By: Ann Voskamp
Cancer can be deadly and so can depression.
So can the dark and the shame and the crush of a thousand skeletons, a thousand millstones, a thousand internal infernos.
We could tell you what we know.
That — depression is like a room engulfed in flames and you can’t breathe for the sooty smoke smothering you limp — and suicide is deciding there is no way but to jump straight out of the burning building.
That when the unseen scorch on the inside finally sears intolerably hot – you think a desperate lunge from the flames and the land of the living seems the lesser of two unbearables.
That’s what you’re thinking — that if you’d do yourself in, you’d be doing everyone a favor.
I had planned mine for a Friday.
That come that Friday the flames would be licking right up the the strain of my throat. You don’t try to kill yourself because death’s appealing — but because life’s agonizing. We don’t want to die. But we can’t stand to be devoured.
So I made this plan. And I wrote this note.
And I remember the wild agony of no way out and how the stars looked, endless and forever, and your mind can feel like it’s burning up at all the edges and there’s never going to be any way to stop the flame. Don’t bother telling us not to jump unless you’ve felt the heat, unless you bear the scars of the singe.
Don’t only turn up the praise songs but turn to Lamentations and Job and be a place of lament and tenderly unveil the God who does just that — who wears the scars of the singe. A God who bares His scars and reaches through the fire to grab us, “Come — Escape into Me.”
Nobody had told me that –
that one of the ways to get strong again is to set the words free.
You know — The Word that bends close and breathes warming love into the universe…. and the words mangled around swollen secrets and strangling dark — just let the Word, the words, all free in you.
My Dad, he had told me that if I told, it’d slit us all.
So much for believing the Truth will set you free. So much weight for a wide-eyed nine-year-old.
So I locked lips and heart hard so no one knew about the locked wards and the psychiatric doctors and why my mama was gone and it’s crazy how the stigma around mental health can drive you right insane.
There are some who take communion and anti-depressants and there are those who think both are a crutch.
Come in close — I’d rather walk tall with a crutch than crawl around insisting like a proud and bloody fool that I didn’t need one.
I once heard a pastor tell the whole congregation that he had lived next to the loonie bin and I looked at the floor when everyone laughed and they didn’t know how I loved my mama. I looked to the floor when they laughed, when I wanted them to stand up and reach through the pain of the flames and say:
Our Bible says Jesus said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick.”Jesus came for the sick, not for the smug. Jesus came as doctor and He makes miracles happen through medicine and when the church isn’t for the suffering, then the Church isn’t for Christ.
I wanted them to say it all together, like one Body, for us to say it all together to each other because there’s not one of us who hasn’t lost something, who doesn’t fear something, who doesn’t ache with something. I wanted us to turn to the hurting, to each other, and promise it till we’re hoarse:
We won’t give you some cliche – but something to cling to — and that will mean our hands.
We won’t give you some platitudes — but someplace for your pain — and that will mean our time.
We won’t give you some excuses — but we’ll be some example — and that will mean bending down and washing your wounds. Wounds that we don’t understand, wounds that keep festering, that don’t heal, that down right stink — wounds that can never make us turn away.
Because we are the Body of the Wounded Healer and we are the people who believe the impossible — that wounds can be openings to the beauty in us.
We’re the people who say: there’s no shame saying that your heart and head are broken because there’s a Doctor in the house. It’s the wisest and the bravest who cry for help when lost.
There’s no stigma in saying you’re sick because there’s a wounded Healer who uses nails to buy freedom and crosses to resurrect hope and medicine to make miracles.
There’s no guilt in mental illness because depression is a kind of cancer that attacks the mind. You don’t shame cancer, you treat cancer. You don’t treat those with hurting insides as less than. You get them the most treatment.
I wanted the brave to speak Truth and Love:
Shame is a bully and Grace is a shield. You are safe here.
To write it on walls and arms and wounds:
Always safe for the suffering here.
You can be different and you can struggle and you can wrestle and you can hurt and we will be here.Because a fallen world keeps falling apart and even though we the Body can’t make things turn out — we can turn up. Just keep turning up, showing up, looking up.
Mama came Home and I found grace, a thousand, endless graces, and it is by grace we are saved, grace adopting us into a family that no illness can ever remove us from.
Grace, that miracle which even the darkest can’t consume, but only consumes you.
Light pried through the dark. A shaft came through a window like a lifeline. And the birds sang and we heard them.