This blog was written in remembrance of my friend Danny who entered eternal rest March 17, 2015.
It has been two years since the passing of one of my best friends, Danny. I will never forget the great memories we shared. I sit here this morning in New York City, trying to figure out the best way I can carry on Danny’s legacy. Well, it started out by taking a walk down the street and praying for my friend’s soul. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I walked on the snow lined street in New York City, thinking how Danny would have made sure that he walked closest to the street to protect the slush of the snow or water splashing up and hitting the lady. Chivalry was alive and well with Danny. I proceeded to walk ten more blocks and found breakfast at the local diner, a place similar to the restaurant in our hometown where we grew up and where Danny and I frequented for Saturday morning eggs, toast, and pancakes. Today I ordered an omelette, home fried potatoes, and toast. It was a little surreal to sit at the diner alone as I reminisced of my friend. It seemed like only yesterday that Danny was stopping by for pizza at my house, going on workout runs down 10th street, or being an incredible listening ear to all my musings. In the first year of Danny’s passing, I wrote a poem in his honor to show his greatness and the big heart he had! This year, I pondered and discerned the next action I could do to celebrate Danny’s life, and I feel the only avenue is to talk about the truth about mental health….because Danny was a man of truth.
Mental health issues need to be strongly addressed in this country! As a woman who has personally dealt with anxiety/depression, and post trauma stress, I can say that improvements in mental health are going to take a lot more than popping a pill to heal our body, mind, and soul. I do not claim to have all the answers and I am not a doctor! I am not recommending for everyone to stop cold turkey on his or her medications, but I can say that personal experience can be the best education and I feel I have at least something to share.
There are so many factors that can play a role in mental health and specifically, those who struggle with depression: having allergies to certain foods can cause depression (i.e. gluten, food coloring), leaky gut syndrome, overactive or underactive thyroid, deficient vitamin D or B vitamins like B3, B6, and B12, trauma and exposure to trauma triggers, unforgiveness, spirit of despair, lack of hope, and spiritual depression. These are just a few! It seems that as a society and perhaps the medical community, that we often speak of the methods to ameliorating the symptoms rather than then finding root causes.
Humans are both body and spirit. I believe that when one part of the body is sick, the spirit feels sick and vice versa. Don’t believe me? Ever had an argument with a loved one to the point where you felt ‘sick to the stomach?’ You didn’t eat or sleep because of something stressful that happened at work? Ok. I rest my case. A great mentor of mine once told me, “The mind and body are fatigable.” When the body is stressed, it releases the stress hormone cortisol. High levels can change homocysteine levels. If these levels are off, they can become a breeding ground for sickness, cancer, and disease. I believe a similar process happens to the spirit. When the spirit is sick, one has an inability to be kind, compassionate, loving, and empathic. For both the body and spirit, the journey is finding the “stressor” that is impacting the body and the spirit? This can be a difficult process. I know.
I remember my first panic attack when I was about 13 years old, and for about 20 years, I struggled on an off with episodes of depression and anxiety. I remember some ‘episodes’ where I felt the common stomach upset, dizziness, numbness in hands and arms, and heart palpitations. I had a severe episode that left me nearly bed ridden. By the time I hit my 30’s I encountered a long period of extreme struggle and pain that lasted a good two years. The insomnia was excruciating and I thought I had severe illness.
It was during this time that I deeply reflected on the question: “where is this pain coming from?” So, one day, I walked into Church and I sat in the pew for about 20 minutes in silence. Nothing really happened. But, I loved the silence, because for this gal, who struggled with anxiety, sickness in my stomach, agitation, etc., the silence felt wonderful! It was not long after that I began coming back to the Church twice a week. Then, it became three…and four. I did this for about two years straight. I began to ask, why does my body feel so stressed? How can I heal my mind and body? I sat in silence. Again, nothing happened. After days of visiting the same spot in the pew, I had the immediate inclination to bring a pen and journal. I began to write down every single situation in my life that caused stress to me, that brought pain to me…I had a list that stemmed its way to childhood. The tears began to roll.
In the months following that break-through day, I began to do a thorough analysis of the mind, body, and soul. We often hear of New Yorkers leaving the city to ‘detox’ from big city life. For me, these months were a kind of detox as well. I began to ask myself how I was treating my body. How am I feeding my body? What am I eating? What am I drinking? Am I exercising? Soon after, I began to do an analysis of my emotional well-being. What behaviors or attitudes do I currently hold that impact the way I view life, situations, people? What or who are toxic people and environments that I need to remove from my life or perhaps have the opportunity to express feelings? Some of the activities I was able to change in flash. Others were slow…and still working on.
I prayed fervently every day for healing. It seemed every day I walked away with a tear stained journal. I did not mind. I also took a leap of faith and saw both a spiritual director and a therapist who could teach me coping skills for some of those bigger items on the list. Through time, I found that many physical symptoms I had in my twenties no longer existed. Healing takes incredible self-care and patience, and many times the advocacy and support of friends and family. Healing’s process is like perfecting a sung note. It takes time and the muscle must be built. The Will also must be strengthened.
After Danny’s death, I asked myself some incredibly deep questions about life and healing. What would drive Danny to end his life? What was in his life that caused stress? The beautiful and sometimes melancholic realization of the human spirit is that nobody knows the interior life of another. We can guess, assume, ponder, estimate, but at the end of the day, it is that sole person who knows the desires of his or her heart. Sometimes these desires are not orderly…sometimes they are. So, how do we know if our desires are ‘off’? If we are to change these desires, whom do we seek help?
