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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chubby Mommy Talks about Depression, Resilience and Red Shoes

Last night was cool.

I helped put on the Resilience event at the Tower Theater, a fundraiser for Mentor Research Institute.

Our goal is to reach out and build hope in a community that's been hit hard by the economic melt-down. A community that's seen far too many suicides in teens and adults in the past year. Our community, like most communities, is often unsure about how to talk about depression and mental illness, especially when it hits to close to home.

I'm lucky. I seem to stumble into these interesting things where I get to meet cool people, and I'm still not sure how. Here's how I go lucky this time:

One day, about 7 weeks ago, I was sitting at Thump with my buddy John Gottberg Anderson, a travel writer. We were talking about blogs and books and careers and Bend.

Kevin Rea, a friend of John's, came up and said he had an idea, and would John like to help? John said yes and volunteered me too. That's what friends do, after all.

Kevin is one of those sparkly people who naturally draws people into his world, and gets them excited about things. He can't help it. I mean, look at this picture. Even his grown children are sparkly, you can just tell.

Kevin's like a can of 7-Up that you shake up secretly, and put into the fridge for your sister to find later. His excitement spreads up over the can and spills onto the floor. And then the dogs lap it up.

So I said sure, why not? Sounds interesting, I'll help you. Yes, yes, I said, we should fight the stigma of mental illness and depression.

I've seen depression up close. It's tricky. It's exhausting. Depression can be painful. It can be embarrassing. It's something you'd rather not talk about. Depression is so close and so personal, that you whisper it to yourself, afraid to say the word out loud.

Should you tell people you're depressed? Should you tell them someone in your family is? What would your boss or your friends or your neighbors think? Unstable? Mental illness? No thanks, we say. If you just ignore it, maybe it will go away.


Yikes. I thought. Should I really volunteer for this? I worried that this whole thing might be a big downer. You know, since it's a fundraiser for depression. Will a bunch of depressed people be there?

'Cause I'm a master at exuding positive energy. It's my job. Kevin's like 7-Up and I'm like Dr. Pepper. But could I hold it together and be positive in the middle of sadness and angst? People are vulnerable here, in this town. People are in real pain. What happens if my empathy crashes and burns at the wrong time?

Here's the truth: being so positive all the time can wear me out. Even Dr. Pepper wants to stay in the back of the fridge sometimes. Maybe I don't want anyone to shake me. It's cool and dark back there, when the light's off. Sometimes I don't want anyone to know I'm back there. What if I lose my fizz at the wrong time?

What if...what if I cried in the middle of talking to someone about depression? What if someone needs help and I don't know what to say?

Ah. That's it then. That's the thing. Being scared of fear? Maybe it's time to face the fear and walk through it, I said to myself.

Turns out, last night was fun. Who knew fighting stigma was so much fun? Turns out it's actually not such a big deal to cry in front of strangers. The truth is, I do it all the time.

So Kevin and his buddy Dr. Mike Conner wanted to have a good time at this event too. They wanted to remind people how to be resilient in times of trouble. So, they invited a few other people to participate and lend their expertise.

People like Eric Hipple, a former NFL player for the Detroit Lions, who lost his 15 year old son to suicide, and now works for the University Michigan's Depression Center, and travels the country talking to kids and adults about awareness and hope. He wrote a book called "Real Men Do Cry."

Oh, look, there's that crying thing again.

People like Scott Bedbury, the marketing guru behind Nike's Just Do It success, who later sailed the Starbucks brand into the global ocean, and serves as a board member at Mentor Research. Because he's a good guy.

People like Stephanie Prechter, who honors her father, Heinz Prechter by spreading the message of hope and understanding to people who live with Bipolar Disorder.

People like John Ballantine who lives here in Bend and is working on a new way to bring kids, parents and coaches together online to share, celebrate, teach and learn more about the wonderful world of team sports and how to make a difference in the lives of kids.

People like Mac Bledsoe whose non-profit, Parenting with Dignity teaches parents how to instill a sense of responsible decision making in their kids.

People like Joe Leonardi, who makes videos for non-profits and sings songs with his kid on stage.

And a wonderful "real runner" Ms. Ali McKnight. an elite athlete who beat Jackie Joyner Kersey at the olympic trials, who drove up from Nevada to hang out with us. What a treat for a Chubby Mommy Runner, I tell you! Ali is fast, fast, fast. I'm hoping, now that we're friends, she'll teach me how to run faster. Unless it involves breathing harder and sweating more, which I'm not really into.

And of course, Kevin finds amazing people like Amanda and Chris and Lauren, who get things done and make things happen. And also model diamond necklaces for raffles, and taste wine to make sure it's okay. Hey, someone's got to do it.

These people were strangers to me, all. I'd never met any of them before this whole Resilience thing took on a life of its own. Laughing and crying with strangers? It's actually pretty cool.

Here's the best part: turns out, these people are hilarious. We hung out, talked about changing the world at lunch, had a pre-party event to raise money with 100 of our closest friends at The Loft of Bend, went to the main event at the Tower, then had a little after-party too.

Tears or smiles, I'm all about the party.

Since Kevin's the one who spilled the sparkly bubbles over all us, it turns out we all liked each other and we had a blast. We sat around at the end of the night, telling funny stories. Really, really funny stories about kids and pets and wild birds and bats and tennis rackets, and yelling at raccoons to "Freeze!" as you warn them to step away from the house.

You know, all those things dads do to protect their kids from the hard, scary things in life. Stories of resilience. I wonder if Raccoons get depressed?

We laughed 'til we cried, and it turns out laughing and crying with a bunch of strangers from different places wasn't so bad.

Last night was cool.

PS: Did you notice those fabulous red shoes Stephanie got at the Nike campus when she went to visit Charlie Denson? I need some of those. I wonder if they have them in orange. If I had some, maybe I'd turn into a real runner. Maybe I could run as fast as Ali McKnight.

You never know, it could happen.


Deby said...

What an amazing night. Congrats on being an agent of change in the world. We need more people like you.

And I want those red shoes.

stephanie said...

great blog! thanks for breaking it down julie -we'll be in touch.

Schmutzie said...

This sounds like it's such an excellent organization, and the event sounds like it was such a positive way to bring people together around difficult issues. You are so lucky to know people such as these.