Courage, Heart, Corazon
By Daniel Wetta
My depression, usually situational, no longer afflicts me for weeks or months. It is because I have taught myself finally to think with my heart instead of my head. I am a heart person, but I tried to be a head person. That disconnect might have killed me. Since I am a born story teller with a living imagination, I am also a good actor. I had everyone fooled for years. People at work thought I was happy. After working eleven hour days or more as CEO of a hospital, I went straight to bed when I got home and pulled the sheet over my head. Classic.
This piece is not about depression. It is about finding courage. If you are a depressed person, there is no doubt that you feel completely discouraged by the world around you. It seems that everyone else has done it right, everyone else has energy, and all you want to do, please God, is to make it through the day until you can hide again.
I did finally become a happy person even when looking evil in the eye. Permit me to shortcut the recovery part by explaining that I developed tools to fight my depression, and I use them whenever I feel a bout coming on. Usually this happens when I am in a bad situation. I learned to get out of these, or, at least, to recognize that the situation is toxic, it is depressing, and I need to find the way out. That is one of the tools: get out of a bad thing. What precedes that is to recognize when depression is setting in and to admit it to self and others. Depression grows in strength in darkness.
To name depression is to start to defeat it. Did I mention darkness? The antidote is light. Classic depressive behavior is to pull the shades and to live in dark rooms. So my tools included anything that exposed my body and soul to light: going outdoors in the sun, opening windows, taking showers, taking vitamins, eating correctly, exercising, sleeping regular hours, doing yoga, meditating, and forgiving myself if I had thoughts that my Catholic upbringing taught me were wrong. That last one, said another way, is to practice self-forgiveness.
Energy and compassion for others comes out of the heart of some people like pressurized water from a fire hose. When this happens, a person can deplete quickly. It is important to take the time to refill the reserves. If you give it all away and do not drink it back in, you are done. I explain this because I have met so many people who caretake for others, give to others, and do nothing for themselves, and eventually they burn out. The listless life remaining is a depressed person. His or her heart needs to be refilled. Who will do this for them?
Of course, the Latin roots for heart are “cor” and “cord.” In Spanish, the word for heart is “corazón.” The French transformed the Latin root to their melodic and sweet sounding “couer,” and when this routed to English, we ended up with many words relating to heart, such as courage (to have heart to do something), encourage (to put heart in someone to do something), and accord (harmony, or to have hearts in agreement). To discourage someone is to take his heart away from doing something.
I never had really terrible things happen to me in life. That notion becomes very relative, true, but for the most part, what I regarded as personally traumatic began to pale when I saw first-hand some of the things happening to people in Mexico when I lived there. I moved there six years ago to learn Spanish better, and I leased a condo in Mexico’s most educated, affluent, and supposedly safest city, Monterrey, with about four million inhabitants. Luckily for me, many of the residents there spoke English, because my Spanish was horrible for the first six months.
The war against the drug cartels began in 2006 and began to move into Monterrey towards the end of my stay there in 2009. My website and my first novel, The Z Redemption, explain how the murder of my young friend, Israel, impacted me, but what I want to share with the readers of this post is that many good people experienced horrible, unspeakable things that no person on earth deserves to have happen. What really got to me were the mothers who lost children and who either tried to protest against the violence or tried to find their missing sons and daughters. These mothers were often murdered or tortured for this. They were scared to death many times, but they looked to find their children or they looked to find ways to stop the violence so that no one else would have to endure the horrible pain which they were suffering.
I wondered sometimes how they could have the bravery to speak out, to organize demonstrations, and even to go into the lairs of the drug cartels when they understood that they themselves would be murdered like their children.
Finally I came to realization: Courage doesn’t mean not being afraid. It means having the heart to do the right thing despite being scared to death. Many of the mothers who have organized and have staged rallies, caravans for peace, and marches on government offices have been able to do so because of the love that they felt for their children and also because of the encouragement from others, especially from those finding “heart strength” by working in groups or community. In working as instructed by their hearts, these people, these ordinary heroes, sometimes found solace to co-exist with their deep, unimaginable pain.
What I did is not for everyone, but in terms of dealing with my own depression, I knew that I needed to shine light in the darkness. To do that, I had to shine light on what many do not ever want to see. I researched through Spanish news sources and first hand accounts exactly what the violence in Mexico entailed, who was committing it, and why. I watched videos of torture and murder that the drug cartels so gleefully put on Youtube as an intimidation technique. I followed the writings of journalists who ended up missing or murdered. I learned about the history of Mexico and the history of the drug cartels, and found that the history of the latter preceded the Mexican Revolution. I talked to friends who had had encounters with violence. I looked evil in the eye instead of pretending that it did not exist or that it existed in a world far removed from mine. All of this lived in my heart.
And then I put my heart on paper, and I never felt so connected to my life before. For the first time since I was a child, I felt completely integrated.
I was scared to death. I had no idea whether my writing was good or not, and I wanted to do justice for the people I had come to love and admire so much. I mustn’t fail them, I thought. They suffer enough.
This is where encouragement comes in. After I had written about half of The Z Redemption, I built up the nerve to let my lifetime friend, Robert Selfe, know what I was up to. I showed him the novel. Robert is a career educator in English literature and he tells the truth, so I awaited his verdict with bated breath. He responded with encouragement to finish and encouragement of the best kind: he committed himself to be editor, and he stuck with me to the end. (He became even more involved with the second novel.)
Book reviewers wield a lot of power over the hearts and psyches of authors. I respect Cate Agosta because she truthfully tells how she feels about a book. Cate finds encouraging things to say even to the authors of books that she is rating lowly. That is the thing about encouragement: it is an act of compassion. You cannot put something genuine into someone else’s heart without it coming from your own.
It is so important to encourage others. Our world does require a substantial amount of logical thinking, but there is no mental health without heart and mind being nourished and balanced. The contrary to that, discouragement, should also be done as an act of compassion or concern for someone’s safety. To discourage someone through words or acts entails a considerable amount of responsibility. I believe that somehow in the end we are accountable for what we think and do on earth, so before I discourage anyone, I look hard at what is in my heart as well as to check the logic of my thinking. If I am uncertain what is going on with the person, I ask them! It is vital to know the condition of the other person’s heart and circumstances.
Because of my own acting abilities, I have learned not to assume that because a person seems cheerful or happy most of the time that they do not need a little piece of my heart. It is surprising the number of times I have offered some minor encouragement to someone only to see them pause with traces of tears in their eyes. The reverse is important: if someone offers a kind word, I take it and accept it and consider the possibility that what was said might be true. Without doing this, my heart would empty once more, and I would be heading back to the bed to pull the sheet over my head.
Now I am sixty-five years old. I just received my Medicare card, official government certification that I am elderly! Recently a young person approached me and asked me how to make sense of life when there is so much good but also so much violence and heartbreak. My answer came out spontaneously: Life doesn’t have to make sense. It only has to have purpose. Sometimes we find a life with purpose because someone has encouraged us.
The Z Redemption