When I’m on tour I often stop in the airport bookstores during layovers to do rogue signings. I do them when I can and sometimes strangers stop to ask about the book. Sometimes they buy a copy or two. Mostly they don’t. But last week one older woman in particular looked at Furiously Happy and told me that she would never buy it. And I smiled and nodded as I assured her that was fine. “It’s not for everyone,” I said, because it’s not. I thought she’d walk away but instead she said, “I guess you can pander this to all those college kids who have been convinced that depression exists by some pharmacy company that just wants you addicted to drugs.” And then I explained that depression exists for a number of reasons, including chemical imbalances which are very, very real and that if not properly treated it can be fatal, and then she told me that mental illness was just “made up” and then I kicked her right in the lady junk. Or, at least that’s what I did in my mind. In real life I said that I hoped she would never have to learn how wrong she was and then I stared at her until she got uncomfortable enough to leave.
It’s not just ridiculous strangers in airports who feel comfortable publicly doubting an illness they’ve never fought, or sometimes couldn’t acknowledge they were currently fighting. It’s sometimes family members or friends, and sometimes even we manage to convince ourselves that it’s not a real problem – and that mental illness is just a weakness rather than a medical disorder that needs treatment just as much as heart disease or diabetes or those disorders which are more easily measurable or unquestionably visible on the surface.
That night I locked myself in my hotel room and drew this to remind myself of the truth:
Because sometimes I need a reminder. Pain is real, whether it’s from depression or anxiety or arthritis or one of the many invisible illnesses that don’t easily show themselves but still exist and have to be treated, and – more importantly – have to be believed in order to be treated. You need to know that your struggle is a real one. You need to know that your fight is real and your survival is something to be proud of. Remember that you are needed. Remember that the things you say can affect those of us who fight. Remember that not all things are visible and provable. Love, faith, pain, anxiety, depression, compassion…these aren’t always quantifiable. They aren’t always measurable. They are often invisible. But they are real.
And so are you.
Stay real. Stay alive. Stay vigilant against assholes who make you question yourself. We already get enough of that from the doubting voices in our heads and the lies depression tells us. Listen to my voice, now. You are real. You are worthwhile. You are so important both in ways you will discover, and in ways you’ll never see. You send out needed ripples of greatness and kindness in unexpected and accidental ways.
You won’t always see wonderful ways in which you shift the world. They may be invisible to you. But I promise you they are real.