I sit here today, not as the founder of Project Semicolon, but as just another human being. An individual with real struggles, real pains, real joys, and real heartache. I’m taking the mask off today to write to you, my friends, supporters, and loved ones. You have shared your stories with me, and now it’s time for me to share where I am right now with you.
Because Project Semicolon has done so well, there is a preconceived notion that I am supposed to have it all together now. The darkness of depression should be behind me for good. People think motivational speakers should always be … motivated. Anyone in the spotlight feels a similar weight. But the idea simply isn’t true.
There are days I wake up, filled with self-doubt and pain, and wonder why I have to conquer another day. Why must I go on? Why do I have to exist? My struggle with depression and thoughts of inadequacy are very present right now. I still struggle to restrain from numbing my feelings with external substances. Sometimes I even think a blade would release the pain I am feeling. Many of you know exactly the stifling darkness I’m describing.
My past is a horror story. Starting at age six, I was brutally abused at the hands of my stepmother. I was raped for the first time when I was thirteen, and twice more in my early twenties. As a result, my early years were filled with deeply rooted feelings of inadequacy and isolation. Those old feelings still creep up from time to time, even as my passion for Project Semicolon continues to grow and accomplish good things for others. I would love to find the switch that turns off all the racing thoughts, that lets me put those old feelings behind me for good. So far that seems almost impossible.
Yet, by the grace of God, I continue to move forward. I know I am loved by God, and that is the only reason I am still here. Left to my own devices, a slave to my emotions, I wouldn’t keep fighting. If I give in to the beast of depression, Project Semicolon would cease to exist, and all the hope others have found through it would be in vain.
The good news is I am starting to talk with someone I can trust. I am utilizing the exact same resources we offer others who suffer with depression, and I’m in contact with a professional through Project Semicolon’s network. I am also writing this letter. I’m determined to be honest with you. I’m committing to myself and each of you that each time I get on stage this year, I will not speak as someone who has it all together. Instead, I will speak from where I am – a person who continues to struggle, but who believes life is worth the fight.
Recovery is a process. We do not arrive at it and find our painful experiences are finally fully behind us. Instead, recovery requires constant and intentional acts of honesty and being willing to open up about old wounds and current pains. I can’t snap my fingers and make the fog disappear. What I can do is reach deep into my soul and muster up the courage to tell you my life is not perfect. The person you see on your computer screen, in our marketing campaigns, and the quotes you read on social media is real. But many days I have to work very hard to believe it myself.
I tell you all of this because I know how important it is to be truthful with you. The illusion that I have it all together is complete nonsense. Please know, I’m not looking for pity or publicity. I simply want you to know that I am still struggling alongside you. You and I aren’t that different at all. If we are going to continue to fight the stigma and pain of mental illness, we must continue to not only care for each other, but to take care of ourselves.
I hope you will take care of yourself, too.