Beyond Blue

What do the Christian existential thinker Soren Kierkegaard and the movie “The Full Monty” (the 1997 flick about six unemployed steel workers who form a male striptease act) have in common?

Let me tell you.

Kierkegaard described despair as not being conscious of having a self, not willing to be oneself, and despair at the thought of willing to be oneself. For him, despair is “sickness unto death” and it can be overcome by faith: “By relating itself to its own self and by willing to be itself, the self is grounded transparently in the Power which constituted it.”

Translation: We overcome despair by finding our true identity and becoming “transparent under God,” which requires a complete self-emptying or dying unto oneself much like the crucified Christ.

The film “The Full Monty,” is, of course, about their showing it all, with very imperfect bodies.

I came upon this epiphany today while e-mailing a friend who is stuck in the Black Hole–the same one who is reading too many articles on the Internet about depression. I asked her if I could refer to her e-mail in Beyond Blue (despite rumors in my family, I really do ask permission to quote people).

“Yes, of course you may use whatever you would like to from my email in a post,” she replied. “Thank you for not sharing my name just yet. I’m not ready to go that public, but deep down inside I feel that may be part of my purpose in the future–sharing my depression/anxiety journey full Monty.”

“That’s it!” I thought. “That’s the kenosis, or self-emptying, that Kierkegaard is talking about!”

And then this: “Oh my God. I’m flashing lots of readers every weekday on Beyond Blue by sharing my depression/anxiety journal full Monty.”

Last year around this time is when I flashed my story for the first time (that is, went public). And not without some serious reservations. Countless friends, relatives, and colleagues advised me to tuck my psych ward stories and doctors’ notes under my mouse pad, because writing about them would guarantee the end of my career.

I listened to what they said because I know they spoke with the best of intentions: they wanted to protect me from the cruel things ignorant people might say, from the hiccups that happen when you start telling the embarrassing facts. Who doesn’t want a friend’s recovery to be easy, the path to health to be smooth? I might vote the same way if David or Katherine were deliberating on whether or not to share their pain with the world.

But then I’d look at the stack of books and articles beside my bed: “An Unquiet Mind” by Kay Redfield Jamison, “Darkness Visible” by William Styron, an interview with Art Buchwald in “Psychology Today,” and quotes by Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill that I had found online.

“Where would I be if they had kept their mouths shut?” I asked myself.

Less hopeful, definitely.

“What would the world think about people who are mentally ill?”

That they are mostly psychotic chicks like Andrea Yates and homeless guys on the street.

So in an act of one-third anger (“I suffer from mental illness but I can still write a decent article and raise good kids”), one-third compassion (“Maybe this message will help someone else who suffers like Lincoln’s words have empowered me”), and one-third striptease (“This is who I am, like it or not”), I penned my first piece that exposed the truth: that I had dropped my regular column for Catholic News Service and asked a friend to fill in not because of general health problems, but because I was fighting for my life in a terrifying bout of depression, that my six-month hiatus wasn’t due to back pain…it had more to do with the anorexics hogging the one computer in the community room of the psych ward (Facebook, it’s quite the rage).

And Kierkegaard was right. The self-emptying, the coming to terms with who I am even if it unnerved some people (which it did, let me tell you), the dying unto my myself, or unto the sickness, was, in fact, the way to overcome the despair.

It was recovery–full Monty style. And it felt good.

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