I have been reading the local and international stories with sadness over recent suicides after long battles with depression.
I haven’t been writing or talking much about it. Ok I give.
Then I read this on a friends facebook wall:
Robin Williams was a great man. His death was disturbing. As We all grew up adoring his movies. The one thing he is not is a role model. A self inflicted death is selfish and cowardly. R I P mrs. Doubt fire
To which I quickly responded:
I think everyone can agree that suicide is not an end we would wish for. I’m glad to be able to interpret from your post that you have never suffered from mental illness. I have. Suicide is a choice made from the darkest most desperate place, and the individual should not be judged. Perhaps the society that keeps us from asking for and receiving the right kind of help. But not the person suffering. Great sympathy to an amazing man, and even more to the people he left behind.
But of course there is more.
I have been writing and talking about my depression for years. More years than this blog shows. I am in therapy, and have been medicated and re-medicated since 1998. For the entire calendar year of 2014 I have been stable. Good, even.
I know this will be temporary. I grow used to meds. I need to find new ones. This is a painful process that can take years. In retrospect I can tell that I spent 2011-2013 in a state of clinical depression. But it takes perspective. The kind of perspective I didn’t have then. It is a battle.
Here is one of the very best visual and literal descriptions of depression I have read. And here is her book if you want to support her and you should.
This is what I sound like when I am mildly depressed.
And this when I am coming out of a major patch.
But I cant link to a period of real despair. Because my fingers don’t work to type. And my brain doesn’t work to form words. And I go one breath at a time. Fuck the day hour or minute. I just need to take this next breath. And worry about the next one following. You know that commercial about “Where does depression hurt?” “Everywhere” Who does depression hurt? “Everyone” And you see a small child’s hand trying to comfort a mother who cant get off her stoop. That slays me every time. It hurts in my belly and my chest. My lungs dont open wide enough for a full breath, my diaphragm collapses with deoxygenation. My arms feel like flu noodles and my legs are too stiff to operate. Light hurts my eyes like a migraine.
My kids come visit me in the bed as if I were Debra whatever her name is who played Shirley Mclaine’s daughter in that cancer movie.
Depression is as insidious as cancer. But we don’t see it that way. We are pressured to hide the fact of depression. And that sends people away from treatment and care. Towards suffering. And sometimes directly to the thought that the only way to end this misery is to actually end it all.
And this brings me to the point that I want to make. That I feel obligated to make.
I have been writing about depression for years. Because I CAN.
I don’t have a job that I need to get to every day.
I don’t have a boss at a job from whom I need to hide my stigmatized condition.
I won’t sit in front of a hiring committee and hide a regular part of my life.
I don’t have future in laws who will talk their son out of marrying me.
I am out of the public eye. Very few people will judge my backslides.
I don’t have a fiance who will rethink blending his DNA with mine.
I don’t have parents who are afraid of me.
I don’t have to try to get into the USA on a visa.
I won’t have to wait for a public hospital bed in underfunded mental health wards.
I won’t get turned down for the best depression medication because I CAN prove that I have been treated with everything else.
I have money. I can pay for a private hospital. I can choose not to work. I am already married to someone who has taken this on in the “sickness and health” portion of our vows. I am an American citizen, so I don’t need to worry about crossing the border.
Does this make depression easy? No. It just makes me lucky. Really lucky that I get to talk about this and ask for help. I can be honest, because there is not much in my life that I need to be delicate about. That is not true for most people. Many people have school boards, employers, or family members that they try to shield from the reality of their condition. Which means at the time they are going down, when they still can exercise judgement, they let the opinions and needs of other people factor into their choices for asking for help and care. This is the most critical time, and it is when they are most alone.
Because I am outspoken about my disease I have heard the prejudice first hand. Here are some of the things I have heard:
-You are just bored. If you had anything to keep you busy you would not be depressed.
-You are fat. If you exercised you would not be depressed.
-It is self indulgent to be depressed. If you had to get up you would.
-I couldn’t hire you. You are so smart and have great ideas but I know you would never be able to follow through full time.
These are things that people look me in the eye and tell me. It is easy to imagine the sorts of things they think but don’t say. So this is why most of us hide it. Perhaps underneath we feel weak and fat and lazy too, that depression is a symptom of some fatal flaw. At its worst literally so.
I have not stopped the battle. I am here to write this. I am well medicated and in regular therapy. I consider working at therapy something to be proud of for anyone, depressed or not. Trying to understand ourselves and our patterns to become better partners or parents or co-workers should be lauded, not looked down upon.
Being depressed is not something that can be cured by taking a jog. A complex pattern of treatment and behavioral change can minimize the symptoms. But biochemically I will always be depressed and I will be on guard against its effects.
If you consider suicide cowardly then you are lucky enough not to have experienced the depression that can lead to it. We need it to lead other places first. To supportive workplaces and friends who speak out for us, and borders that allow us to cross into other countries. We need to have sponsors with stories that you can come out the other end. That darkness is not forever. We need survivors to speak out, and our society to listen without judgment.
