A Story of Honesty, Help, Hope and Healing
By Charles David Kelley
The Secret Double opens today at the Congress Hall in Riga. This exhibition, open to the public, is both meaningful and unprecedented. The potential impact upon the people of Latvia is terrific. We anticipate total traffic of 10,000 or more persons during the next three weeks.
It had been my plan to give the following presentation during the weeks of the exhibition, interspersed with my music at the piano. God’s plan was different, but his plans are always best. I share my story with you all now, and I ask for your prayers for the Secret Double.
Secret Double is about pain. And so is my story. Secret Double is about help and hope; my story embodies these themes too.
Depression is a Latvian problem – I know it because I’m half Latvian and have witnessed the destruction firsthand. Depression is an American problem – I know it because I’m half American and I’ve lived it. Depression is not merely a personal problem; it’s a family problem, a generational problem. It destroyed the life of my mother. It took the life of my father.
For some time, I have desired to look this issue right in the eye, wondering and dreaming of how I can help. How fellow artists can help. This Secret Double exhibition is therefore designed to accomplish multiple things at once and bring about hope and healing. It’s true that I am one of the artists, but more importantly, I am thrilled to be the architect.
Depression is real. It is common. It does not discriminate. It is often stigmatized as weakness. As weakness – mentally and in the workplace. Some avoid the depths of the issue and call it spiritual failure. It carries with it fear and anxiety. Since we tend to deny it, we suppress the symptoms of blackness, lack of energy, sadness and self-destructive thoughts and desires.
It is often not socially acceptable to admit this malady, because it is viewed as a weakness or flaw, not a disease or a condition. When we deny it, and keep help at arm’s length, matters worsen – mentally, relationally, professionally, creatively, psychologically, spiritually. Without help, depression grows like a poisonous thistle.
Depression expresses itself in creative ways, not in easy-to-explain causes. Some are more clear – like losses (death of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of relationships), natural disasters, health crisis, etc. Depression may be a reaction to these losses and require time to work through steps of grief and healing.
Other depressions are deeper – more secret – hiding in the shadows. Calling our names and pushing our buttons. Our Secret Doubles. These are the dark sides of our personalities that know us well. They are even more destructive and can lead to self-injury, additions, broken relationships, discouragement and debilitating sadness. They can take away motivation to do or achieve anything. Survival mode ensues.
Well-intentioned people ask, “what’s wrong?” and we don’t have answers.
Some of these expressions are very specifically tied to our past or traumas. Why would a ten-year-old boy feel unimportant, unloved and misunderstood? It’s much easier to understand when you know that this boy had four fathers, all of whom were unhealthy in major ways. It’s easier to understand when you learn he was always told to “shut up” or that he’s “so stupid he doesn’t know the color of his own poop.”
So, he hides. He hides in unhealthy and fearful ways. Speech becomes nearly impossible. He trembles and stutters. He feels the laughter and scorn of others. He cannot say his name or answer the phone. He cannot answer a question without being mocked for not thinking.
My Secret Double became public through tortured speech. Desperately, I sought to control it, to mask it. Self-inflicted pain, to distract the brain from stuttering? I learned to stomp on my toe so the pain would mask my inability to talk. I sought help from a speech therapist and a music coach.
Breakthrough came by relationship. I was 14 years old and my Sunday School teacher was a leathery, retired marine named Bill Nuckles. A survivor of Pearl Harbor, Bill was tough, but he was also wise and tender. He worked with me in human ways, not mocking or condescending. He taught me to analyze how I constructed sentences and understand which words were going to cause a blockage. He taught me to think ahead when I speak, so as to be able to reconstruct sentences in my mind before uttering them. Substitution was my key to communication. Bill handed me that key.
He was the first father of my life outside of my family. Little did I know then that I would need such mentors for the rest of my life; that God would use so many to help me fight my Secret Double. At every point in my life, God has provided mentors. Some he dropped into my life. Others, I sought out. Life is simply too hard for a man to live without other mature men. Part of my healing. So, healing continued to come – from loving instruction in dealing with practical problems. I experienced healing from mentors.
Of course, I hated church as a teen. It was boring, legalistic, hypocritical and I was forced to attend. So, I rebelled strongly as a teen – smoking, cheating, ditching school, swearing, stealing, hardened attitude, cynical, sneaky, filled with lies. I deeply needed spiritual help. All of that stuff came from my Secret Double. Yet, it was becoming less and less of a secret.
I needed truth. And I needed truth to be wrapped up in the genuine skin of someone like myself. I met teen boys at a new church who showed me love and a real Jesus. That caused me to drop my shields and opened my heart to the truth of Christianity. At the same time, my grandfather made a profound impact on my understanding of grace. He was not perfect, but he was part of the solution. In 1969, I gave my life to the Lord.
