- Posted August 12, 2014 by
Robin Williams - Words of Enlightenment about depression
In light of some ignorant/uneducated statements made about the suicide of Robin Williams, my wife has these courageous words of enlightenment about the disease of depression that claimed the life of her father more than a decade ago.
By Olivia Everett — Posting Truncated to fit CNN Guidelines (http://goo.gl/AIYhoR) for full copy)
Cancer, Suicide, and Depression. These are the topics I know about, this is the cross God has chosen (cursed? blessed?) me to bear. The death of Robin Williams, considered a suicide (and certainly reading between the lines on “asphyxiation” as the cause of death), has hit me and nearly everyone I know particularly hard. I think we feel it keenly because he was one of the greats, someone with staying power in the entertainment industry. Someone who was real to us because he could make us laugh and cry – two emotions not easily accessed by just anyone. He seemed to give himself over completely to every role he played and somehow, in playing others so viscerally, he became more real to us. This blog is and is not about him. It’s not much about cancer or pregnancy either. This entry is dedicated to explaining another kind of illness.
I am compelled to write this because of the simplistic, moralistic answers I see via social media. Oh, Facebookers, you don’t and shouldn’t have a pat answer for this disease. I write with first hand knowledge of my own struggles with depression and suicide, as well as the daughter of a man with untreated yet severe bipolar disorder who committed suicide at 57 years of age, 12 years ago, 5 days after I turned 23.
1) The prevention of depression/suicide cannot be simplified into don’t drink or do drugs. I do not have those vices, though many times I wished I did as a way to numb the pain. Addiction and depression are separate yet complementary – but when they are together you can bet that the former is a conscious effort to survive the latter.
2) Just talk to someone. Yes, it can be of great benefit to find a good therapist – but it is very much easier said than done. Do not assume that Robin Williams or anyone else hasn’t already thought of that and even tried it, sometimes for years. Depending on your personal breed of depression, all the talking in the world cannot relieve your pain. Through cognitive therapy I certainly improved my thought patterns. Am I healed? No. Do I believe that talk therapy would have helped my dad? Yes, and no. I think it probably would have helped to develop a rationale and awareness and deal with some of the lesser side effects depression brought to his door. In terms of managing bipolar’s sudden, frequent, violent mood swings, no. Intrinsically, I perceive his illness as one of biology, not willpower, circumstance, or even mood.
3) Depression is not sadness or grief. Do not confuse them. Sadness and grief imply a tangible reason. A trigger, if you will, for a very natural reaction. Depression has its triggers but both the feeling and its prolonged nature, while it may mirror or mimic sadness and/or grief, is not the same. Neither is the solution the same. You don’t “move on,” “get over it,” or “come to terms” with it. There are no “stages” of depression.
4) Don’t assume medication always works, or that it works forever. Sometimes medication steals the only part of yourself you recognized. Sometimes that just doesn’t seem worth it – sacrificing yourself for the cure. My dad took lithium for only a short time and it seemed to make a world of difference, making him fun-loving all the time instead of just when he was in a good mood high. But perhaps he didn’t recognize himself, wondered where the darkness had gone, maybe even missed it. I used to think that if I were on medication I would not be able to write because I would be less in touch with my feelings. (Actually, I wrote better).
You must understand that depression is almost a part of our personality. For many of us it has been there as long as we can remember. It can leave us lost and uncertain because such a familiar part of ourselves has suddenly left. (Coincidentally this is yet another reason to be in counseling if you are on medication. A trained therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist can act as a guide, as well as monitor you for any unforeseen side effects, such as becoming more depressed or suicidal, which is a very real possibility when on new medicines, particularly those dealing with brain chemistry).
5) “Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems.” Yes, suicide is permanent, but these are not “temporary problems” that we can shrug off, wish away, sleep off or push aside. As I said above, depression is a part of who we are and it has shaded our entire life. It has informed each experience, memory and relationship. I believe my depression sprang from an anxiety that began to manifest itself when I was as young as 5 years old. By high school these became full blown panic attacks – heart pounding, nauseating, hyperventilating, sweaty, vision-blackening, waking nightmares for those of you who don’t know. Eventually I would overcome these, but I have never been able to overcome the accompanying depression that grew from those experiences. After a lifetime of living with, treating,and medicating depression, I think it’s safe to say it’s not temporary. And, yes, at times it has been bad enough to make me contemplate suicide.
6) And so we come to faith. "Just have faith." With suicide there is simply an all-consuming desire to end the pain. (This is why I have never felt particularly angry over my father’s choice. I miss him greatly, more with each passing year, but I remember being surprised he held on as long as he did. I felt immense sympathy and relief when his battle was over). The fight is exhausting and we would like to rest, be still, to be calm. Just as depression keeps loved ones at bay, so too it stands in the way of God’s love. Many a night I have searched the scriptures only to dig deeper into my failings, becoming convinced that if I truly had enough faith, if God truly loved me, then surely my suffering would end and I could be happy. I have begged Him to take away my pain. It never happened that way.
This is proof that depression is not understood as an illness, for surely would you look at someone dying of cancer and say, Well, if you had more faith this would not be happening??? Perhaps Joel Osteen would, but I, who have a different understanding of how faith and sin work in this world, would not. The person who is sick did not cause their illness, though I think that is exactly how we categorize those with depression.
Those with faith and easy grace (as in their faith has been untested by certain illnesses and so they might as well have faith in themselves, rather than God) treat it as an easily accessible medicine that we have only to pray for to be cured. First, I do not think faith is simple or easy. Those with depression can hardly pick up their faces, struggle with rising from their beds another day. This suggestion of more faith doesn’t acknowledge the strength and stamina required, for all of us, in chipping away at doubt in order to build an edifice of faith. Second, I do not doubt God can heal all things, including depression. Yet the fact remains that sometimes He does not. The fact remains that depression is a formidable foe that plants itself squarely between God and us. It both feeds on and aims towards solitude and isolation. It is not greater that He is but it is real and here now (and doesn’t the present always take priority in our limited human scope?) It does not mean we love God less, nor that He loves us less (in fact I have personal convictions regarding the moments that pass between a soul and our Lord leading up to death) – it is just another, often hidden, often misunderstood, human failing.
7) Questions: Why? How didn’t we know?
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