Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Long Dark Sadness Claims Another Victim

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.
At times not of our choosing an unrelenting sadness washes over us and we have to struggle to keep from going under.  It may seem to others that we're weak or self-indulgent or self-destructive or stubborn or just wet blankets. From the moment it hits, it demands--and gets--all of our attention. Happiness is momentary, a fleeting teaser--a whiff and then it's gone.

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 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)


  1. It doesn't seem like anyone understands anything about depression.

    It doesn't seem like most people even understand the difference between being sad and being depressed.

    At all.

    I've seen a lot of stories today about how Williams might have been "depressed over money." If it were money, he also might have been sad over money.

    The thing about depression, though, is that it doesn't need a good excuse, or any excuse at all. It can be at its worse when there's nothing else going wrong.

    I'm not sure why people don't know that...

  2. Thank you, Katy. That's exactly right. When everybody, including health insurance providers and the medical profession, get over treating depression as a weakness instead of a real disease we may actually get somewhere. It takes some major education and that's what I'm trying to do here.

  3. Beautifully said. It seems the mind is one of the last outposts we need to conquer. Everything begins and ends in our brains. We're in the dark ages as far as understanding where and why these things come on some of us and not others. Why some are psychopaths and not others. Almost any of the brain diseases I could mention. What a brave new world we'd live in, if funds went to the right causes.

  4. Thanks for commenting, Cindy. Depression hits teenagers hard. My granddaughter is going through it now and I want so much to be able to just wave a magic wand and make it go away. If only it were that easy. Talking about it is an important first step. There is no shame in illness. And depression is an illness.

  5. Depression is so hard to treat because there are no easy answers, no pat protocols, and most often the patient is not cooperative. But if we can keep focusing on brain chemistry and not "too crazy to care about", we could lick this thing.

  6. All I can do is nod. Every time I think I have put my own depressive suicidal ideation safely in my past, something sinks my little rowboat again.

  7. I know the feeling--or I did once. Not that long ago that I don't remember how painful it is. Sometime writing about it helps. Never think of it as being self-indulgent. Working to help your self is not an indulgence, it's a necessity.

    P.S., if I can do anything to help, please call on me. Really.

  8. I have, as does every other person with depression, my management methods. Sometimes I can even head it triggers to the slide are almost always situational, and sometimes even news/current event tied. So, sometimes an escape vacation into a book is all it takes. Older...and wiser and all that stuff!

  9. Depression will lift immediately when you break the depression cycle.At whatever point you stress over unmet emotional needs,you are creating stretch in your brain that must be deactivated amid dreaming.An excessive amount of dreaming exhausts the brain,prompting awakening tired than when you went to bed.This brings down motivation and keeps up the issue.


  10. Hey there! It's Cary from The Reluctant Cat Owner's Journal. There is SO much truth to this. Thank you for putting it out there for us to see and commiserate.

  11. Hi Cary, thanks for visiting. Yes, there are a lot of us! We need to keep talking so the rest of the world gets the picture: We're not weird, we're sick. It's an illness and it needs attention.


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