Robin Williams’ death rocked the worlds of many. I share the sentiment that so many people have expressed, that it’s hard to believe someone who made so many people laugh could have suffered so greatly.
Yet I have a feeling, if you’ve suffered from clinical depression (and it’s close cousin, addiction), the news isn’t that surprising.
I’m one of the 350 million people worldwide who suffers from clinical depression. It’s been a constant companion.
More than 10 years ago, when I was 26, I woke up and realized there wasn’t a goddamn thing on earth that could motivate me to get out from under my blanket.
I’d been in a “mood” for a while. I blamed work. I missed my family. Life had just felt tough. But that morning, I was on vacation. My parents were visiting. I had a wonderful relationship with my now husband and a multitude of friends I could count on for support.
The mood persisted. Soon enough, I had to get help.
I’ve spent years trying to understand my depression. Anti-anxiety and anti-depressants motivated me get out of bed in the morning. I learned how to recognize Depression’s Voice over my Own Voice through cognitive behavior therapy. I found refuge in exercise: Running, hiking, yoga. Rinse, repeat.
And I got better. I praised the meds, the therapy, the exercise…
If there’s one thing feeling good does, it breeds complacency. I felt invincible, and for a time, I was. But soon I “knew” I could do it without the meds. I upped the exercise and sought different methods through therapy.
I did everything I could to avoid pain and increase pleasure. For me, pleasure equaled busy. I buried myself at work, went to school at night, ran races, volunteers for charities, threw parties, binge-watched the Sopranos, read every bestseller. Each unit of time I was given was scheduled.
Little did I know, that which I ran from would always, always be with me.
It took getting sick to find this out. My lupus-like illness brought my treadmill life to a screeching halt. And without all my distractions, life felt, once again, impossible.
But I had to get out of bed. I had a family. And as worthless as I felt and as loud as Depression’s Voice was, I could still recognize my own. It told me to hang on, if only because my daughter didn’t deserve to navigate this life all by herself.
So I began a new march–recycling what I’d learned years before in an effort to get better.
This time, it didn’t work. Therapy took far more energy than I had in my reserves. I could hardly shower, much less drive across town. I started new medications. The side effects were terrible.
I tried to run. My body put me out of commission for a week.
I couldn’t control this new illness. I couldn’t control my old illness.
I was lost.
Depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness. It isn’t just being sad. Depression is not just about being hopeless. Like lupus, somedays you feel fine. Other days, you wish for permanent reprieve. You seek pleasure–from socializing, from booze, from drugs, from food–because pleasure remission keeps you going. Depressed people are chameleons–we cloak ourselves in clever disguises so even those closest to us never see our true colors.
I’m still lost. But I credit this loss of control with opening my eyes to a new way of living. Change is constant. Pain is inevitable. Control is an illusion.
So what helped? For the first time ever, I was quiet. I started to trust my intuition and practice gratitude. I realized the only thing I could control was my thoughts. I went inward, through meditation and the seeking of universal principles. I listened for Depression’s Voice, telling me untruths with unmatched persuasion. And I listened for my own voice–that little piece of love that remains strong and steady regardless of my circumstance.
And guess what? I feel better. But the suicide of Robin Williams has forced me to remember:
1) Clinical depression can’t be cured. I’ll always need to do what’s necessary to stay a few steps ahead of it, be that meds, meditation, calling in a higher power, or writing about my experiences with the sincere hope my words could help someone else.
2) Everyone experiences pain. Even those who never show it. And pain–be it physical or emerging from deep within–can take over your life so quickly. Pain can take a single moment to a defining moment in a heartbeat.
I hope by remaining aware of my own depression–my own pain–I remain aware of the pain of others. I have gotten through many days because of the love, kindness, and patience of others.
Today, I promise to be more to the people around me, even if my mind says it’s none of my business or that the person is undeserving. Because you just never know.
RIP, Robin Williams.
Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression in yourself and others.