This is a guest post written by my wonderfully wonderful wife Gina.
Author’s note: I wrote the lion’s share of this post quite spontaneously very late last night. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, if it was “finished” or if it made any sense whatsoever. But I write. It’s how I deal with many thoughts and emotions, converting them from inklings and nudges to real concepts I can try to comprehend and/or deal with. So I wrote and wrote about that which was heavily on my mind. I was just going to let it sit here, possibly unfinished, forever, the cathartic exercise that it was completed. But then this morning, I read this by another author and I was emboldened to share what I’d written – because, like her words, mine matter, they could possibly help shed light on a deep, dark, damaging secret and they may help people understand the isolation and pain of living with depression. Like hers, this is a quick draft, probably poorly edited and definitely hastily written, but here it is – not because it’s a fine piece of writing but because it’s important.
I need to speak out today. Because of my urgency to get it out while it’s relevant and people will be receptive to reading what I have to say in light of Robin Williams’ tragic death, it may not be my best writing (or the most completely edited) – but it needs to be expressed N.O.W. I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly ponder the issue of depression. As the wife of someone who has been bravely living with the disorder, I feel I can shed some light on this subject from a first-hand perspective. Here’s my personal view of the disease:
Depression is a bitch. She’s a disease of the entire self – affecting thought, body, and emotions equally. Here’s how she breaks a person down:
She’s tricky. While everyone gets an occasional headache, everyone does not have a brain tumor. In a similar way, everyone occasionally feels sad and disheartened, but everyone who does, doesn’t have depression. Having depression is not the same as being sad – even being sad for an extended period of time. It’s not a matter of, “Waiting out the storm.” It’s an ugly pervasive cloud that colors every thought, interaction and feeling to some degree.
She doesn’t allow her victim to think, experience or feel that which is outside her desired world view – which is that everything sucks, is meaningless and unchangeable (even in the face of evidence to the contrary).
Her grip is unflinching and you often literally breathe at her will.
She is determined to have her way and it doesn’t matter what happens in your life, in your world, in your relationships – she wins and you lose.
She is egocentric. You have an independent thought or emotion? Who cares? You’re not in charge here – she is.
She is a bully. She steals what is yours just because she can.
She doesn’t care what you want to do with your day – or with your life. She steals any and all motivation, hope or desire, convincing you that nothing is worth trying for.
She strikes without provocation – or at least not in obvious ways. Depression’s trigger is oftentimes a mystery, taking her victim down and sometimes down fast.
Like any disease, she presents herself to each victim individually. One person’s depression is unique to them and responds differently to medication, counseling and other treatments.
She thrives on the vicious circle she creates: Feel depressed. Feel bad because you feel depressed. Can’t work/attend to other important things/find satisfaction because you feel depressed. Go through tough financial times. Feel bad about that. Feel bad about everything you can’t do. Rinse. Repeat.
All her victims want to do is to get out from under her influence – to feel something different than her never-ending negativity, sapping their energy, desire and focus. They don’t want to be defined by their disorder – they desperately want to overcome it.
There is more – so much more – that depression is. I know that I haven’t said it all here but at this point in time, this is how I see this bitch of a disorder because it’s how she manifests herself in our life.
I want to close by saying that the depressed are rarely comfortable around others, fearing that their disorder will be visible – or make others uncomfortable – which in turn increases their depression because they end up feeling (on top of everything else) like a pariah. Sometimes it’s easier to isolate themselves to minimize the chance of something cropping up that exacerbates their symptoms. When the depressed seem “antisocial,” it’s not because they don’t want to – or don’t like to – be around people. It’s a self-preservation measure. Please, if you love and care for someone who is depressed, don’t avoid him or her. Show you care and want to help. In the same way that you’d offer an aspirin to someone with a headache, offer your ear and and open mind and heart to someone who suffers depression. Although it may be initially uncomfortable (for both of you), reaching out is one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate your support. It’s difficult for the depressed to articulate how they feel – it’s complicated, illogical and frustrating beyond belief. But do – please do – show those who struggle with depression that you are willing to make the effort to be part of the support system they desperately need.
Those struggling with depression aren’t the only ones, of course, who battle demons. Life is complicated and messy for everyone; we all have struggles that may go unseen by others. The loving thing to do, in my humble opinion, is to accept that this fact binds us in our humanity rather than separates us into arbitrary camps of “the happy” and “the unhappy.” The only way to ease our struggles is to share them and offer to do what we can without judgement, blame or expectation. We’ll never know if anything could have helped Robin – but, well, all we can do is make our best effort to be the reason someone holds on one more day.