The Darkness of Depression

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Like the rest of you, I have spent most of the past 24 hours surrounded by news - both in print and on the tv - about the tragic death of Robin Williams.  When I first heard the news last evening when they interrupted the Nightly News for a special report announcing that Robin Williams was dead by asphyxiation, my first reaction was that of disbelief.  I felt I must be dreaming.  This could not be true!  But it was true and from that announcement last night and all through today, the reality has remained as equally unbelievable.  People die all the time - many at young ages, many suddenly without warning, yet this death, this tragedy is hitting people hard and is difficult to comprehend.  Why?

Because Robin Williams was a funny, lively, vital man who we all adored, who we all depended on for laughs.  He was not just a comedian, he was a genius whose rapid fire delivery could make us laugh uncontrollably and make us forget our own troubles.   He could portray the most serious of characters in movies like Good Will Hunting and he could embody a genie equally convincingly.  He was successful, had a loving family and more friends and admirers than many, yet he was powerless over depression.  I know from reading the many posts and blogs online - that is hard to comprehend for many.  We assume that people who have it all are happy.  We ask, "what does he have to be depressed about?"  Depression is a mysterious disease - but it is a DISEASE.  I learned that when my daughter, Katie, hit rock bottom several years ago - from a depression so severe that it threatened to destroy her life.  People with chronic illnesses, like diabetes, are much more likely to suffer from depression.  We probably learned that somewhere along the way of her 30+ years with diabetes, but forgot it trying to juggle all the other aspects of diabetes.   We're very close to Katie - she lived ten minutes from us at the time and we saw her regularly, but until she'd reached the worse of a long journey through depression, we had no idea she was depressed.

I'm sure that sounds pretty unbelievable and you're probably thinking we must have been pretty ignorant or very naive.   To a degree, maybe we were, but people with depression become pretty skilled at hiding their pain and Katie was no exception.  Things for Katie could have turned out much worse had we not figured it out in time and had Katie not been willing to get help.  Fortunately she was willing and she got help and continues to do what she needs to do to manage her depression - through counseling and medication and a lot of paying attention to her own well being and responding with appropriate action.  While she never wanted to harm herself and continued to treat her diabetes, her depression did have some serious consequences.   Depression is different for each individual every outcome is different too.

What I've learned through her process is that there is a stigma about depression, and a lot of misunderstanding.  Jobs don't always understand and don't view it as they view physical illness.  Friends don't always get it and often say insensitive though well meaning words of encouragement like, "Aww, just get off your couch and go out have some fun," or "stop focusing on the bad stuff and focus on something else" or "pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get over yourself".   If only it were that easy.  Although many people today seek counseling for a variety of reasons, there are still those who view seeking help as a sign of weakness.  They're viewed as helpless and unable to "fix" their own problems.  It's no surprise that people are so hesitant to find help.  People who have never struggled with depression can't and don't understand it, they don't understand how powerless one feels over it.  They don't understand that just getting out of bed can be a herculean task.  Consequently people with depression don't get the compassion and support that those with physical ailments are so frequently offered - by their friends, their family, their co-workers.  They suffer in solitude feeling desperate, deserted and alone.

Someone online said that suicide is selfish.  While I certainly get how it may appear that way, I also understand that if a person who commits suicide were not in such a hopeless state, they might in fact consider what their suicide would do to those left behind.  If they had the ability to understand that, perhaps they wouldn't be contemplating suicide in the first place.  Depression removes reason and common sense.  It leaves its victims paralyzed emotionally, unable to pay bills, take their medication, think about their loved ones.  It is a dark and lonely world and unless you've experienced it or been through it with a family member, you cannot fully comprehend it.  I saw a great quote tonight..."Grief is depression in proportion to circumstances, depression is grief out of proportion to circumstances" (Andrew Solomon).  We all go through periods of grief and sadness in our lives, sometimes for long periods of time, but it is not the same as depression.  It is important to understand that and therefore not expect or demand a person with depression "snap out of it" and get better.

We cannot judge a book by its cover any more than we can know what lives inside a person's soul.  The happiest people we think we know can be filled with pain as we have come to see with Robin Williams.  Be mindful of that and be kind and compassionate.  People with depression need your love and understanding.  They need your patience not your prodding.  They need your love but not your judgement.  We never know what someone is going through even when that person is a close family member.  Let's not forget the laughs and joy Robin brought to our lives but more important let his life and his death be a beacon of hope for those struggling with the invisible disease that took him from us.


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