In today’s age of psychology, we often hear the necessity to ‘find one’s own truth’ or get some ‘talk therapy.’ We also hear of methods such as CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy). I do believe that CBT works, but that suggests that the counselor, healer, priest, pastor, must lead the wounded, sick, and hurt to…well…something…some new realization? Some person? Some inspiring thought? If CBT is about changing one’s cognition, then it must start from a foundation of something and lead to something else. What is that something else? If I went to a doctor and said, “Doc, I need to be healed,” and she replied with, “well, let’s get you healed…what do you think you have?” If my response was, “I think I have a stomach tumor because I am getting headaches,” and the doctor responds, “then you must have a stomach tumor, let’s do surgery,” I’d probably have to rethink coming to that doctor. Because one says so, does not mean that it IS so. It does not mean I hold the truth to what is. I could look at a tree and call it the sky and try to convince others around me that the tree I am looking at is the sky, but it won’t change the composition of the tree into the sky for it has already been created and designed. There are absolutes about nature. In a similar way, I believe the body presents absolutes about its needs (the body needs food and water for survival, for instance), I believe the spirit and emotional health presents absolutes that brings us to wellness and joyfulness. Though I acknowledge that depression can have genetic roots, our current statistics that show major depression to be the leading cause of disability worldwide leads me to believe that there are other major root causes of depression other than genetic disposition. I firmly believe there is a large majority of the world who are depressed as a result of physical, spiritual, or emotional deficiencies.
One of the best healers I had was a mentor who had suggested unforgiveness as a clear indicator of spiritual sickness. I believe unforgiveness comes from unresolved anger. It festers and boils. It deepens. It turns to resentment. Left untouched, it is incredibly destructive to one’s own body and others around the angered person. It’s like spiritual warfare building internally until it explodes. On the flipside, I believe anger, when directed in a healthy manner is the culimination of both sadness and injustice. So in essence, this type of just anger, shows an expression of deep love really. If Danny were here today, I would have asked him, what are you sad about?
I once read in a book that one area of depression is defined as a sensitivity to the deficiencies of love. I had never looked at depression that way. It seems we live in a culture that does not accept sadness or even depression. We feel sad, pop a pill. We feel angry, pop a pill. We feel any mode of pain, pop a pill. But, depression posed this way, seems to suggest that those who suffer from a spiritual depression in many ways are a gift to humanity! I started pondering that thought to myself, a gift? Really? I sit here feeling melancholic and that is a gift? I have learned that in many ways it is. If one can weep for oneself and find healing, who is to say that one can weep on behalf of another as a sort of healing on behalf of another. I think it is quite possible and very true. The depressed person has a sensitivity to what should be but isn’t. It is this expectation that the depressed person places on humanity that is difficult to manage. In this way, I feel Danny had one of the largest hearts.
If we don’t water a plant, it withers and dies. Do we blame the plant for not having fed itself? I understand that suicide is an action that one chooses against his or her own life but I can’t help think of the many ways in which our society has caused a slow death of its members by lack of empathy, lack of time, lack of care and compassion, lack of resources, lack of education … or plain apathy. I think to myself: did I call Danny enough? Did I give him a hug when he needed it? Was I a listening ear to him? Did I pray for him? Did I pray over him? Did he eat healthy? Was he exposed to environmental toxins in his workplace? Did the kids who ever bullied him growing up ever come forward and apologize? Did we do enough to monitor a vet who served our country? Or did we send him on his way after visiting a clinic on a bus alone after showing suicidal tendencies? I truly believe that my dear friend Danny was doing the best he did to heal himself and battle internal demons…and of course, I acknowledge completely the responsibility of Danny’s choice to end his life! I have pondered these thoughts in my head as I believe that love is essential to survival. There is a shared responsibility in loving another, and when loss occurs, it’s easy to ask oneself whether I personally did enough to help him in his time of need.
Do we really talk about these issues in the mental health arena? I don’t believe so. Not all pharmaceuticals are going to help a person. My friend Danny took pills three weeks before his death. I personally had five doctors in New York City prescribe me sleeping pills when I had a two year problem with insomnia. As it turned out, I had a severe vitamin D deficiency that was cured with simple plan of taking 5,000 IU’s a day. Because the lack of sleep had had such a terrible impact on my body I started a B100 Complex for three months daily. I also worked on healing the gut. There are theories that the gut is like the second brain of the body and I firmly believe that in the area of mental health, leaky gut syndrome needs to be addressed. Feelings of dizziness, heart palpitations, crazy thoughts, dry mouth, fatigue, weight gain, weight loss, etc., are the many symptoms of depression. Let’s address root causes. I am pleased to say that through the many episodes of pain and suffering that my body and mind went through, that I am constantly on a road of healing. With good nutrition, active prayer life, healthy lifestyle, healthy boundaries in interpersonal relationships, right supplementation of vitamins that work for my body, and total active engagement in the arts and creativity, I am sleeping wonderfully and I am not on any antidepressants. Singing is my greatest medicinal! For those reading this blog, I need to advise one more time, that I am not suggesting people remove their medications and I am also not suggesting in any way that there is ‘weakness’ in those who may need antidepressants. What I am suggesting is that the human person is so uniquely designed and all areas needs to be addressed with great precision, care, and patience when speaking of the mental health issues that are pervading our country. I promise to write more about health and wellness in the months to come but for now…: To my dearest friend Danny, I pray for you always and hope you watch down on all of us here. Thank you for being the steadfast friend you were in the 35 years that we were blessed to have you with us. Rest in peace.