This evening “The Christian Review” will publish the 17th column by Mike Eisenbath. I hope our readers fully realize how remarkable these columns have been. Few people are willing to expose themselves, be completely honest about their personal darkness, and risk the shame of being viewed as weak, sinful, or lacking faith.
Most writers won’t allow themselves to be viewed in a negative light even when talking about their sins; they make their confessions as if on a Hollywood sound stage with lighting that romanticizes their “journey” to salvation.
Mike doesn’t add any gloss to his story. The honesty of self-revelation is daunting, but Mike digs more deeply into himself with everything he publishes. Like the great 19th century poet Charles Baudelaire*, Eisenbath’s writing could be collected under the title, “My Heart Laid Bare” (1857).
I almost used the more familiar phrase “dark night of the soul” to describe Mike’s work, but I chose not to because Mike never writes to draw attention to himself or to portray his struggle in heroic terms. I mean no disrespect to St. John of the Cross (1542-91), but over the centuries his “dark night” has become domesticated and trivialized by application to routine bouts of unhappiness.
Mike does not want us to be interested in Mike per se but to recognize that the paralyzing depression that grips so many of us, to a greater or lesser extent, can be treated. And the treatment begins with admitting the problem, confessing it aloud, and no longer hiding it from others.
Mike Eisenbath was one of the leading newspaper sportswriters in the nation when his depression hit him, literally out of nowhere. One day he could not get out of bed. He had to quit his “dream job” at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch where he had just covered the MLB home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
Mike admits that since leaving his highly visible role as a sportswriter he would be forgotten. He admits his despair has led to several suicide attempts. But, once again, there is no attempt to dramatize or to seek congratulations for surviving. Mike doesn’t keep such “embarrassing” things to himself as an attempt to help others. As he wrote in “Why I Don’t Keep My Depression to Myself“:
“People keep all sorts of things in their lives a secret. Opening yourself to scrutiny can be challenging. That said, the best decision we ever made was to open our situation not just to family and friends, but to the world at large. That is how I have come to recognize the disease as a gift.”
That suicidal depression can be a “gift” is a difficult assertion to accept, at least at face value. But a look at the website, “Offering Hope for the Journey,” created by Mike and his wife, Donna, will convince you, as it did me, that he’s telling the truth.
To explain why the writing of Mike Eisenbath is so important, I will offer a statement from the Polish poet, Czesław Miłosz, in his 1980 speech accepting the Nobel Prize for literature:
“In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.”
I want to thank Mike Eisenbath for the courage of breaking the silence about depression, about thoughts leading to suicide, and suicide attempts themselves. Love and supported by his wife Donna, Mike has risked everything — put everything “on the line” — to help others to ease the burden of their interior suffering.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11.28)
* T.S. Eliot called Baudelaire “the greatest Christian poet since Dante.”