A year ago Sunday, my beloved aunt tried to take her own life after a long battle with depression and anxiety.
A year ago, I received a phone call from my younger cousin telling me her mom shot herself and would I please come and stay with her and her siblings.
A year ago, I wrote a blog post about the experience, When Your Story Hurts. I wrote about a tough-love type of Valentine’s Day when I comforted frightened kids to whom the unthinkable had become reality and cried later on my boyfriend’s shoulder, while a terrified husband paced the floor of a hospital waiting room and wondered how he would tell his children their mom was gone.
Thankfully, this story has a very different ending than we could see in the long, painful days, weeks and months that followed.
Slowly, my aunt’s physical health improved and she was discharged from the hospital. Several friends rallied around the family and stayed with her in a house in Wichita until she could return home.
But the long, hard battle continued. Doctor’s visits. Counseling appointments for my aunt and the kids. Legal paperwork. Bills still had to be paid and groceries for a bottomless teenage boy and his growing siblings still had to be bought. Emotional healing and improvement in my aunt’s mental health seemed excruciatingly slow, if not non-existent.
Sometimes the road is long and hard. Sometimes it’s the length of the road, with no end in sight, that feels the hardest.
Finally, in October of last year, my aunt turned a corner. She describes it (present tense!) as if a switch was flipped. She hasn’t had bouts with depression, anxiety or panic attacks since October. She is homeschooling her children, arranging field trips, managing a busy household, all with her infectious smile on her face. I see that big smile, watch her playing peek-a-boo with her two-year-old daughter, and tears well in my throat.
Their story could have ended so differently. But just because your story hurts, just because there’s no end in sight, doesn’t mean the ending won’t be happy.
My aunt is now mentoring other homeschooling moms and is even working with her counselor to encourage a young mother struggling with depression. My uncle said it well: “It isn’t a ministry we would have sought out, but it’s what God is clearly calling us to.”
I identify with his words. Several immediate family members have experienced or are currently struggling with depression and/or anxiety. When I was traveling overseas with a global missions organization, inevitably God would take me to countries all over the world and bring to me people battling mental health issues, to the point I wrote a blog post series on the topic.
It’s not a ministry I would have chosen. It’s not a part of my story I like to tell. But being brave enough to tell the hard stories can speak to a person in a dark place in a way nothing else can.
Writers, creatives, we need to be brave enough to tell the hard stories. We need to be brave enough to travel the long, hard roads and have faith that if it’s not happy, it’s not the end. Writing about only the positive parts of your story is easy. Painting your story in the way you prefer to see it is often preferable to letting your readers see the ugly truth.
Don’t try to be clever. Write honest. Deep hurt often leads to deep writing.
I’ve discovered the stories I really don’t want to tell are the ones that impact people the most. When I’m writing my most authentic, I’m writing my best work. And I know. It’s hard. It feels vulnerable. It takes the story to places you’d rather not go.
Writers are some of the bravest people I know. These often shy, sensitive creative types pour out the musings of their heart and mind on the page and put it out there for anyone to criticize, ignore or dismiss. But their bravery pays off, because they are able to encourage and speak to people in the midst of their own hard story in ways closed to most people.
Be brave, my friend. Tell your hard stories. You never know who might gain hope in the midst of their own long, hard story.
Photography by Silver Fern Custom Photography. All rights reserved.