We're honored to share this essay by Des Moines cast member George Worthington. We recently asked our alumni to share their thoughts on how life changed after participating in This Is My Brave. This essay is about how George found his tribe.
A small article in our local newspaper caught my eye. It concerned a performance regarding mental health to be staged by an organization called This Is My Brave. I submitted my story and was invited to be part of the show.
When I arrived for our rehearsal there were about a dozen women and two or three men. They all seemed to know each other which added to my feeling of not belonging. I felt like a bull in a glassware shop. But as they began sharing their stories of depression, anxiety and suicide, I began to relax. Their stories were similar to mine. The thought occurred to me that these are my people. People who would accept me as I am. People around whom I wouldn't have to pretend I was someone I wasn't. I read my essay and received warm applause. I was home.
I've battled clinical depression all my life. I'll soon be seventy five years old. How can I tell such a long story in five minutes? My family helped me remember the incidents, times, places and as we looked over my littered landscape of mood swings, panic attacks, and feelings of utter worthlessness we realized we were going to have to do some severe editing.
In 2005 I had a heart attack that required a quadruple bypass. My family told me that afterward, my depression seemed to become more chronic. In 2008 I retired, and my wife said that my angry outbursts became more frequent. I felt powerless and sad. In 2010 I attempted suicide, and became well acquainted with the psych unit at Lutheran Hospital.
Through tears and anger we put a coherent story together that took about eight minutes to tell. It was a valuable exercise that helped me to bring some sense of order to the disorder that had defined my life up to that point.
On the night of the performance we gathered backstage. We joked, paced the floor, wrung our hands, and tried to reassure one another that all would be well. These are my people. We processed onto the stage. The lights blinded us as we tried to remember to smile in the direction of the audience while trying to avoid the cords that snaked across the floor of the stage.
I had the dubious distinction of being the first storyteller. It seemed to go well and I was genuinely surprised by the warmth and duration of the applause when I finished. My family and friends had front row seats and were probably close enough to count the beads of sweat that trickled down my face.
After the show we gathered in the lobby to greet the audience. My son grasped me in a bear hug and through a flood of tears, told me what a good job I'd done. The rest of my family hugged, kissed, and congratulated me. I had never felt anything like that before! I was doubly surprised when people I didn't know came up to us and thanked us for telling our stories, and shared bits of their own stories with us. It was an indescribable event that I'll never forget. I felt so accepted. Indeed, these were my people!
Through the years I've met folks who have had some difficulty accepting the fact that I have a mental illness. It used to bother me until one day, in an odd moment of clarity I realized that I hadn't been accepting my own illness. In those bygone times I used to become enraged by the fact that I couldn't control it. There still are times when I have trouble accepting the fact that my errant brain chemistry can hijack the person I am and substitute a helpless, confused, exhausted, miserable wretch who spends his days hiding from his loved ones and from himself.
Leo Tolstoy wrote that "God gives mankind great problems, not so much that we solve them but that we should spend a lifetime wrestling with them." Perhaps it it is in the wrestling that we finally come to accept who we are and that we are members of a family that accepts us as we are.
These are my people.