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      Week # 730

  Column for the week of April 8, 2013

Into The Light

    When I was 29, two years older than Matthew Warren when he took his life, I started feeling a bit crazy. It was the first time I had such feelings.

    This mental sea change was associated with deep personal disappointments and a latent fear of adult responsibilities. My fragile mental state arrived with deep bouts of insomnia, public panic attacks, crying jags, can't-get-out-of-bed depressions, but also the single-minded desire to get well.

    I talked about it. I talked about its likely causes, solutions, trigger points, and possible resolutions. I talked early and often, and I was a real pain in the neck to those around me. My struggle was public, in full view of friends and family. Hear me now. There was no shame in my illness.

    That meant I was going to marshal the wisdom and advice and experiences of everyone around me, pastors, psychologists, family, close and casual friends, and talk this thing through, get to the bottom of it and get through it. None of my friends, family, church-mates or associates ever expressed any interest in downplaying my problems or silencing their inconvenient effects.

    All were openly eager for me to get well, and stood loudly and proudly by my side as I fought through those dark days.

    When I read about Matthew Warren, I first smelled a rat about Rick Warren, his father and the author of The Purpose Driven Life. In describing his dead son, he seemed to marvel at the boy's extreme empathy and sensitivity. Mentally ill people often intensely feel the emotions of the people we are around. In fact, we have no defenses against absorbing such emotions.

    This state is not empathy in the admirable sense. It's part of our condition. I was baffled that Matthew's father, in his public comment about his son, didn't seem to grasp this distinction. I was baffled that in his comments, Rick Warren, a very public persona, seemed to be introducing us to his son for the first time, describing something not known publicly before. Describing for us, well, a secret. A sick secret. A shameful secret.

    By the time I searched Rick Warren's bestselling book and found no mention of his son Matthew, no mention of mental illness, I was no longer baffled. By the time I read Rick's comment that only those close to the Warrens knew of their son's problems, I must admit I saw it coming a long way off.

    Mentally ill people feel ashamed and don't want our problems aired if we can help it. We fear bringing others down with us. Thus it was not up to Matthew to find the strength within himself to shed the shame associated with mental illness. It was up to his family.

    Matthew, being empathetic, would rather die than allow his problems to affect his dad's career. (In fact, he did.) It was up to Matthew's dad to minimize such concerns in the mind of his son. It was up to Matthew's dad to express loud and clear that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.

    In other words, it was up to Rick Warren to be Matthew's father first, and a Professional Cheerleader for Optimism second. Matthew, of course, would say that he would not want his mental problems to be everybody's business and would feel especially shamed that such a condition would be a drag on his father's career.

    It would be up to his father to shine the light of day, to make it clear there is no shame in mental illness. Mental illness is not a social embarrassment, or a sign of personal failing. It is not a condition that should be borne in silence.


    Bravo, Jennifer! What can we say except that you have said it all. It reminds us of the best thing Sigmund Freud said. Secrets make us sick.

    Wayne & Tamara

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