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.
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.