The trajectory of my life was forever changed. It also rectified some deep self-destructive desires, but not instantly. Lying and swearing took time, but my life began to become transformed to the life of Christ. I went to a good church with an active youth group. Very good men became my examples, as well as some faithful older boys. More fathers of my life surfaced. They affirmed me, they respected me and they helped me to feel like I had potential too. These mentors included a young guy named Herb. Herb met with me weekly for a year to tutor me in the areas of Christian truth, apologetics and the writings of Francis Schaeffer.
My Secret Double was continually battled – by friends, by faith and by mentoring.
Music had always been a part of my life. As I grew more proficient in piano, I discovered that I had an extraordinary gift. I never knew it from home because there, my piano playing was considered noise.
My depression took on new life during university. But the pianos on campus had my name on them. Every afternoon and evening, I hugged the pianos. I played and I sang. I played what I felt. I got better in the process, but improving musically was never my motive. When I created, and played music, my soul healed. As I got better, I was noticed and given many musical ministry and performance opportunities. My healing instrument became important in relating to people… to God.
I prayed at the piano. I wept. I wrote music. I closed my eyes and played whatever my hands wanted to. I began to notice that when I played my music, the hearts of others were touched. It wasn’t my skill, but my heart that was coming out. Sharing of heart is a rare gift that I continue to cultivate today. And the piano continues to battle my Secret Double.
When I became a theologian and a pastor, my Secret Double was with me. It interfered a lot. But I found that as I gave myself to helping others, it was silenced. The more I gave of myself, the more I starved the Secret Double.
I learned that giving was a key to living. A key to overcoming self-pity. A key to changing the focus of my life from me and my Secret Double, to others. Every time I give of myself to someone in a genuine way, or give from my own possessions, I benefit with joy. It’s difficult to be self-pitying when one is giving. So, another key to shrinking the Secret Double is giving.
Still, my Secret Double is strong and persistent, wily and crafty.
When I was 50, I hit the wall. I finally came to understand that I had been suffering from clinical depression all of my life. I isolated myself, pushing others away. I disappeared. I couldn’t answer the phone or open emails. I avoided people. I was miserable and everything was black. I made the decision to visit my doctor. He examined me several ways and told me I had clinical depression and needed help. I knew he was right.
At the same time, I remembered the teaching of various preachers that depression was “merely doubt and weakness.” I decided to identify that teaching for what it is – stupid and destructive. The church should never require people to celebrate the joy of the Lord while lacking the freedom to be honest about the pains of life. I decided to no longer let those misguided teachings constrain.
I decided at this point to speak out against Christianity light – where “fake it til you make it” is the order of the day.
I began to take antidepressants to balance the chemical issues in my brain. They worked.
I decided to tell everyone for the purpose of freeing them from the inhibitions of sharing the truth. I taught my students about this.
I decided to forever be open about the pain and the reality of depression. To stand and say:
“I am Chuck Kelley, pretty well known, successful and respected, but I suffer from depression and I am not ashamed; I have received help and you can too.”
As I began to take meds I also started painting. I thought it was for fun. But, it was for healing; mine and others. It also built bridges and friendships that are truly honest. I have met hundreds of artists. They are deep and sensitive people. Some are very open and some are like others – living half a lie.
I know that artists have a special capacity to understand the locked away parts of our being that are too deep for words. They can communicate ideas, feelings and pain without words. But when linked with profound verbal thoughts, the power of that which is created is multiplied.
At Secret Double, we now have 21 artists exhibiting from several countries. Artists are of course accustomed to creating and exhibiting. It is common for them because they must earn livings. However, it is a rare thing for artists to lead the way to help their country think about its own soul. To help bring healing to the soul of the country and to do it in a sacrificial way. To offer their art for the purpose of helping others and providing hope.
Each artist here is doing that very thing– from the amateur to the land’s most famous. This is unprecedented. Each artist understands the seriousness of the issue and invites the participants to think, to analyze, to open up, and to seek help if needed and offer help if able.
So, my Secret Double has been my alter ego for 62 years; but never my friend. Always present and never will I escape it forever… until Forever.
Yet, I refuse to cave or deny or run. I will continue to tell people that they have hope and that help is available. I will tell groups of all sorts to wake up and get real. I will oppose those with simplistic or stupid solutions, because frankly, the costs are too high. I know this firsthand.
My hope and prayer for Secret Double is that as these artists work together – to bring up a crucial conversation on a topic of profound importance, and as help and hope are offered in the process – there will be a great and positive result in the lives of hundreds or thousands of people.
Depression is here and it is horrible.
Art is the language of the artists.
We are speaking honesty, truth, help and hope.
We are speaking it together.
Charles David Kelley is President of Bridge Builders International in the USA and Chairman of the Board of Nodibinajums Partneri in Latvia