Hearing the news of Robin William’s apparent suicide hit me the way I’m sure it hit many others who have suffered, or still suffer, from depression. It made me think about my own moments of darkness and hopelessness when I seriously considered taking the pills or slashing open my wrists to make it all end. I’ve spent the past five years writing a book about such moments, so I’m still glued into them like they happened to me yesterday.
What some people may not know about me is that I continue to fight off feelings of depression, as well as anxiety, on a daily basis. Although I identify as someone who has recovered from the worst of my mental illnesses, these things never truly go away. There’s the constant fear of a relapse, the fear that anything (or nothing) could pull me back in. There are the continued pains and fears and worries that haunt me even on the best of days.
Depression distorts your thoughts. It makes the world black and white. It sucks all the light and air out of you. Maybe there’s something that triggered it, something that brought you to that point. Sometimes there’s no reason, and that’s even worse somehow. You just want the pain to stop. People don’t understand what’s wrong with you. They tell you to just smile, to just be happy. You reach the point when you can’t think of any alternatives because it’s gone on for so long and you’ve already tried everything to make it better. It feels like it will never get better, like it will never end.
Some people have suggested that Robin Williams should have just asked for help. I’m sure he did. I asked for help too when I was a teenager. I got all the help money and insurance could buy. Help got me medications that made me feel sick and worse, therapists who were incompetent and uncaring, and a month-long psych hospitalization that did little other than prevent me from going through with my plan to kill myself. Help also eventually got me a therapist who cared about me and saved my life, the right combination of medications that balanced what was imbalanced, and even an alternative high school that provided me the resources I needed to recover and graduate.
Help can be good, and it can be bad. It’s not fool-proof, and it’s not perfect.
The best thing we can do for people suffering from depression is to be empathetic and open-minded. We can offer help and hope it does what it’s supposed to. We can listen, care, and try to understand. Depression is an illness. It’s a disease. No one asks for it, and no one wants it. Overcoming it can be be the hardest thing you ever do. Not everyone is lucky enough to make it.
I was lucky, and I hope I continue to be lucky. I have more resources, more experience, and more love and support than I did at the worst of my depression. But Robin shows us that you can have so much – a family, friends, a meaningful career, an enduring sense of humor – and still lose it all to depression. That’s how powerful it is. That’s how real it is.
Let’s not allow this conversation about depression and suicide to pass as our attentions wander to new tragedies and events. Let’s make sure we’re there for people, that we advocate for better treatment and research, that we keep our eyes open to those who might be suffering and alone. Let’s be kind to ourselves, be patient with our pain, and remember that it is possible to survive and overcome even the worst moments of sadness and depression.