Oh, hey! It’s been such a long lovely day I almost forgot to mention that 12 years ago I married my favorite human on the planet.

We Need You.

We need you to be proud.

We need you to replace the word “sufferer” with the word “survivor”. We need you to avoid speaking of yourself as a mental illness sufferer. We need to tell people that you are a mental illness survivor.

We need you to tell the world “I’m a survivor”.

We need you to say to the world, “You’ve heard of cancer survivors? You’ve heard of heart attack survivors? Well, I’m a Mental Illness Survivor and I’m proud of that.”

We need you to remind others that this is an illness, not dissimilar from other illnesses and that, like those, this too can and does kill. We need you to inform those who don’t know that. We need you to be a proud example of someone who has survived. We need you to get a bit puffed-up about the fact that you fight the Piggyback Guy every damn day and that you win. That each next breath is proof of what a badass you are. We need you to do this for those that can’t. Those that are not quite there yet. We need you to give them hope.

We need you to own it.

We need you to speak about your experience openly, honestly, and without shame. When people ask questions, no matter how stupid, we need you to reply with the best answers you can give. We need you to help others who don’t understand what it means to live with a mental illness. To live each day with your brain often, actively, trying to get you to die. We need you to let them know that not everyone is the same and it’s different for everyone but that one thing is the same and that is, if it is left unchecked, it can and does kill.

We need you to get help when you need it.

We need you to tell people it’s OK to need to talk to someone about this. That it’s OK to need to take medication. That sometimes you may need to pick up the phone and call a hotline, or phone a friend who gets it. That, maybe, you might need to spend some time at a hospital or in a care facility. That this is what people who have an illness sometimes have to do. That this is how they get better.

We need you to take care of yourself.

We need you to be kind to yourself. We need you to follow the “life mask rule” (put yours on before assisting others). We need you to take it easy on the hard days and to be a symbol of hope for others on the good ones. We need you to be OK with not being OK and OK with being OK when you are OK. Because being OK takes a bit of extra work for many of us. Be happy that you are.

We need you to be there for the others that aren’t.

We need you to show others they can beat this. That it does not have to kill you. Because, here’s the deal. When folks like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain die because of this illness, many of us who are deep in it ourselves say, “Damn. If they can’t beat it then how can I?”. We need you to be a living shining example of one who has survived. Who continues to survive. Who continues to thrive.

We need you to be an ambassador.

We need you to tell the world that mental health is everyone’s issue. That if they have a brain then mental health matters to them personally. That this is why it is important to support mental health research and mental health organizations and mental health causes. Not just for the survivors they know, but for themselves too. Let people know that everyone β€” everyone β€” has some mental health crisis at some point in their lives. Let them know that they may not have an illness but may need a bit of extra support during such times. Let them know that this is OK to and that there is no shame in it and that this is why supporting mental health as a cause benefits everyone.

We need you to know that you matter.

That every single Mental Illness Survivor is proof that we can beat this. That it can and does get better. That there is hope. That there is dignity. That they are deserving of our respect.

I’m a mental illness survivor. And, no matter who or where or how you are, I need you with me on this.

“Everyone was born to ride unicorns. Not just she, but everyone.”

β€” Beatrix, age 10, has thoughts about the exclusionary nature of some Instagram memes.

β€œTo be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to
be accepted by others. You need to be yourself.”

β€” Thich Nhat Hanh

The Piggyback Guy

There’s a three hundred pound guy I know and, no offense to other three hundred pound guys but, the guy is an asshole. He wants a piggyback ride. He won’t leave me alone about it. He’s been following me around for forty years demanding a piggyback ride. He’s angry and brooding and relentless about it. He just wont quit and likely never will.

Most days, these days, he stands a couple of hundred feet away looking pissed off and grumbling under his breath about not getting his ride. It’s OK, I hardly know he’s there. I can ignore him.

But, some days, he’s 20 feet away yelling at me. He’s like, “Hey! Where’s my ride! Give me my ride!” I have to spend a significant amount of my mental and emotional energy to ignore him and get stuff done. But, then, I get afraid that if I ignore him he’ll get closer and so then I run. I try to get some distance between me and him. Sometimes that works. Most of the time, it doesn’t. I just have to remind myself that I have the power and courage and strength to keep him at bay.

Then I wake up the next morning and he’s sitting on my chest. I can’t get up out of bed. He’s literally on top of me and, well, I’m just not strong enough to push him off. He sticks his face an inch from mine and I, helplessly trapped, have to sit there and listen to all of the abuse he throws at me. How I’m a fucked up and worthless human being. That all he wanted was a piggyback ride and I’m a piece of shit for not letting him have one. That now, now, he’s going to sit on top of me and relax more and more and crush me with his full weight and that he’s never getting off and that my friends can’t save me and my loved ones can’t help and the only way out is to figure out how to get through the day with him on my back because I’m going to have to give him a piggyback ride for the rest of my life and that even if I manage to get him off somehow he’s always going to be there so maybe I should just die.

This. This blessed life I have. Seriously, it’s amazing. Words can’t describe how incredibly humbled by it I feel most days. I have a beautiful wife, smart and incredible kids, I want for nothing… Except to have all of that without the three hundred pound asshole hanging around. And still, even though most days are just fine, I have to live each one with him around out there in the distance and I know the only way he’ll ever leave is after I’m dead.

That is the best way I have found to describe depression to someone who doesn’t live with it β€” who is not surviving with it. Every. Damn. Day.

So now, perhaps, if you don’t know what that feels like and the reality of it you might, maybe, be able to understand why a Anthony Bourdain, someone who lived with such curiosity and passion for life, might choose death. A guy with a groudbreaking TV show and kids and friends and travel and money and and and… His three hundred pound guy got the best of him.

My wife, upon hearing the news this morning, asked, “Why does it seem so many of our artists, creatives, and brilliant people are committing suicide lately?”

I said, “Lately, the world itself feels like a three hundred pound guy demanding piggyback rides.”

Now, I just want to be clear, especially to those who have a three hundred pound guy like mine, or to whom the whole world feels like one β€” THERE IS HELP. There are doctors and organizations and medications and much much more. You can push that guy so far away you’ll be OK. You can learn to live with his sour sad sack ass looking all lonely and sad and hopeful out in the distance. And, objects at a distance seem so small in perspective.

As for me, after years of doctors, hospitalization, medication, treatment, and the rest, it was this book and zen practices in general (mindfulness, meditation, presence, etc.) that helped me. It’s how I keep my three hundred pound guy far away most days and have for years.

But, those of us who suffer must find our own path. There is no one way, one cure, one answer to fix it. We know more about the planet Neptune than we do about the human brain. For some it takes a single pill for others a lifetime of minute-by-minute work. But, there are many β€” SO MANY β€” places to contact and ask for help.

There’s the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support (1-800-273-8255).

I’m on the board of Mental Health Association of Minnesota which offers something called a Warmline for folks who may not be in immediate crisis but just need someone to talk to who have been there and get it (651-288-0400)

Unsure if you are just a little down or have your own three hundred pound piggyback guy? Take an online assessment and get a good idea.

The point is, you are not alone. You don’t have to put up with that guy. There is a way to get him off your back. Please, do it for us. All of us who love you. All of us who need someone, who’s like us, to give us hope. Today.