A few weeks ago, I sat with my wife’s family in a nice backyard to watch incredible fireworks at a local festival. My wife had her best friend and her family up and it was really nice to see them and be able to catch up. But, as I sat there, I was totally alone. My anxiety started to flare up, I couldn’t catch my breath, I was embarrassed, I was scared, and I was completely alone and isolated. 

Feelings of isolation and loneliness are common experiences for those dealing with mental illness. For myself, while about 20% of the population struggles with a mental illness during a given year, only 2.5% deal with bipolar disorder (my personal form of mental illness). This can make the experience of having bipolar very isolating since no one I know personally has the disorder as well. While I know a number of people with depression and anxiety and other more common forms of mental illness, the specific mood swings that I experience are very isolating and not many people “get it.” There’s a lack of understanding and that is quite isolating.

​But, this isolation is also part of the mental illness. I know that my bipolar will make me feel isolated. When I’m depressed, I feel totally alone and like no one loves me and I am completely isolated, to the point where I really do believe the world would be better off without me. However, when I’m hypo-manic, I don’t need or want to be around anyone because they can’t keep up, are too slow, and just don’t understand the greatness of what I am up to (yes, I really do believe that and, yes, I do a lot of apologizing after hypo-manic episodes). So, my disease is naturally isolating and exacerbates loneliness. 

But, as a popular expression goes, “I need people/ People need people.”

The fact that I need people, that you need people, and that people need me means that we are connected to something bigger and greater than ourselves. Some of us, like myself, call this God. Others call this the human predicament. Others understand this connection in other ways. The real fact is, though, that we are connected, that people need people and that finding that connection is of the utmost importance for all people but especially the mentally ill.

The fact that people need this connection to other people is just a fact of life. There’s a famous philosopher named Martin Heidegger that talks of the fact that our existence is, at its most elemental, “being-with.” This being-with means that we are created to be with, to be with people, to connect with people. And this connection to people is what holds people together as a whole. It’s why we see people who are hurting and who are suffering and feel for them, even when we might not know who they are (that’s a Crawford extrapolation from Heidegger). But, at our essence, we see people and we connect and we feel and we hurt and we are happy and we have joy and we suffer and we look to help and on and on. This is at its essence the most spiritual thing about being human as it is not about our “selves,” but is about the other, the people around us, people different than ourselves. 

This connectedness of all of life is why we at Here/Hear have formed and encourage people to be in Here/Hear Groups. If you are not familiar, Here/Hear Groups are peer-to-peer support groups that allow the mentally ill and those in pain and suffering to connect with one another. They are a place to encourage and share joys and concerns and to just share life. We talk about what it is to live with a mental illness, to encounter stigma, to be on meds, what works and what doesn’t, what it is to deal with family and friends who do and do not understand, and much more. Within the group, there is a time of meditation/mindfulness and a time of action, focusing us not only on ourselves but on going beyond ourselves and encountering people outside of our group and our comfort zone. It’s about living life. And we encourage and help each other live life.

We also believe that this connectedness comes from the arts, which is why we are putting our time and energy into Hear Festival. Our commitment to Hear Festival is a commitment to helping people connect with one another around things that naturally connect us, like paintings and visual arts and music. People gather around a piece of art and talk about it, are moved by it. People dance together and feel together during a piece of music or while they are entranced during a light show. The entire experience is meant to bring people together and show a solidarity that life is more than the pain and suffering and hopelessness that we all often feel; rather, it is about being together and dancing together and working together and living together for the betterment of all people. Here/Hear seeks to show the possibility of this in a music and arts festival.

​So, we are connected. We are meant to live and be with people. Find a place where you connect. We can help you create groups that are points of connection for the mentally ill, for the hurt and lost and suffering. We just want to help you (all of you) find that place where you are connected to the rest of humanity and can live life fully.