My first reaction to Robin William’s suicide death announcement on facebook was astonished anger. I felt like he had somehow copped out, jumped ship. I was starkly reminded of my dear friend Anne who also committed suicide a month and a half ago…it has been a tough summer. Lots of people are giving up.
Then sadness took me, in a big way. Maybe it because I am grieving so many significant personal losses and for some very real reasons Robin’s death felt very personal to me. Not only as a fellow sufferer of depression, but because I grew up with him. All my favourite movies and some of my best moments with my kids include him. He could make me laugh and smile and feel like anything was possible when no one else could. He felt like a friend.
My family has some epic stories, but one of my favourites was when my sister, now an artist but then a high ranking administrative person for Bell Canada was travelling through Los Angele’s and she had the opportunity to meet and speak with him. The one thing that always reminded in the traditional retelling of the story was the effect that his eye had – gentle and full of love she would say. Smiling eyes.
And now he was gone.
Depression. Suicide. My life has been plagued with these two words. So understandably my next reaction was fear. If depression could take Robin, then it could take ANYONE…even me.
I was first diagnosed with depression when I was 15 years old, in university. I was young and far from home and would experience great jags of unhappiness. A University hospital doctor told me I had depression – a clinical explanation for a chemical imbalance in my brain. In those days my depressions were only days long – usually right before my period and would disappear in a flash as soon as I would begin. I never mentioned it, although it felt so terrible because people made so many jokes about PMS – but for someone like me, on occasion, PMS were the two r tree days when I couldn’t make a decision, I couldn’t read two pages in row cause I had no concentration, and I hated myself.
After graduating with my first degree at 18, I came home, worked in a bar (yes it was the Pioneer in case you were wondering) because who in their right mind would hire a kid with a degree in political philosophy. I had my first child at 25 and within weeks of having her, the depression came back. This time they called it “post partum disorder” – again my sadness had nothing to do with me – it was BIOCHEMICAL. They gave me magical pills. SSRI’s had hit the market but barely. I am not sure which kind it was this time – probably Prozac was about all they really were using in those days. Thus began my 17 year journey on pharmaceuticals and a coming to terms with depression.
Lots of people have tried to explain to me what depression is. My easiest depressions only last a day, and the worst one lasted 7 weeks, I was in bed and I came about as close to dying as any living person wants to get.
- Hurts my body. Aches and pains like I am an old lady.
- Depression destroys my concentration. I cant read or even watch an entire tv show
- I don’t sleep – forget that.
- Make me feel like I am no good for anything or anyone.
- Makes me believe the world would be better without me
- Makes me feel hopeless – no matter what I do nothing will ever feel good again
- Causes me to make bad decisions
- I suffer from “not-enough-it is” in a deep depression. Nothing I am or I do is ENOUGH. It;s exhausting.
- Depression causes me to harm myself and make bad choices on my own behalf
- Makes my family feel hopeless and out of control
- Makes my family and friends feel as though they have done something wrong
- Causes me to isolate
- Makes me feel as though I cant rely on my emotions so I cant make plans = I never know what I will be like in a day or two or three…
- Makes it so I am not able to get a full time normal world day job – again the unreliability factor.
- Makes me feel ugly, stupid and unlovable unworthy
- Sometimes – depression makes me want to stop living (I will differentiate however between “not wanting to live” and “suicidal” -= there is a big difference)
and so on…
Over the years they tried to give my personality lots of names… bi-polar, severe hyper manic rapid cycling depression (this means I m like Eeyore all the time…), border line personality etc.
I was just sad. That’s all. It was a terrible way to live. I would wake crying, sleep crying, no joy, faking everything in my life. Trying to be the best mom possible, but incapable of really engaging with anyone – because I was incapable of engaging with myself at the time.
So a (male) doctor says he has a pill I can take that will fix the “broken chemistry” in my brain and I will then be NORMAL. I emphasize male because I don’t think any woman who had had a child would have diagnosed me the same way.
But I was so attracted to the possibility of the all encompassing NORMAL. My doctor wanted me to understand…
He drew me a diagram and explained it to me like I was an idiot…
“See these two lines here Josee…” he asked indicating a drawing of two parallel lines about 3 inches apart on a piece of paper. “most people have emotions within those lines” he says drawing an up and down squiggle. “Your emotions are like this” he said letting his pen go wildly outside of the lines…
Wow. I am nuts.
Then he says something like, “The medication will bring you inside the lines. You can have “normal emotions like everyone else”.
Oh lord…I was so happy. They had invented A NORMAL PILL!
Finally someone explained why I wasn’t “NORMAL” (this word was later explained to me by my Alanon sponsor as which only existed as a setting on a washing machine :)) why I didn’t feel like other people, and why I was SO much more emotional than I “should be”.
