Thursday, August 14, 2014

Depression, Robin Williams, and Me

Monday, August 11th, we were all stunned by the news. The world lost Robin Williams. Genie, Peter Pan. Just the night before I watched a movie with him in it, thinking about what a phenomenal person he was. I thought about how I wanted to watch Hook soon, always one of my favorites. I got on Facebook the next day to see "Genie you're free" at the top of my newsfeed.

With all the chaos in the world between ISIS, Gaza, the government, and ebola, I saw many devastated people share the shocking news. I saw many outraged people share their anger that people were now sharing a death on social media instead of what had been on the news all week.

But here's the thing. It wasn't just another celebrity death. It was a suicide. The loss of one of the most genuine, caring, comedic people the world has known. Obviously Robin Williams struggled with depression and possibly bipolar disorder for a very long time. Yet he spent his life making others happy. The person who made so many people laugh, who brought so much joy  was fighting his own scary personal battle. He was so wrought with despair that he thought that was his only way out. That's incredibly sad.

The blog posts have been many. The opinions varied between "he was a hero" and "he was selfish." I honestly was shocked by the ignorant comments I saw about depression and suicide.

To be frank, having "been depressed" or having situational depression is not at all the same as suffering from depression, the disease. From clinical depression. Honestly, the people who don't understand because they've not been in that mindset can't be blamed, but it's rather upsetting that some people can't have more empathy.

"You have nothing to be depressed about, cheer up!" "Jesus loves you! It'll be okay." "Just relax and try to feel better." "Just get over it, move on."

Those types of comments are extremely dangerous. Depression is so real and scary guys, I can't even begin to explain. I've suffered from depression for a long time. You can't just stop feeling that way. You can't just "focus on the good things" and feel better.

Robin Williams' death floored me. It stunned me because it hit so close to home. The news has been everywhere, a constant reminder of what I struggle with and how awful it is.

My life is wonderful. I'm so happy, and very blessed. I've got a cozy home, a healthy and joyful family, the bills are paid and our needs are met. I have no logical reason to "feel" depressed. There are good days, and there are bad days. Some times I feel like I can fight it off, and sometimes I feel incredibly weak and scared. Sometimes I feel like I'm losing my mind. I'm afraid to talk to people about it, to ask for support or help because I'm afraid people will think I'm crazy. Sometimes I'm afraid that I am.

It doesn't make sense to be depressed when life is good. I cannot explain why I am. The days the darkness creeps in and the mental pain is overwhelming. I'm afraid to reach out because I'm a Christian. Christians aren't supposed to feel this way, didn't you know? We're supposed to pray and feel better.  But I do pray. Sometimes it helps, and sometimes God tells me I need to find help. But how can I do that? My fellow Christians always assume its spiritual warfare. It must be demonic. I must be sinning or doing something wrong.

But what if it's not demonic? What if I'm just sick? That's often what I tell my husband, when the bad days come. I don't feel well up there. I can't even put in to words how I feel. How it can debilitate me, how my mind feels like a prison because I can't get out how I'm feeling, how there isn't a "real" reason why I feel how I do. I'm happy, I truly am. My husband is amazing, our daughter is my pride and joy. It's not circumstantial.

To the Christians saying depression is just spiritual warfare, I say this: I'm a Christian. I believe in God, and I believe in spiritual warfare. But here's the deal. First off, not everyone IS a Christian, and you can't just say that to someone suffering from depression who doesn't share you're beliefs. Secondly, to say that all depression is spiritual warfare and to just to push into Jesus isn't necessarily helpful. That's like saying all sickness should be healed miraculously. See, I definitely believe in miraculous healing. I also believe God can use herbal and homepathics to heal, and God definitely also uses modern medicine. So one general comment cannot cover a multitude of possibilities. Depression can absolutely be tied in with spiritual warfare. But it's also a serious illness. Clinical depression is no joke. Situational depression, or "feeling depressed" is not the same as the chemical imbalance. It can be SO dangerous to tell a Christian, oh it's just spiritual warfare, pray more, worship more. Clinically depressed people need help. Very often medications or supplements.

You REALLY must be careful how you talk to people suffering from depression. If you're Christian you REALLY must be careful how you talk to depressed Christians. I was horrifically depressed as a teenager. I slashed my legs open to release endorphins so I could feel better, to have some manner of control over my life, and because I felt so suffocated that watching myself bleed felt like some of the crazy left too. Those "spiritual warfare" comments did not help me. They made me think, "well God's not healing me, he mustn't be real. He wouldn't make me feel this way." And that was one of the many things that led me to my suicide attempts. I needed help. Real help.

Statements like that create a stigma around depression and mental illness. So Christians are afraid to reach out for help, because they are so often met with that answer. We need to be gracious, compassionate, and supportive. Not everyone believes the same. And depression is very real.

I've hid this for so long. I don't want to seem weak. I've only just recently shared how I've been feeling with my husband, because for a while it seemed to have gone away. But does depression ever really go away? Maybe it hides and there are triggers. There must certainly be triggers, or why else would there be good or bad days?

 I see those pictures shared on Facebook, things like "People don't cry because they're weak, they cry because they've been strong for too long." Are they true? Maybe they are. Maybe we hide how we feel for so long because we're afraid of judgement, and the tears just get it out.

Please don't judge those who are depressed. Suicide isn't selfish. Suicide is, in the eyes of those who commit it, selfless. To them there is no other way to stop the pain. Whether or not there is, their mindset can't see it, can't imagine that they can feel any other way. They don't think how it will affect others, because they feel the world, their family, their friends would be better off without them. They feel like burdens. They're so overwhelmed and their mind so clouded they see it as the only option.

