One of my favorite pieces of clothing is a sweatshirt made by my friends at the non-profit movement To Write Love on Her Arms. It’s grey with a white font which simply reads: People Need Other People.
The line itself is pretty pedestrian. But the truth it’s rooted in is deep and meaningful to me.
As a advocate and occasional spokesperson for mental health, I’ve had the privilege of hearing a lot of different stories from a lot of different people. Stories of depression, addiction, suicide attempts. But inside of all these seemingly devastating stories, I’ve seen a lot of hope and healing and a heck of a lot of resiliency and redemption.
There isn’t a common thread in these stories, but there’s a common theme: people don’t get happy or get healthy or heal all on their own.
We need other people to do that.
There is an African philosophy I heard when I was coming up as an athlete. In its purest form it reads: “A person is a person through other people.”
We need other people to call us out on our behavior. We need other people to pick us up when we’ve fallen. We need other people to take a bottle out of our hands, and we need other people to help put hope back inside our heads and our hearts when we’re hurting.
No matter what life looks like, we all need support.
It’s why we get married and have families and stay in touch with friends: A good story requires more than one character. And a good life requires more than a singular existence.
We all want—need—to be connected. It’s why everyone in line at Starbucks is head-down on their iPhone—because we want to tap into the familiar and forgiving space of an old friend, family member or someone we love.
We’re continually longing for that sense of connection and meaning. Yet sometimes, when it comes to pain, we have a strange relationship with community and being connected to others.
It’s easy to live in community at birthday parties or at Thanksgiving or Christmas. When we need help, however, it suddenly seems pretty easy to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. The word “community” starts to look a lot more like the word “accountability.” And the last thing anyone who’s depressed or addicted or hurting wants is someone who knows and loves them well enough to look them in to the eye and say “You’re not doing so well. And you need help.”
The last thing we want is someone to keep us accountable. We’re scared of that. And maybe we’re scared of it because deep down we know we need it the most.
I’ve lived in those moments of isolation. Often they become more than moments—they become days, and days become weeks, and weeks become months, and suddenly you’re so disconnected from everyone else, you realize that you’ve become completely disconnected from yourself.
There is an African philosophy I heard when I was coming up as an athlete. My coach used to talk about it a lot. It’s called Ubuntu, and in its purest form it reads: “A person is a person through other people. I can’t be all I can be, unless you are all you can be. I am, because we are.”
Beneath the poetry of those lines, there’s also a heavy truth.
We find our meaning in other people. We find our love in other people. We find joy in other people.
So why, when it comes to recovery and healing a hurt soul, do we look to ourselves for all the answers?
To me, accountability via other people is the most-often-neglected approach to healing and hope. Perhaps because it’s easier to tell someone to see a doctor or start taking a pill. Maybe we undervalue the role we can play in someone else’s recovery. Maybe we’re just scared to step into that role. I just know that people need each other. And they need each other the most when life looks heavy and painful.
One of my favorite guys to to follow on Twitter is Andy Lassner. Andy is the executive producer of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and he’s just a generally hilarious guy. Sometimes he jumps on screen with Ellen to do a bit but most of the time he is behind the camera, calling shots and writing spit-take-funny tweets. Out of more than 7,000 tweets on his profile, I’d venture that maybe seven-and-a-half of them are serious. However, one that falls into the serious category reads like this:
As a recovering alcoholic and drug addict the single most important piece of advice I have is to just ask for help. That’s all. Really.
— andy lassner (@andylassner) September 11, 2013
And in my opinion, pretty damn on point.
Anyway, as I wrap up my four part series with Made Man, I feel like I should end with a thank you.
Firstly, to Made Man for the generous invitation to come write over here and second, to everyone who has taken the time to not only read the first three articles in our series on mental health, but also tweet/Facebook/email me about them.
It truly means a lot to hear such kind words from such a supportive group of people. These topics are never easy to talk about, I know. So I truly appreciate everyone who has carved out a little spot inside their heads and their hearts to think about them. I hope we all continue this conversation because I believe it to be an important one to have. Too many families are being shattered. Too many lives are being lost.
We can do something to change that. Actually, we can do a lot to change that.
I hope this series has been a step in that direction.