Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Depression and Suicide

Mental Illness, especially depression, especially depression as it relates to suicide, is a hot topic right now. The death of a beloved celebrity, nay, an icon of our time has shaken us. My hope for Robin Williams is that his tortured soul is finally at peace. His death hit me hard, and you can judge me for that and say that it's silly to care about a celebrity death, but it didn't hit me hard just because I liked Dead Poet's Society or thought Genie was awesome. It hit me hard because I, too, struggle with depression. It hit me hard because I am no stranger to suicide.

My cousin took her life earlier this year, leaving three young children behind. My grandfather took his when I was a child. There is a long legacy of mental illness in my family, and I have not escaped unscathed. One of my greatest fears as a mother is not that my children will be kidnapped or die prematurely, but that they will have to battle against mental illness themselves. Thankfully, I'm intimately familiar with the symptoms and know about effective treatment options. The thing is, mental illness isn't a temporary thing that gets bad, and then you treat it, and then it goes away, and then you're fine forever. I mean, sometimes it works that way, but often, it is a life long fight.

I thought I was one of the lucky ones. My episodes of major depression have always occurred when I was being mistreated in an unhealthy relationship. The last was just prior to the end of my first marriage. That was a little over 7 years ago. A common theme I've seen in the past week is that depression lies. It lied to me. It had me believing that now that I've been doing well for 7 years, coincidentally, the amount of time I've enjoyed a healthy and loving relationship with who I am convinced is one of the best human beings that has ever graced this earth, it was gone. A thing of my past.

It had me believing that maybe what I had experienced in the past wasn't depression after all, maybe it was just a normal reaction to being in a bad relationship. Maybe my mental health has been perfectly intact all this time. Maybe it was the therapists and doctors who were lying to me, telling me I had this diagnosis, when I was really just unlucky in love.

And so, over the past few months, when what I now realize was that cunning, evil, mastermind started making its return into my brain, I brushed it off. It couldn't be depression, because depressed is a thing I used to be. Depressed is not a thing that happens to people in happy marriages. To people with healthy children. To people with careers they are passionate about. To people with friends who love them. To people with a roof over their head and food on their tables. To people with enjoyable hobbies (so what if I've mostly stopped doing them).

Except it does. It can happen to anyone. At any time. And that's scary. And people who don't get it tell you just to be grateful for what you have. They tell you to just get over it. They tell you to just choose happiness. Like I wouldn't just choose happiness if that was easy. Oh, but you can just choose happiness? How nice for you. That you aren't clinically depressed.

And on the surface, I *am* happy, and things *are* good. So then, on top of depression, I get to feel guilty for being depressed when, by all appearances, I should be happy. Except that its hard to be happy when there is this thing inside of you that lies to you and tells you that you are worthless, that you are terrible, that your life is a waste, that you don't deserve to be happy. It's hard when there's this thing inside of you that saps your energy, that makes you give every ounce you can muster to get through your work day, that leaves you with very little left to give your family and friends. It's hard when you know what works for you, what helps, but this thing inside you takes away all motivation to do those things.

This is my experience of depression. It is not universal. Those who have experienced it will probably recognize themselves in aspects of my experience, but their experience is their own and depression manifests, in all of us who battle it, in slightly different ways. And so it goes with suicide. Maybe for some, suicide is the "easy" way. The cowardly way. The selfish way. My own experiences with depression, together with my experiences of working with those with varying levels of suicidal ideation, have taught me that it's not quite so simple.

You see, we must remember that depression lies. Depressed people don't just end it because they are selfish and tired of fighting (though for some, that might be reason enough), they end it because they have been led, by depression, to believe that their loved ones will be better off without them around. They believe that their mental illness is too big a burden for their loved ones to bear, or worse, they believe that they have no loved ones.

Now, I'm not suicidal. But I have those days when my guard is down, and depression tells me those lies. I have those days when my mind wanders and I wonder if my husband and children would be be happier if I weren't around. I have those days when I feel like no one really wants me around.

In the wake of this particular celebrity death, I'm reminded that I need to keep fighting. I'm reminded that I shouldn't hide this, that I need to share it with those I love, those who, on my good days, I know love me. I'm reminded that when things are getting really hard, and I'm feeling overwhelmed by pretty basic life stuff, I should reach out and ask for help. I'm reminded that I need to talk about this, that we, all of us who battle this, need to talk about it. We need to talk about it so that others who are battling it alone and quietly know that they are not alone. So that they know that it's not their fault. So that they know that life with mental illness can still be beautiful and worth living.

So this is me, doing that. I'm going to talk about it. My own experience with it. It's going to make some people uncomfortable, because there's still a stigma. But I won't be silent any longer while depression is inside of me screaming its lies. I won't be silent when it is winning, when it is taking lives and permanently breaking families. This is me saying that its really hard right now, and this is me reaching out. I know I'm not alone. I know you're not alone. Together, we can fight this, and together, we can win.


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