People are saying things along the lines of suicide isn't freeing, they don't understand how it will affect others, it's an easy way out etc. They are DESPERATE. Desperate people do desperate things. If you cannot fathom an understanding of that, I'm glad you've never had to experience such anguish and desperation that would lead you to that. Depression and mental illnesses are extremely complicated, could we expect anything less from something as amazing and complex as our brains?  It doesn't need to be judged or condemned or laughed at or confined to an opinionated box. Depression needs treatment and therapy, help.

For all those who griped about sharing a celebrity's death on Facebook, I hope you garner some perspective. This may be a turning point for those who struggle to reach out without fear of judgement. This is an opportunity to offer support. To help people heal, realize their worth in the world, to know they would be missed, and that they aren't alone in how they feel.

There's Nothing Selfish About Suicide: "Until you've stared down that level of depression, until you've lost your soul to a sea of emptiness and darkness... you don't get to make those judgments. You might not understand it, and you are certainly entitled to your own feelings, but making those judgments and spreading that kind of negativity won't help the next person. In fact, it will only hurt others.
As the world mourns the loss of Robin Williams, people everywhere are left feeling helpless and confused. How could someone who appeared so happy in actuality be so very depressed? The truth is that many, many people face the very same struggle each and every day. Some will commit suicide. Some will attempt. And some will hang on for dear life. Most won't be able to ask for the help that they need to overcome their mental illness.
You can help.
Know the warning signs for suicide. 50-75% of people who attempt suicide will tell someone about their intention. Listen when people talk. Make eye contact. Convey empathy. And for the love of people everywhere, put down that ridiculous not-so-SmartPhone and be human.
Check in on friends struggling with depression. Even if they don't answer the phone or come to the door, make an effort to let them know that you are there. Friendship isn't about saving lost souls; friendship is about listening and being present.
Reach out to survivors of suicide. Practice using the words "suicide" and "depression" so that they roll off the tongue as easily as "unicorns" and "bubble gum." Listen as they tell their stories. Hold their hands. Be kind with their hearts. And hug them every single time.
Encourage help. Learn about the resources in your area so that you can help friends and loved ones in need. Don't be afraid to check in over and over again. Don't be afraid to convey your concern. One human connection can make a big difference in the life of someone struggling with mental illness and/or survivor's guilt.
30,000 people commit suicide in the United States each year. 750,000 people attempt suicide. It's time to raise awareness, increase empathy and kindness, and bring those numbers down.
It's time to talk about suicide and depression."
The Depressed Christian: "In that season, I went back to my roots: reading the Bible, praying, singing songs of praise, trying to keep gratitude lists. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I prayed, no matter how often I cried out, I couldn't force my mind to course-correct. I was acutely aware of how broken my brain was but felt absolutely powerless to fix it.
And yet in the midst of that dark time, my heart absolutely thrilled with joy. Watching the boys sleep next to each other, tucked into each other because that's how you sleep when that's all you know - it made my heart crack wide open with joy. Silly conversations and long hugs from my girls, giggly text messages from my husband ... yes, there was light and joy and love and moments of clarity in the midst of those hard, hard days.
And then like a troll from the old children's stories, Depression would be on the scene to gobble my joy right up.
The beautiful glimpses of joy were precious grace to me, but no matter how tightly I wrapped my fingers around that joy, I couldn't find a way to make that joy fix my broken thoughts."

What Christians Need To Know About Mental Health: "We could tell you what we know.
That — depression is like a room engulfed in flames and you can’t breathe for the sooty smoke smothering you limp — and suicide is deciding there is no way but to  jump straight out of the burning building."
Thoughts On Depression & Being A Christian: "Those who don't struggle with depression, who don't feel the ongoing darkness, or even those who struggle with depression yet still get the occasional bursts of joy or light, they try to understand and make sense of it. Label it as selfish and the easy way out. Call the suicidal "cowards." But that's not the mind of a person in the grips of unrelenting darkness. When depression corners you like that, it makes you believe that suicide is joy. Suicide is relief. And in some instances, it makes you think that suicide is a blessing or a gift to others. It can feel like the brave and noble thing to do. 
Like I said, depression is evil. 
But there's another kind of evil lurking around the halls of the depressed, and it's the belief that those who are stricken with depression (or any mental illness) are suffering because of their lack of faith in Jesus. "If only you'd pray for more joy," people say. "If only you'd ask God to take the pain."  Or, "Is there unresolved sin in your life?" Or how about this one, "If you'd just meditate more on God's Word..." 
Folks, saying someone is depressed or suicidal because they aren't praying enough, are self-absorbed, sinful, or don't have a deep enough faith? It's abusive. And it needs to stop. Now."
Robin Williams, we will miss you. Thank you for all the smiles and laughs, thanks for the good you've done. To your family, we are so sorry for your loss.

If you are suffering from depression please don't be afraid to reach out. If you are having thoughts of suicide, please seek help. The world misses Robin and we will miss you too. I promise.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this!

    I've struggled with depression, much like you, most of my life. Even as a young child I was terrified of the thoughts entering my mind.

    You're right sometimes it is easier, but it's still lingering back there and there is always a fear it'll pop back up. For me, it always shows up during pregnancy and right after birth. The happiest time of my life! So why am I swarmed with intrusive thoughts of suicide? That's what people don't get, we KNOW we're supposed to be happy, we just can't.

    All I can say is, I've been where you are. You are not alone, even down to the cutting. I applaud you for speaking out as a Christian, because you're right, there is a stigma that Jesus will make it better. If he doesn't, you must not be praying enough.

    I've actually sinced walk away from the church do to the actions of certain Christians. There negatively was going to send me to an early grave. So, I also applaud you for sticking it out among the ignorant. You are the light they need.