Depression can no longer be the elephant in the room
Robin Williams died yesterday from his own hand.
Yesterday morning, I sobbed in the shower and fought thoughts in my head that people wouldn’t think I would have, or even allow myself to have as a Christian, a Pastor’s wife, a writer, a speaker, a mother, a wife, a daughter.
But I do have thoughts. And sometimes they are very bad.
Last night I sat at a table in a Mexican restaurant with my sister and her husband, my brother and his wife, and my nephew in Michigan. We were all laughing and cutting up as we often do when we are together. I was trying to keep up. But I think I laughed a little too loud at a few things. My hands shook a little. I hoped no one could tell.
“Hey, I just read a tweet that Robin Williams died,” Ben said.
“Is it true? Is it a hoax?” we all wanted to know.
“This is from CNN. It says it was a suicide.”
The mood of the table changed instantly, all of us thinking about Robin Williams; Mork and Mindy, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Night at the Museum, Dead Poets Society, so many movies, too many to name.
Our conversation, of course, turned towards the sadness of it all. What a loss. What a talent. How terrible. I can’t believe it.
We talked a little bit about suicide too. All very respectful. All of us just spitting out things we were thinking at a time of great shock. Can’t imagine doing it to your kids. So hard that a person is in that much pain that they go to that place, it is importance to stay close to a person who is struggling, and other things.
I listened. I agreed. I chimed in a couple of thoughts. I shifted my weight.
When I got back home later that night, I went on-line to find out more. I read that he had been struggling with severe depression.
I stood in the shower at my parent’s house sobbing on Monday morning. No one else was home and I had just finished getting angry with my mom and my daughters about an hour before… I no longer remember why, or what I said, or what they said, I just know that I needed to apologize when I saw them later that day.
Something had been off with me on Sunday, too. I was anxious. Sweat poured down my face. I would laugh at something that was moderately funny until tears streamed down my face. My hands worked a fidget toy around and around, a gadget I had bought for my kids at some point, but now keep in my purse for myself. I cowered and even screamed out a few times in the car as my husband drove his usual way, sure that we were going to flip the car or hit someone.
Yesterday morning in the shower, my mind raced with negative thoughts. If they see who I really am they won’t love me. I am a terrible person. I am losing my mind.
I fought the thoughts with rebukes. No, I’m not. Thank you for sharing. Not listening. Jesus give me your peace that surpasses my understanding. I need it now. I got out of the shower, dried, got dressed and made sure I took my anti-depressant for the day. I slathered the Young Living essential oil Joy over my heart, and Peace and Calming on my neck and shoulders. I bowed my head and prayed. I texted my husband to let him know I was struggling. I took deep breaths; in for five counts, hold for five counts, let out for five counts.
I worked ‘my program.’ The stuff I do to fight the ugly monster of depression that unfortunately exists in my head. At that moment I had a choice: to give in to a depressive episode, or to fight it tooth and nail.
I chose to fight, and I won that day. That’s the deal. You fight depression day by day.
But here’s the thing: I don’t always have a choice to fight. And I want to try to help people understand that others don’t always have a choice either.
Sometimes my depression is just too strong. It is a tsunami wave and I am a toddler. I get knocked down before I even realize what is happening.
Because depression is an illness.
People think and even say things: that person should just snap out of it. That person who committed suicide should have thought about how it would affect his family. That person should have gotten some help.
I understand. I even agree to an extent. Suicide affects everyone who knew and loved the lost life. And depression is tricky. It is an active illness in the sense that one needs to participate in the action of getting better if she is able. And there is help to be had. I read somewhere recently that depression is 95% treatable, as in 95% of those who seek help for depression can find it.
This encourages me. It is true so far for my life.
I’m not cured of depression. But it no longer governs every day of my life.
But when a person who is depressed gets to the point of making a plan to take her own life, she is just as sick as a person in hospice with raging cancer. It is a hidden illness. Imagine seeing depression on a person, imagine hundreds of tumors and ulcers on a body, oozing, and if untreated, causing the person to get sicker and sicker.
When a person who is depressed gets to the point of making a plan to take her own life, she needs help (well, she needs help way before then, but more than ever); a doctor, a family member, an in-patient care facility, a friend, a therapist.
If you are depressed, please, let me say this: reach out to someone. This is not your fault. And you can’t handle this on your own, whether you are a pastor or the Dalai Lama or a regular everyday Joe. ( The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is at 1-800-273-8255.) (Here are warning signs for depression.)
If you love someone who battles depression, if they talk to you about their struggles, don’t blow them off. This is your job. That person may be too sick to bring up their mental illness. If you saw a car accident and a person was trapped inside, would you drive by? How about if the person trapped inside was your mom or your sister or your friend? Watch for clues about suicide: isolation, quirky behavior, verbal signs (I want to die, I don’t want to do this anymore), physical changes… (Here are other warning signs of suicide.)
The stigma that depression is just something weak or lazy people can’t get a handle on… of mental illness in general… needs to be abolished.
Depression can no longer be the elephant in the room.
As long as it is; in living rooms, in churches, or out to dinner with friends, it will continue to be a silent killer.
I’m praying for Robin William’s family and friends and all who were touched by his life.
What an incredible loss.