The Twitterverse is not immune to tragedy, and tragedy struck recently with the death of Trey Pennington. I didn’t know Trey, but, as the news flew through my Twitter stream, it became clear that many of the people who I value online did, and were obviously deeply upset at losing a great friend and mentor. It’s no secret that Trey was struggling with depression and personal upheaval in his life. It’s no secret now, that is. I’m sure there were many people who thought of Trey as an online “friend”, perhaps had interacted with him online for years, yet never knew how deeply he was hurting. And that’s social media for you. People allow you to see what they want you to see. And they hide what they don’t.
Do I Know You?
After reading many of the incredible, honest, heartfelt and deeply moving blog posts and tributes to Trey, by folks like Jay Baer, Geoff Livingston, Mark Schaefer and Olivier Blanchard to name just a few, one in particular stuck with me. All day. It was Matt Ridings’ post, titled “Do I KNOW You?”.
The Facade of Perfection
In it, he spoke about that veneer. How perception rarely ever resembles reality. How in social media, especially if you have built your personal brand to the point of being a highly sought after speaker, or author, or consultant, or all of the above, you really can’t afford to have a crack in that facade of perfection. Your success is based on an image. He also said this: “I was raised to stay out of peoples business until they choose to bring you into it. I’m not so sure that’s always the best policy anymore.” But see, you can’t be in people’s business if that business is depression or any other type of mental illness. Because people who suffer from it are experts at hiding it.
Depression is still highly stigmatized. It can produce discrimination in employment, housing, medical care and social relationships. There’s often a genetic link. And it’s an illness that strikes repeatedly over one’s lifespan, creating cycles of relapse and recovery. And it’s a very high rate of relapse: each time a person becomes clinically depressed, their chances of it happening again increase by 16%.
Hype and Hypocricy
As I read and read over the weekend about Trey Pennington’s life, his children and grandchild, and as I read about ex NHL’er Wade Belak’s recent suicide, a young man on the cusp of a new career with a wife and children, I kept getting angrier and angrier about the ongoing stigmatization of those with depression. Angry that for many people they can’t get the help they need for fear of being found out. Angry for those who have been “found out” and then who suffer subtle discrimination in the workplace. And angry at myself for being such a hypocrite.
What I Wish People Knew
A few months back, Amber Naslund started a series on her blog Brass Tack Thinking called “What I Wish People Knew”. As she put it, it was a commentary on how we get to know people superficially online, but we rarely see or explore past the surface. She put the call out to others to join in. And the response was incredible. You can find a roundup of all of these posts, by some very brave people, here.
Share The Secret
The reason I mention this is because I too contributed to “What I Wish People Knew”. I shared some personal things from my background, and felt I had exposed quite a bit about myself. But I kept one thing neatly hidden away. As I have for most of my life, since about the age of 13. I have depression. I deal with it, have gotten the help I need, and discovered ways to manage the illness. But let me tell you, that ol’ black dog still visits occasionally, and it’s tough.
Someone I chatted with recently called depression “the invisible disease”. They are bang on and this has got to change. And the more that people like you, the influencers and thought leaders in your respective industries, yank off that invisibility cloak, the sooner that people suffering from depression and other forms of mental illness won’t feel the need to desperately hide what is a fundamental and very real part of who they are.
You don’t really know me. And I don’t know you. But I hope that now you know me just a tiny bit better.