Note from Allen
Usually, I have issues writing the monthly Note from Allen because I have far too much I want to say. This month, that was still true, but I also just felt stuck as a writer. I decided to look at the August 2011 eUpdate to see what I was thinking a year ago.
It turns out that, a year ago, with no knowledge that the DBSA team would conceive of anything like the DBSA Positive Six Campaign as a way to connect with one another, I wrote, “That’s a suggestion I’ll make: reach out to someone, and let her or him know you think she or he is great. That she or he can achieve something big—that you believe in her or his ability and strength. It’s an amazing thing to know someone believes in you.” In essence, I said, “Make connections,” and now, a year later, we have the New Connections Challenge.
All of the DBSA Positive Six challenges are important, but if I had to pick one challenge that I think is the most impactful, it would be August’s New Connections Challenge. Depression and bipolar disorder can be immensely isolating, and, when we’re not at our best, many of us may wish to avoid rather than seek out others. When we break the cycle of isolation, we can help ourselves to get better, and we can inspire others to continue on their own paths to wellness.
I was reminded of the power of connection recently when I ran into a friend with whom I’d gone to college. Back then, I had no idea that she, like me, was coping with the recent diagnosis of a mood disorder. Nor did I imagine that the intervening years (I won’t say how many!) would include some very similarly challenging times for both of us. I just knew that she was my awesome friend Amy, who was talented, bright, and energetic—someone I admired and wanted to be like.*
When I handed Amy my card, and she saw where I worked, she disclosed that she has bipolar disorder and has been struggling of late. And, while this was news to me, it was nevertheless almost obvious—she looked tired, like the weight of the world was dragging her towards the earth.
Through the course of our conversation, she said, “I’ve pretty much given up on a happy life—I just want a life where I’m not in the hospital and I’m not causing problems for my loved ones.” I let her know that almost identical thoughts had occurred to me many times, and that I hoped she’d believe me when I told her that something better is possible—that I’m living proof of that. She was skeptical, and understandably so. I probably would have wanted to punch anyone who said something like that to me back when I was wrestling with acute, relentless depression. So I just said, “I’m so thrilled to have seen you, and I want to stay in touch. I think you’re extraordinary—indeed, I wanted to be more like you when we saw each other regularly. That’s who you are to me: a leader, a passionate artist, a warm and kind friend. That’s what I hope, and know, you’ll be again.”
In the past two months since we reconnected, we’ve gotten together for coffee three times. No, Amy’s not all better with a totally happy life. But this last time we met, her hair was down, making her look like a golden lioness, which is how I remember her from our college days (the previous times, her hair was clenched in a ponytail). I said, “Wow. You look amazing.” She replied, “Ha. You’re the third person who’s said that recently. Even my mother, who’s not prone to compliments, said I’m looking good lately.” I said, “You’re being who you are: extraordinary.” She smiled and, with clear eyes, whispered, “Thank you.” And then we started in on lots of things: books, exes, which frozen yogurt is the best. We didn’t sit and compare mood disorder stories. But she—my peer in so many ways—is, and always was, extraordinary. And what a marvelous gift that I could help her reconnect with that. "It’s an amazing thing to know someone believes in you."
With positive energy,
*Name and certain identifying details changed for privacy