hope

Hurricane Harvey Guilt

This may sound odd, but I've found myself dealing with a sense of guilt the past few days as I scroll through social media and see the flooding Harvey is causing. The dramatic pictures and news headlines on webpages make me sad for a moment, but it's the pictures on Facebook of friends' homes and neighborhoods destroyed that make my heart sink into my gut and stay there for a long, long while.

Photos of the home of the Millers, some family friends (the water continued to rise to the second story)

Photos of the home of the Millers, some family friends (the water continued to rise to the second story)

The Millers' fence

The Millers' fence

Houston is my hometown, and I feel guilty for not being there now. As humans—and especially as a nurse—when we see something dear to our hearts hurting (a person, a family, a city, or a whole area of the state), it's our instinct to want to go to them, to help, to fix. Mainly to fix. 

I don't want to watch Harvey devastate Houston anymore. I don't want to watch people hurting anymore. I want to fix it. I want to be there.

But here I am, in Waco, Texas, within driving distance of Houston, but I'm not on the road; I'm sitting at my kitchen table typing on my computer, with air conditioning and electricity, a cup of hot coffee, and definitely no flooding outside my doors.

This is where the guilt creeps in. Guilt because I am safe and sound, and so many people are not. Guilt because I am not on my way to Houston to help, and Houston needs nurses right now. I have nursing friends who have been posting about their long haul at the hospital—two days, three, maybe more, trapped at their workplace and working insanely long shifts to care for their patients.

I've thought about going to provide relief as a nurse. I've prayed about it. I've even shed a few tears about it. In my pride, I want to go: I want to be a helper and a healer and a fixer. But I cannot go, not right now. The decision to move out of the nursing world is all too fresh, and I'm still recovering from burnout. To volunteer as a nurse to help with the devastation would only serve to devastate me

In the short term, it seems selfish. In the long term, it seems selfless. Because Houston is not a relief project for me; it's my hometown and always will be. I will always know and love people there, and in five years from now, when the news and media have moved on, I want to be able to be there, helping with the long-term cleanup and rebuilding—the rebuilding of homes and the rebuilding of hearts and morales and shattered dreams, for these are the things that are not so easily remade. They require tenderness and patience and a long-term relationship. They cannot be mended by nailing down roofing and flooring or even by raising up a brand-new house. I want to be in this for the long haul, and in order to be whole and able to help later, I must stay off the front lines of medical relief work today.

Will I serve with other, non-medical relief efforts? Tearing up carpet in flooded homes and clearing debris and providing food to those who have been displaced? Yes, I hope so. This, I believe, is well within my capacity at the moment. Everything within my capacity I will gladly give - because my heart is for Houston.

© John Glaser

© John Glaser

©  John Glaser

© John Glaser

My friends Alex & Christine Nuñez welcome neighborhood boys into their home

My friends Alex & Christine Nuñez welcome neighborhood boys into their home

© John Glaser

© John Glaser

I am for Houston, and I am for the hope this disaster is bringing: hope that community will be reborn. I have witnessed it before, during tragedies and storms like Hurricane Ike, when the community pulls together and neighbors finally meet after living on the same street for years. All barriers and politics disappear, and only a concern for others' wellbeing remains. This is my heart for Houston: that we will learn a lesson from Harvey, that the unity will not fade, that old biases and divisions will not be rebuilt along with old buildings and roads; that pride—just like mine today—will die away, and hope and grace will prevail; that we will see each other not as projects to be saved, but as people whom we love. This perspective has the power to change more than the gulf coast and create bigger waves than any hurricane ever could.

Dear Houston, my heart reaches out to you. I'm not within your city limits anymore, but I'm for you, and I'm rooting for the change and the hope you are showcasing for the whole world today.

With love,
A Former Houstonian

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The Truth About Depression: 5 Observations from Someone Who’s Been There

I have a confession.

I’ve struggled with depression for years. I’ve struggled with anxiety, too. For a long time, I tried not to let the world see my struggle. I let shame seal my mouth shut. But today, I want to begin sharing this part of my story—a part that I’ve desperately wanted to erase from my past but remains there nonetheless. I want to write about mental health because it matters, and I don’t think people talk about it enough.

So here is some truth about depression. I’m not a clinical expert or mental health nurse or any kind of therapist. I simply have observations from experience, from a raw wrestling with this intangible mood-killer and productivity-killer and sometimes people-killer. It’s my hope to begin writing more about my personal journey toward mental health, but for now, here are some foundational observations.

Observation #1: Lots of people are fighting the dragon of depression.

In high school, my English teacher used to say that “everyone has their dragons,” meaning everyone has things in life they are fighting against. The dragon of depression is a lot more common than we believe.

