What Depression Means to Me

In the time since I first started blogging, I’ve sat down several times to write about depression – what I believe it is, and what it means to me.  I’ve always walked away from the screen, unsure of how to approach such a delicate subject, especially one that so few people, it seems, understand.  In light of Robin Williams passing away, and the overwhelming number of reactions to his death though, I’d like to say something.

What is Depression : Common Myths
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While I will never know Robin Williams’ personal demons – they are a somehow personal topic, one which I don’t believe anyone has the right to ask about – I’ve dealt with depression personally.  It is not a topic that I am now (or I think, ever will be) ready to discuss on here, but while I can’t understand the specifics of Williams’ suffering, I can understand how hard it must have been for him while he was suffering with the disease.  It’s the kind of pain that makes getting up some mornings seem impossible, and the thought of continuing to suffer doesn’t seem reasonable at times.

In the past few days since news of Williams’ death spread onto various news outlets, I’ve seen every one of the typical reactions to suicide and depression: heartfelt sympathy for both him and his family, of course; but also, disgust, confusion, and a complete lack of sympathy for something that most of us are thoroughly incapable of understanding.  While I can’t address what depression means to everyone, only what it means to me, I do believe there are some myths about the disease that only serve to allow it to harm more people.

Depression (and Happiness) is Willful

This is perhaps one of the most damaging beliefs about such a painful and debilitating disease.  For as long as mental illness has been recognized, it has also been seen as something that the person suffering from it can control.  Unlike Cancer or AIDS, which we can see the effects of, nobody can see a mental illness such as Depression.

But no matter what the noticeable effects of Depression, it is the result of a chemical imbalance in the person’s brain.  Without the help of medication, most mental illness cannot simply be treated.  As helpful as things like prayer, meditation, or “smiling in the mirror each morning” may be for a person, they can’t treat the underlying condition.  Trust me when I say that a person suffering from Depression (or any mental illness for that matter) is not simply lazy or refusing to see reason when you suggest they find an inspirational phrase to repeat to themselves each morning.

Depression is Attention-Seeking

There are far better ways than isolation and seemingly-perpetual sadness to garner attention (and Robin Williams, of all people, already had that attention).

Every time another life is lost to suicide, there is an overwhelming cry of “why didn’t they just ask for help?”  But when a person does, they are told that they simply are having a few bad days and need to stop looking for attention.  It makes it impossible for a person suffering to know how they should handle the situation, especially when added to the fact that most of the people in their life probably don’t fully understand what they are dealing with.

While you can’t ever truly understand what another person is dealing with unless you have been there yourself, it’s helpful to understand that their feelings are just as real as yours are.

Suicide is Selfish

It may be hard to understand if you’ve never personally dealt with depression, but at many points, it doesn’t seem like there’s a way out.  For Robin Williams – and for many others who have found themselves in the same place – that darkness lasted long enough that suicide felt like the only way out.  The only way to end the pain they’d been suffering with for so long.  It’s cruel to suggest that a person in that helpless of a situation should sacrifice themselves in order to save those in their life from grief.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10248085779572524381 Anne

    Thank you for writing this. We cannot have enough articles like this one. Depression is so deeply misunderstood. It is heartbreaking to see how people react to it without knowing about it. It is something uncontrollable, and sometimes even with medication it is not possible to remove the demons inside someones head. Depression is a disease, yes, unfortunately…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15263331247319768989 Shybiker

    It’s rare to see serious posts on blogs, but this is one — and a good one. Thanks for the effort to explain this misunderstood condition.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15138863235245919169 Sweet Catastrophe Blog

    I agree, thanks for taking the time to write this and helping others understand.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00851617709229926460 Lee Ann Hicks

    I agree with you. If you haven’t been in their shoes, who are you to judge? Thank you for putting this out there.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05920354862781838330 The Happy Type

    So beautifully written. I think something people forget is EMPATHY. Sympathy does not lend itself to understanding but empathy does. Thank you for chiming in on this subject.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04807134464226438920 Madison @ Wetherills Say I Do

    It’s sad that these things are only talked about when someone famous dies as a result of their battle with mental illness. In reality we should be talking about these things ALL THE TIME because there are so many people who are suffering from mental illness. Thank you for debunking these myths!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16872923498201700713 Sarah @ Seriously, Sarah?

    I really love this post. It is so sad that some people believe those myths. You did a great job addressing them. And I agree with Madison, we should be talking about these issues more. I really thought that a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness was gone, but the discussions surrounding Robin William’s death has made me rethink that, sadly.

  • http://alisatanaka.com/ alitanaka1

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post. I’ve dealt with depression before, and it was very triggering to see the entire spectrum of reactions toward Williams’ death. Thank you for addressing these myths in such a straightforward way. I love seeing posts like this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11106203434698012185 Kaeleen

    Thank you for this! Since Robin’s death I’ve seen so many blog posts shedding light on depression (I even did one) and it sucks that it takes a tragedy for people to talk about it but people need to talk about it. Depression is sadly misunderstood and I wish that it wasn’t

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04526288851432270960 Marielle Green

    That’s part of what I don’t like about so many positivity articles – sometimes, the underlying assumption is that it’s a choice. And it CAN be as simple as changing your attitude. . .if your depression is more transient in nature (seasonal, situational, etc) and doesn’t fall under mental illness. But different people need different forms of help, and that should never be stigmatized. I am grateful that in America we are more open about mental illness – things like this, plus mental/physical handicaps, were really under the rug in Korea – but we can still get better.

  • SomeGuyFromAnotherTime

    Years ago I dated someone who was depressed, but I didn’t understand it at the time. I’m certain my reaction at the time did nothing to help. I find myself again dating someone who suffers from it, and while I understand depression better now, I still struggle to help. I know a lot of what not to say, but not a lot of what I should say. The more this disease is talked about, the easier it will be to help those who need it most.