

        • Thanks Stacy. I’d love to read that article too. My wife is a hero. There’s no denying that. I have no idea how I would have survived some of the darker moments without her. She’s carried us through a lot. Maybe someday she’ll write about it.

          I’m sure you would have some important things to contribute to that conversation. Your presence with your friend may be all she needs. I know for me, I always appreciate it when someone is willing to be with me without trying to change my feelings. Like you said, “hang in there” feels too trivial.

          Keep supporting, loving, and finding your way through. And thanks for caring enough for her to do so.

  12. Molly

    Bravo; it’s so true, if you told someone you had a broken leg or cancer they understand, but with mental illness, no one seems to get it or wrap their brain around it. It’s tough, but the more voices heard, the less taboo the subject is and the more people that are struggling can reach out and ask for help. If I have learnt anything in my short life, it’s that making the decision to not take my life was the best choice

    • Thanks Molly. Thanks for reading and thanks for writing. We’re in this together.

  13. Anna Hamberg, Finland

    Dan! Thank you for sharing.
    As I also have a personality that swings between super excited and then totally off/down, I can resonate with much of what you write.

    I used call it pathological optimistm
    – yet I’ve come to think that maybe it’s an asset. As long as we face the work needed to be done to gain more balance and ability to create limits, as it has been in my case. We can bring such to life that nobody else can.

    And also, away with the glorification of youth, haha! 😀 Seriously tho, why would a 20-something need to have it all together in order to be successful? Nobody can “make it” by such an age. No, show me a middle aged person who is sound and balanced; they’ve had a longer time to make crappy or good descisions and the work they’ve done will show. Let’s be kind to ourselves; we don’t need to have “gotten anywhere” yet; the work is to do the work.

    In my country which has the highest suicide stats in the world, talking about these matters matters. Thank you for raising the topic, it’s needed in every corner in the world.

    So here’s to putting the mask on our own heads first and then helping others.

    • I totally agree, Anna. There’s a blessing and a curse to being the type of visionary and creative who experiences these swings. You have the power to bring so much life to the world. Thanks for mentioning that.

      I’m so glad that you’re a hopeful presence in your country and culture!

  14. Brandon Kirby

    Thank you Dan the man! These things are so important but so seldom discussed.

  15. Susie Watts

    Dan, thanks for your honesty, transparency, and vulnerability. What you and Stacia created in youth ministry has made an eternal impact on the lives of those students, and I am especially grateful for your relationship with Leighton. You were created and gifted with the capacity to feel and think deeply, which can make life more difficult. Lost a good friend, Matt Ryd, to suicide a year ago. If you have time to check out his music on you tube it would honor his life. We are all broken and needy, thanks for putting it into words.

    • Thanks so much, Susie. I’m so sad for the loss of your friend. I will gladly spend some time with his music. Thanks for reading and writing.

  16. Sue Vanlaningham

    Dan,
    Thank you for your transparency. You’ve prompted me to “come clean” a bit too. Although I’ve never hidden it, for a few years I was on a variety of medications to help with some of the emotional aspects of pre-menopause. (Can I say that word on a public site?!?) Many Christians look askance at other Christians “needing” meds to help cope with the issues of life. A good friend encouraged me saying, “if you had a heart attack, you’d take heart medicine. If you had brain cancer, you’d take cancer medicine.” Emotional illness is trickier in that you can’t see it on an x-ray–but no less real and needful of treatment. Praying more or reading the Bible more isn’t always enough.

    I, too, think of Clark–every time I brew a pot of peppermint coffee. He told me once that his mom loved that flavor, just as I do. He would drink it with her. I wish he still could.

    Right now I have a friend who is really struggling emotionally. I’m going to send her the link to this blog. Hopefully she’ll find some encouragement here in your words.

    • I admire your courage to share some about your journey here, Sue! Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing. I’d love for you to share my writing with anyone who may find it helpful.

  17. Christy Elafros

    Thank you, Dan, for allowing the Lord to work through your vulnerability! I will never forget the day we got back from tour and heard about Clark’s death. Thank you for being honest about what is hard for you–the Lord is showing me what freedom and such life come from doing so. Grateful for you!

  18. Nicole Watts

    Dan,

    Thank you for taking the bold move to put these things that too often stay hidden in shame out in a public place. I remember sitting in class with many of our fellow Moody students talking about anxiety/depression. The conversation was on a trajectory of depression as spiritual attack to be remedied by prayer and faith. The professor knew I wrestled with these things personally and eyed me nonchalantly to see if I would speak. That was the first day I spoke publically about my wrestlings and I was terrified. The last few years I have felt stirred to break the silence again, and reading your words remind me of the power of talking and that none of us walk alone. There is joy, passion, mess, darkness, hope, loneliness and faith undergirds it all as the anchor for our souls.

    • I’m so grateful that you have been open about your relationship with depression, and I hope that you continue to talk about it. It’s important. We all need to hear it. Thanks for sharing here!

  19. Dan:

    Thanks for your courage to open up. Do you have any ideas about what we can be doing at MBI to do a better job at ministering to students wrestling with depression and suicide? We have to do a better job and I think that you’d be a perfect one to bring some advice. Much love, bro.

    Christopher

    • Hey Christopher! Great question. I’m no expert, by any means, but what comes to mind is simply raising awareness. Creating space for it to be talked about and understood as more or less normal would go a long way to remove the taboo around it. I’d love to have some more conversation around that, if you’re interested. I’m sure the counseling department would be a great resources as well.

      Thanks for reading and thanks for asking this question. It means a lot to know you’re thinking about it!

  20. David Wheeler

    i am so thankful for you both and for this piece! Negative mental, emotional, and spiritual realities do not often find a safe place in churches or schools. This is the kind of story of risking an investment in honesty that drives a better conversation. I think we need more truth like this and I am inspired and encouraged deeply by yours.

    – david

  21. Kristin

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. I’m actually planning on going to a church tomorrow to talk to them about getting some counseling. I’ve kinda suspected for a while now that I might be struggling with some form of depression, I’ve just never taken it very seriously. But it’s becoming more frequent as of lately, and I just feel like I can’t move on with my life, which of course, makes me feel worse. It’s starting to scare me a little bit, honestly. I can’t keep living my life this way, you know? I’m almost 25. I want the last half of my twenties to be better.

    • Hi Kristin! Thanks for reading and writing. You’re courageous for planning to talk to someone. Way to go. You can do it. It’s hard to admit that you need help, especially when you haven’t shared about depression with many people. I’m rooting for you! You got this.

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