Long before I became a living donor for my brother (years before we even knew he had a disease arising within him), I began what has become a longtime struggle with chronic depression. Thanks to amazing family and friends, a very talented and caring therapist, and the well-timed, cautious application of pharmaceuticals, I have managed not only to survive it, but to embrace it as a part of me and to cope with it when it rears its ugly head.
I tell you this because, well, for one thing, it’s such a huge part of me, but also because I continue to learn from it, and I am perhaps just now beginning to appreciate how much what I learn can be applied to my experience as a living donor.
A case in point: One of the most important books I read during my struggle with depression was a short, quiet volume called “The Zen Path Through Depression,” by Philip Martin. I remember being overcome at the time by how Martin’s beautiful, simple descriptions of how depression feels pulsed through the darkness, surrounded me like a blanket, and pulled me to a lighter place. I remember my sense of disbelief that the author could possibly have articulated my own feelings so well, just by articulating his own feelings. Discovering that someone else understood how I felt was in itself a source of faith and hope. It was such a comfort.
Recently, I returned to that book to remind myself of some of its teachings. In a chapter about how hard it can be to find the words to express what you are feeling, and find help through personal connections, Martin writes:
Even for those [friends and family we talk to] who do want to hear, who listen and try to be truly present for us, it is as if we are sending dispatches from a far-off country. We tell them about the sights and sounds of a land they have not seen, and our words limit us in what we can communicate to them. Our fears are difficult to put into words. …
It can be immensely healing to speak to another person who knows or has experienced what we are going through. We can learn that we are not alone, and that others have been through depression and survived… When we are with these people, we don’t need to expend a lot of energy trying to explain what we are going through. It is a huge relief to at last be understood.
It is possible to find someone — or perhaps several people — for whom just a few words tell everything we need them to know. We can then feel heard, and acknolwedged, and understood. Often with such a person we don’t even have to speak at all….”
I love this passage, and I testify that it was true for me both in depression and in becoming a living donor. It is why I worked so hard to seek out and talk to other living donors during my journey. It is why I work so hard now to try to connect living donors with each other.
If you would feel comforted or helped by talking to another living donor, either another prospective one, one who has been there and had great results, or one who has been there and did not have the ideal outcome we all hope for, then email me with a request, because I have a roster of donors who are willing to be that knowledgeable, empathetic ear. Check out the Transplant Cafe and Transplant Alliance sites. Ask your transplant center team if they can connect you with other living donors from their center.