Carry-on baggage

We all have baggage that we carry around. But unlike at the airport, we can’t just check it. We can stuff it under the seat in front of us or put it in the overhead bin, but it’s still ours. We own it. Sometimes, if we aren’t careful, our baggage becomes the ‘elephant in the room.’ If you aren’t familiar with that idiom it means “some fact of considerable importance that goes undisclosed.”

The baggage I carry around, because it was so devastating to me and was my life’s most horrific event, is the suicide of my father in 1989. And although my family was open about the fact that his death was a suicide, the elephant in the room is that mental illness runs in my family. My father’s grandfather also shot himself, causing his death.  There are a number of other manifestations of mental illness as well.

My father was a textbook case of a person with bipolar disorder. That was an elephant in the room our entire lives until he went in his workshop behind the house, put a shotgun to his heart, and pulled the trigger.  Before then I  would have described my father as ‘larger than life.’ Imagine a Robin Williams type. While my father wasn’t famous, he was enormously funny, personable and talented.  He was smart and resourceful. Among many other things, he could put a roof on a house, fix a car, knit a dress, crochet a cape, create a Japanese garden in our backyard, and take fabulous photos of hummingbirds. He road his bicycle for many, many miles and played handball. He could teach a pretty darn good Sunday school class, and was an accomplished accountant too, his chosen vocation.  He was the last person you would think would kill himself.  His illness was the elephant.

Since his death I’ve suffered much and learned a lot;  I’ve become more aware of and empathetic toward mental illness.  In some ways a person’s mental health is more important than his physical health. There is so much research on the link between one’s mental health, happiness, and physical health.

It took me  long time to recognize the difference between the baggage that I carry, which will always be part of me, and the elephant in the room.  Don’t let your baggage be an elephant.  Face up to it; confront it; understand it.  If, for example, mental health is the elephant in your room, talk to a professional about it.  If drugs are needed to “fix” the balance of chemicals in your brain, take them.  Allow yourself to get treatment and get well.

All of us carry baggage, but not all of it is an elephant in the room.  We can live with baggage.  It simply becomes part of our make-up just like all of our past.  But, don’t allow your baggage to become the elephant in the room.

What baggage do you carry around?  Have you let it become an elephant?  I’d love to hear from you.

Take care and confront those elephants.  Not until then can one be healthy and happy and live in the moment.

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