There is this graphic that I see passed around the internet from Facebook to Twitter, and undoubtedly other areas of the net that I don't frequent. I can't find it at the moment, but it features a man on what looks like a bus with two opposing views. On the right side the man has a view of a gray, gloomy terrain. He is leaning against the window sullen, and despondent. On the left side the view is bright, cheerful, and sunny. The man looking out this side of the bus wears a happy disposition. The graphic states that we choose the view.
Every time I see this graphic I want to scream.
As I learned of the passing of my favorite comedian last night, Robin Williams I remembered this graphic. I remembered the post I had been long putting together in my head waiting to be written. The personal hell he must have carried with him through his life put a face on what many can't understand about severe depression. It is not a choice.
As I write about this topic I feel awkward in that I don't want to take what is a terrible tragedy for Robin William's friends, and family and deduce their experience as a set of talking points that I can use to climb on my soap box. I feel a little bit uncomfortable writing about this topic while including him in it, though I can't put my finger on why. This post was one that I was going to write anyway. I think his passing touches most of us in the same way as losing a friend. We share this common grief. With that said....
I have suffered from depression myself. I was diagnosed with dysthymic disorder, which is a kind of low level almost always existing type of depression. I am not sure that I fully agree with that, but it is what I have been told. Sometimes, this low level of melancholy dips into clinical depression, as well. This is known as double depression. Those times hold me captive in a special place of hell that I wish I could forget. When I am feeling okay I almost do. I dread the thought of it coming back. It's a secret fear of mine that haunts the back of my mind often. I don't know quite how I got there, or how I got out. This type of depression sucks me in, and I have no way of controlling it. It is not a choice. I cannot positive think my way out.
There are other types of depression, such as those with bipolar. Even people with bipolar have different types at different times. Some get the long lasting depression, while others dip down quick, and back up. Most often they do both. It has been said by many that Robin Williams had bipolar. I would tend to agree with that from what I have seen. Most times he was as big as life. The sad times I think he kept private, as most do.
In 'The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive' Comedian Stephen Fry spoke about one of his suicide attempts. He felt low, and impulsively decided to take his own life one late night after returning home from a party. When interviewing others that had been at the party with him for the film none could recall that he was anything but the life of the party as he always was. There was no outward sign of depression, or any indication that he was in danger of harming himself at all.
That is the scary thing about bipolar depression. Risky behavior, including self harm can impulsively come out of nowhere. Often the consequences are heavy, such as credit damage, broken bones, broken relationships, ect... but none as costly as a life lost. Sometimes, they suddenly just decide that suicide is the answer, and in that imbalanced moment it seems to make sense to them. If you have loved ones who are diagnosed with bipolar you are more than aware of how scary this can be.
I have seen a lot of people talking about reaching out, and getting help when one is low. I think there is a certain state of mind where one can do so when depressed. There is a sub-level of depression that if you catch it before it dips down into really severe depression you can still make good balanced decisions, including being self aware enough to know you need to find some help. This is trickier than one might think.
Then there is the deep despairing depression that robs you of the ability to see past your own nose. It fills your head with misery, and darkness in such a way that you believe that this is all there is, and all there will ever be. You can't see a way out without furthering the misery. This is where I think the simple platitude of reaching out doesn't work. This is where the suicide help lines, and all the money, and support in the world can't even help. I know that in these moments of suffocating anguish that reaching for help will not end my struggle. I know that it will just open up a new road of struggle that may, or may not help in the long run. Sometimes, it feels impossible to embark on another journey that you know may end up where you are again at some point. It feels like too much work, and too much energy that you simply don't have. If you are older you know the ups, and downs in life. You know by logical default reaching out will entail doctors, pills, and another hospital stay. If you're an addict on top of all this it only adds to the mess. You know that depression often comes, and goes without warning, and sometimes you're just tired. So.... you don't reach out. It's not that you're unaware of the resources available. Life is simply too much to bear at that point.
I wish that I could end this on a happy note with tips on how to prevent another suicide. I just know that the simple platitude of reaching for help is not always a workable solution. I think the best we can do is try to see the signs of severe depression before that get to that point, and possibly force help that the person may not even want at that time. That is a tricky process, because you never know when you're overstepping unnecessarily, and when you're doing the right thing to save that person's life.
I also know that positive thinking is a wonderful thing that I apply to my life daily to help keep me mentally healthy. However, telling a person who is depressed to just think differently is not going to cure them. Sending them the message that depression is something that is their fault via silly little graphics, and sayings about choosing to think differently is not helpful. One of the things that will deter a person from seeking help in the early stages is feelings of shame, and guilt, which depression inflates inside our minds, as is. If a person thinks they will get talked down to, or patronized they will not seek help. We already know that we have food on the table, and roof over our heads, blah, blah, blah. Depression is not a gratefulness deficit. Do not shame a person with depression by asking them what they have to be depressed about, or quick fixes like the usual gamut of techniques one uses when stressed. A bubble bath, and a walk will not cure this type of depression. Of course, it won't hurt, and some things can be employed to help, but to suggest that we can will ourselves better, or that we can just pull up the ol' bootstraps to better attitudes is insulting, and false.
Denying our own negative feelings contributes to the downfall into deep depression, as well. Don't chide yourself that other people have it worse than you, or ignore the signs that you're feeling down. Own your feelings- the good, and the bad ones. Denial of how we really feel never leads us down a road of positive mental health. Stuffing down our emotions, and denying when you need help is something I often see ladies do that have really low self esteem. They believe they don't have the right to feel bad, and furthermore they don't have the right to access help. You have to believe me when I say you do. I'm sorry that somewhere along the lines someone convinced you otherwise, but that was their mistake. They don't get to have the final word. It's okay to admit you're struggling, and to find support.
Depression is invisible, and effects so many people that no one ever knows about. Be vocal about supporting those with depression. If you have depression be vocal about how you feel. Let's not suffer in silence any longer.