The news that comedian Robin Williams has succumbed to deep depression is sparking thousands of conversations on the airwaves and throughout the internet. Once the shock is over, once the tributes and the memories and the RIPs have been delivered, the talk turns, as it always does when someone commits suicide, to what it was that could possibly make someone do such a thing. He had everything going for him and it still wasn’t enough. . . Suicide is a selfish act. . . A cowardly act. . . Look what he’s done to his family. . .
I come from a long line of depressives. The disease—dirty, rotten infiltrator
that it is--hasn't skipped me, my children, or even my grandchildren. In
both my immediate and my extended family there have been suicides,
hospitalizations, therapies and drugs—drugs that have worked miracles and drugs that have been disappointing failures.
Those who have never had to deal with chronic deep depression are understandably impatient. Because our illness is not obvious on the outside and because we can get pretty crazy with it--seeming to fight every attempt to help us get well--it's easy to give up on us.
I haven't felt that kind of depression for several years, but I still say "us" because I know from experience the depression bug is lurking somewhere and could rear its ugly head at any time, in any place, without my permission.
I have been suicidal. Depression is exhausting. It winds us down and makes us weary. It takes away any feeling of worth and no matter who is telling us we're loved, we're good, we deserve to be happy--we know better. We're feeling something else.
We are a burden not just to ourselves but to everyone around us. Love (or the lack of love) has nothing to do with it. When we're in a depressed state we have turned inward and our demons have locked the door. We put on our outside face and pretend.
The people taking turns to comfort us, to soothe us with just the right words, might as well be talking to themselves. We indulge them, we nod our heads, we pretend for their sakes that their words are magically healing, are just what we needed, but when they've left it's as if they were never there.
We work sometimes at convincing ourselves the people we care about would be better
off without us because, if it ever comes to that, the leaving will be easier.
The common perception is that we are our own worst enemies, when, in fact, the enemy is within us and is messing with us in ways too cruel to even fathom. It takes all our energy to act casual while our inner demons are keeping us wedged in our darkest places. We know, even as the depression drops a curtain over our feelings and drives us down, that we must appear normal for the sake of those often at their wit's end trying to figure out what they can do to make us happy again.
Depression doesn't work that way. While tender loving care is a welcome and necessary aid, it's not a treatment and it's not a cure. Depression is an illness as real and as insidious as cancer. It's a cancer of the psyche, eroding and destroying our self-worth. It takes with it our ability to appreciate even the smallest joys. Every depressive I've ever known carries a burden of guilt. We should be happy. Why can't we make ourselves happy?
You might wonder how I got over it. I wish I knew. Then I might know how to avoid it the next time. I might know how to help the people I love who still suffer. I don't know. I could say it was many things--true love, living in a place of beauty, thinking happy thoughts--but that would be giving in to the myth that clinical depression is based on tangibles. It is a chemical imbalance of the brain. There are modern pharmaceutical concoctions that do, in fact, work miracles for some, but the frequency of depression-based suicides tells us there is still much to learn, still much to do.
We could move light years ahead if we removed the stigma from every form of mental incapacity and treated it all as the physical illness it is. We could make life easier for the survivors of suicide victims if we stopped looking to them for answers and looked, instead, toward treating depression as a disease that kills as surely and as swiftly as any other malignant disease. We've lost too many to it already. We need to try something different.
(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland)