Circles are funny things.
Sometimes they loop over and over into the same experience - starting at one point only to return to the beginning, with no benefit gained. The colloquial expression for this is a vicious circle. Circles can also represent a non-ending line, rotating endlessly to symbolize infinity. We call this the eternal circle. And then there's the circle that brings us back to a place in time that is now newly marked - the full circle. This latter experience is what I had with actress Delta Burke.
When I began writing my book, "Living with Depression," I knew I wanted to reach out to Delta Burke. You see, she was the first woman I ever heard talk about depression and what it felt like. She was also my age peer, and seeing her on television and in magazines some twenty years ago discussing her battle with a mood disorder was awe inspiring. So, after I secured a publisher and had a review copy available, I held my breath and reached out to Ms. Burke. It took some elbow grease (which I've been known to use a lot of) and soon I received an email from her legal representatives with the where's and how's to forward my manuscript. Off I went to the post office, hoping that in a few weeks I'd hear back from Ms. Burke's representatives.
Just five days later, my phone rang.
"Deborah?" an unfamiliar woman said as I picked up the telephone. There was a twang and an ever so slight drawl to the voice.
"Yes?" I replied.
"Well, hello, Deborah. This is Delta Burke. I just had to call you to talk about your book," she said.
"The Delta Burke?" I said stupidly, as if there were another. I took a long pause to compose myself because I never expected to hear from the actress directly. Up until then, all my contact was with her representatives.
"Oh, yeah," Burke laughed. "It's me. You got some time to talk?"
With this phone call began a series of meaningful conversations. We chatted about our respective personal and professional experiences with depression, our struggles with stigma - and as time went by, more significant stories that will forever remain private. The sway of her celebrity became less intense and my nervousness talking with her diminished as our phone calls continued. She became a person to me. Full of substance and realness. The characters she played were no longer in the forefront. She revealed herself to be a smart, sensitive woman whose biography and biology contributed to her depression - much like my own. And when I told her that seeing her so many years ago was a life saving moment in my life, she resisted the power of my words.
"Oh, come on...is that right?"
"Absolutely!" I declared, needing her to hear my intensity. "Dick Cavett was the first person I heard talk about depression. But you were the first woman to speak about it - and that made a huge impact on me. It was so meaningful to hear your words and see what you went through."
"Well, I gotta tell you that means so much. Sometimes I worried I was talking too much about it. But I really felt like I had to. So many people go through things and are really suffering," Burke replied.
"That's true," I said reassuringly. "You've helped take the stigma out of depression."
"And OCD too," Burke reminded me. "Hoarding's in my genes. My mother saved the diaper I came home from the hospital in! But you've helped take the stigma out too. You're a gifted and dynamic writer. Y'know, all these things help. You. Me. Stories from other people. It all counts."
Research on stigma shows that sharing a personal story regarding mental illness inspires and influences others to not be ashamed of their own. In fact, the telling of positive stories significantly reduces the myths that surround mental disorders. It's a great thing when high profile people talk about their experiences with depression. That our culture is seeing more of this trend is quite powerful.
Though Burke has been open regarding her bouts of depression, hospitalizations and hoarding for many years now, I will never forget how seeing her decades ago changed my life. Having her endorse my book is a full circle experience. But being able to call her a friend is what Delta, herself, would say is the bee's knees.
Brown, L. D. & Isett, K. R. (2010). Stewardship in mental health policy: Inspiration, influence, institution. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 35(3), 389–405.
Corrigan, P. (2004). Stigmatizing attitudes about mental illness and allocation of resources to mental health services. Community Mental Health Journal, 40(4), 297–307.
Editorial Note: Dr. Deborah Serani is the author of Living with Depression: Why Biology and Biography Matter along the Path to Hope and Healing by Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Company.