When I was a freshman in college, we had a chapel speaker give a lecture on depression. Opening with a statistic, he stated, “One in seven people suffer from depression.” One of the guys in my group started counting how many people were sitting in our row and said, “Hey, that means at least one of us would be depressed!”

I tried to shrink in my seat. That one person would be me.

I don’t know if that statistic is true or not, but I do know that a lot of people experience depression. It isn’t always physically debilitating, and we can’t see it with our eyes, but it still exists, and it’s a lot more rampant than we would like to believe.

Photo credit: Kateland Pricer

Photo credit: Kateland Pricer

Observation #2: Lots of people treat depression like a literal dragon—like a terrifying, mysterious myth.

Unless you’re a conspiracy theorist, you probably don’t spend much time talking about myths. You probably spend a lot more time on what you believe is true and relevant and affecting everyday life.

That makes complete sense—when it comes to actual myths. The problem is, depression isn’t a myth. In that way, it isn’t like a dragon at all.

However, just like a dragon, depression can seem terrifying and mysterious. As humans, we tend to shy away from the unknown, and our solution for the mysterious is to pretend like those things simply don’t exist. I don’t think anyone quite gets depression unless they’ve been there—and even those of us who've experienced it don’t completely understand it. We don't understand why it affects some people more than others, how it creeps up or vanishes or lingers, or why certain treatments or medications do or don’t work. 

Even though we can't explain it, we must acknowledge depression. We have massive educational efforts for diabetes and heart disease—we even have billboards talking about stroke symptoms—but for some reason we refuse to address depression on a wide scale publicly. Yet ignoring depression can be dangerous—perhaps just as dangerous and lethal as ignoring a dragon’s existence.

Observation #3: Stigma is a Silent Killer.

In nursing school we once had a slide dramatically titled, “Hypertension: the Silent Killer.” I chuckled at how dramatic the slide was, but I never forgot it. Later, I decided that in the mental health world, stigma deserves that title. “Stigma: the Silent Killer” is not an overstatement.

Over the past few years, many courageous people have been speaking up about mental illness and opening the floor for a nationwide conversation around it. I have been so encouraged by this! However, these speakers are still a rarity. We have a long way to go.

Stigma is why the people experiencing depression are the ones you would least suspect. Because of stigma, we hide it and try to compensate and sometimes overcompensate. We pretend we're okay, but inside we hate the mask we put on. Stigma leads to isolation and contributes to shame, which leads to self-hatred, which leads to increased depression, which leads to more shame. Ultimately, stigma leads to a startlingly high suicide rate in America

If depression is a dragon, stigma is its right-hand dragon buddy. With stigma around, people believe experiencing depression is weak and shameful. The greater the stigma and shame, the less likely people are to seek help. (Trust me, I waited four long years due to stigma and pride before going to therapy and finding help.)

Observation #4: It can always be better.

One of the flaws of depressive thinking is the belief that “it can never be better.” It all seems pretty hopeless.

Sometimes, it takes a friend to hope for you—to believe that things can get better. I was blessed to know a great group of girls in college who also struggled with depression and were brave enough to talk about it in everyday conversations. We hoped for each other when we couldn’t hope for ourselves.

Several of those girls are some of my best friends today. What happened for us was an anomaly, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be better. For individuals, for myself, my friends, and for society. Sometimes "better" is a simple step of courage away, found in working on a project we enjoy or joining a Bible study. Sometimes it's scheduling a coffee date with a friend and holding onto the knowledge that in exactly two days we'll have a friend to sit across from—encouragement and hope in tangible form.  Sometimes "better" is found in a text saying someone's praying for us.

Whatever form it takes, I believe it can always be better. I believe we can create a culture where it isn’t shameful to talk about depression, a culture where we hope for each other, a culture where we know we were made to need each other.

Observation #5: A change in culture starts with individual conversations.

Practically, how do we effect change? I believe it starts with awareness and conversations.

When we talk about depression, stigma is dismantled, and the truth comes out: depression affects nearly everyone at some point in their lives, and it doesn’t mean we’re weak. In fact, those who experience depression are some of the strongest, most courageous people I know.

When we can talk about depression and hopelessness and pain, we gain opportunities to sit with others through the darkness, which perhaps is the greatest help of all. When we can talk about depression, we open the door wide for those who are struggling to find the courage, hope, and community that really is out there for them. For me. For us.

I believe it can be better. I believe it starts with you and me, carrying on this conversation about the uncomfortable topics of depression and mental illness, through blog posts and social media and real-life conversations in coffee shops and work cubicles and homes. It starts with stark transparency and healthy vulnerability and bold humility.

The truth about depression is…it can get better. And it starts with us.

 

Thank you to my friend Kateland Pricer for graciously letting me use her photo! Katie created a set of photos that captures feelings I could never explain with words. Her email is K.pricer@yahoo.com. She is incredibly talented in the creative realm and just an all-around awesome person!

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