One of the myths surrounding mental illness is that it escapes successful people … that the poor, weak, and ambition-free folks are the ones waiting for their prescriptions at Rite-Aid.
I know better. Because I’ve seen so many of my successful friends fall into the Black Hole unable to surface to light on their own. I’ve read the biographies of Abraham Lincoln and Art Buchwald, Jane Pauley and William Styron, and I know there was never anything weak about them.
I try to highlight the stories of successful depressives whenever I find them because I know that we need that boost of confidence … to be reminded that our illness has nothing to do with our skills in the workplace, or our desire to accomplish great things. We just have some interesting brain wiring that takes some time and energy to figure out.
Rhonda Rowland, former medical correspondent for CNN, writes a great blog post about depression and successful people on the very cool website that she and co-founder Diana Keough launched this month called Medical Mommas. She describes the first moment her dad came to terms with his depression. Writes Rowland:
I remember the moment well. My phone rang at 9 a.m. sharp on a Saturday morning in 2002, as if my dad had been watching the clock, waiting to call.
The first words out of his mouth were: “Your mother told me about a story you’re working on about some executives.” He and my mom lived in Florida. At that time, my dad owned his own luxury home building business in the southwest part of the state but was beginning to phase himself out of it, in preparation for retirement. When he called, I lived in Atlanta and worked at CNN.
Yes, I was working on a story about my boss, Tom Johnson, former CEO and president of CNN. Tom and another prominent Atlanta businessman, J.B. Fuqua had recently gone public with a secret they shared: both battled severe depression.
In the story, I described their secret lives – important meetings cancelled at the last minute, lights out in their offices so they could sleep or hide, cowering in the corner and crying like a baby. These men, who appeared to hold the world in their hands, were enveloped in a deep darkness that stole their self-esteem and self worth.
“I think I might have that,” my dad said, matter of fact.
I could hardly breathe. What?! My dad is always happy. He has everything together. He’s our family’s patriarch. He’s the go-to guy when any of us have a problem. He always listens and always has a solution. I was incredulous! How could I have missed this in my own father?
A moment later, my dad started speaking, letting his secret spill out. He told me he was in a very, very dark place and didn’t know how to find his way out. I could hear the fear in his voice. Until this moment he hadn’t told anyone and I could almost feel his relief as he talked. He spoke as if he was talking about someone else. A stranger.
What I did next, was what I tended to do when I was reporting stories: I tried to put my feelings in a box. It was too painful to think this was happening to my dad. He needed help and needed it fast.
You need to visit Rhonda’s blog to read the rest, but what a great service she and Diana do to reach out to other successful depressives and tell them that they are not alone.