Then maybe we will not give in.
24 thoughts on “Giving In to Depression”
Yes! I am also thinking of military PTSD vets that need support, not judgement…
Agreed. Really anything that even vaguely fits under the mental health umbrella is responded to with ignorance which leads to fear which leads to judgement. And that is a cycle- the judgement keeps us silent which keeps us ignorant which makes us fearful…
Everyone who has lost a loved one to suicide knows that you speak the truth…thank you.
So well said, Anna. Thanks so much for writing this!
Thanks for reading. And for commenting!
The death of Robin Williams hit hard because I also know first hand the depth of that despair. Two rounds of post-partum depression have twice brought me to my knees wth sadness and panic and twice have sobbed and sobbed because I convinced myself that everyone was better off without me. I realized I was in too deep when I developed a plan that I could easily carry out. That is an awful moment. Im hopeful that his death might shine a light on the depths of that pain and allow those of us who need the lifeline to more easily reach for it without judgement. Thanks Anna for your words tonight.
I am so proud to call you my friend, Anna. Your strength is amazing. Not only do you fight this fight every day, but you share your experiences publicly in such an honest way that (hopefully) allows others fighting demons of their own to know they are not alone.
This business we call life is a crazy one and if nothing else, I can only hope that the sad and sudden passing of wonderful Mr. Robin Williams helps to shine a light on how we as a society view depression and mental illness and that we can find a way to help others before they too succumb to this terrible disease.
God Bless you my friend, be proud of yourself and know you are not alone, you have your amazing husband and family and many, many friends you love and care for you. We are all here to listen and help you whenever you need a quiet room or a cup of tea or someone to just sit with you. Keep fighting, you are winning.
Yes. Wow. So well said.
One day, in the fall of 2009, I was supposed to meet someone at the pool. They were not there when I arrived and they were late enough that it seemed they were not coming.
I’d been in a hurry to get there on time, and as always was the case for me at that time, i felt chased by all the things I needed to get done.
When I recognized that I didn’t have to do something or race anywhere, at that moment, I sat down on a bench in the locker room and stared straight ahead at a locker. It felt like someone deflated me.
In that moment, my mind was in neutral.
It was the first time, in quite some time, that I had held still, at all, even for one moment.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I thought OH! I get it.
I get why people commit suicide.
It was a terrible terrible recognition.
But one I value, greatly. Because it happened to me. And I value every person, every interaction and every kindness from that morning, forward.
I am grateful, Anna, for the words you offer. Your courage in knowing you have nothing to lose to speak your mind, to tell your story. Your recognition of the plight of others, not in your position, is beautiful.
Awareness! What a great practice you have made.
I’m glad that there are people like you who are brave enough to write about this. I’m slowly starting to share this part of my life with more than my closest friends.
I think one of the things people don’t think about when someone commits suicide is just how much fight was put in to lasting as long as they did. I am terribly grieved by Robin William’s death but I am also glad for all the years he was able to fight for his life and the years that he gained by fighting. It’s one of the hardest things imaginable to keep on living when you don’t have any hope left. It is only by the grace of God that I’m alive and I am thankful every day for that.
I, too, am lucky in that I have been able to access and afford the treatment that I’ve needed. It pains me to see our broken system and to know that there are so many people that need help but can’t reach it–or won’t reach for it because of the shame and the stigma. I try to do what I can to help the people around me understand the reality of depression and other mental illnesses…I wish I could do more. I wish I knew what more to do.
Agreed on all points.
This is such a striking and honest post. Thank you for sharing!
I absolutely shudder when I hear people talking about the person in my family who is bipolar and say either that she’s ‘just bored’ or ‘so selfish’.
Gods, forgive ignorants.
I am so sorry (and sadly not surprised) to hear that. Wishing her well!
Thank you so much!
Brave words, people who have never had depression cannot imagine what the pit feels like. It’s easy to judge someone else’s illness when it’s so difficult to “see” and hard to understand.
Every word of this is so true Anna – being married to a chronically depressed person and having a daughter who inherited the same genetic tendency has opened my eyes to how long term it all is and how you have to build strong coping mechanisms and use medication (and counselling) to pull yourself through the really tough times. The more people talk about this, and the more “normal” it becomes, hopefully it will open the way for people to ask for help before it becomes too hard and too dark.
I would love to hear more about parenting a child who struggles with depression. It is a worry of mine.
I lost my Dad to suicide so have experienced first hand the devastating results of depression and the well meaning and sometimes ignorant comments of people who don’t understand. I don’t think he was selfish like someone actually said to my face. He was in such deep pain he saw no other solution. I have a blog post written about him and have not found the right place to share it or maybe I just can’t do it yet. I am so glad you are facing your depression and speaking out about it but I do understand why people don’t. I want the stigma to go away. Now.
Very well said.