It started with anti -depressants, and by the end I had been prescribed every conceivable antidepressant and then some…seroquil, desyryl, welbutrin, celexa, paxil, elavil name it – I took it.
I didn’t play guitar or sing for 13 years.
I didn’t write
I didn’t draw
I didn’t paint
I forgot what made me joyful
Nothing in life was ever exciting.
Sex was meh…
Was this “normal”?
Not creating for someone like me is like being the walking dead and I became so empty it was ridiculous.
Depression is genetic in my family . I was raised by my maternal grandparents. My mother told me the story of her first suicide attempt at only 9 years old. Poor thing – luckily the bottle of pills she took were laxatives, which we can almost giggle at, except to consider what kind of despair a child of nine must feel to down a whole bottle of anything, causes the laughter to turn into a choke in my throat.
My grandmother who raised me was a chronic suicide attempter. In fact, by the time I was 10 I had saved the life of or witnessed the attempt to die of most of the women in my family. The men (my “brothers” and maternal grandfather” called them weak and “crazy”. I have one that still does to this day sadly. ) But their uneducated redneck discompassionate attitudes regarding mental health and emotional wellbeing is very representative of a big chunk of western culture. It is these attitude that prohibit a frank open honest discussion.
I would like that to end today.
*suck it up…” they would say.
That’s not helpful.
**I want to say right away that medications are important, and if you are prescribed and antidepressant to get your chemicals back on track and this is comfortable for you, take them, and get your balance back.
But medication is not where it ends,
it can be however where healing begins.
what is healing?
It is ACCEPTANCE OF YOURSELF.
ALL YOUR 2000 PARTS, PERSONALITIES AND EMOTIONS.
Unfortunately psychologist want to focus on your past and tyour problems and psychiatry is looking at “the problem” only the medicinal aspects to cover symptoms.
It is not enough.
You have to go after THE ABSOLUTE UNADULTERATED AWESOME BEAUTIFUL TRUTH ABOUT YOURSELF.
No one is going to say he was
- Should have had a better sense of humour
- Had a sad life anyone would want to escape
We all know,,,Robin Williams was an AWESOME human being – I am so grateful that he was here.
But another part of me understands and can sometimes relate to his hopelessness.
The Buddhist in me finds that his death will cathartically open this dialogue.
Robin Williams is such a key example of someone whose depression led to addiction (avoidance is pretty normal when you feel like crap all the time).
12 step programs are amazing…except for one teenier thing debilitating thing aspect of the 12 step culture…self righteous sobriety. The I’m better than you attitude is not helpful to someone who struggles and although it is are and you will find that 99% of the people you will meet will be supremely authentic and supportive, there are assholes everywhere in life. Right> Like they say in the program – learning to ACCEPT (even the assholes) is the key.
Good luck though…If you are a person with long term sobriety and you slip – sometimes program people in these programs can be painfully judging and unforgiving – fearing for their own sobriety I suppose.
It must have been very hard for him to go back into the program in 2006 after 20 years of sobriety.
The thing is lots of people said they were “so surprised” when he started drinking again.
I always will remember what my mother, 27 years sober when she died said to me
“Never be surprised when an alcoholic drinks. Be surprised if he stays sober”
The world requires a dialogue – depression is epidemic and we need to openly share our stories, remove the stigma and walk TOGETHER.
Opening this dialogue and being very honest with myself has been a cathartic experience.
I’d like to begin this dialogue. The only way to heal and see the amazing BENEFITS of having depression are to share our stories, openly.
Let it begin right here.
This is what i do for my depression today…
- REMEMBER YOU CANT FIGHT THE OCEAN WITH A TEASPOON…
- I try and let myself feel whatever I am feeling. Trying to NOT be sad, not be depressed NOT BE…anything…is what got you into this mind mess in the first place. So if you feel like crap…LET YOURSELF FEEL LIKE CRAP.
- Identify where the feeligns exist in your physical body – where are your emotions when you feel sad? I find my solar plexus hold this energy.
- Don’t use weed for depression. Weed is great – but not when your depressive. It doesn’t work It will make you feel way worse.
- Find five things to be grateful for every day – write them down. Or even better share them on social network and help others relate to gratitude.
- Eat healthy – treat yourself like your best friend.
- Do something nice for yourself; take yourself on a date to a movie, do your hair, a bath? something.
- DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING. In massive depression – get up, brush your teeth, make your bed. Do the basics.
- Keep a journal. Write every morning,. Don’t edit. Everyone needs a place to spill their guts.
- Dont focus on the word “depression”. YOU are NOT your illness. You are WAY MORE AWESOME than you can tell at this moment.
- Find the cool parts – I don’t know ONE fellow musician, artist or writer that doesn’t have some sort of what they would call “mental illness”…although now I am remiss to call it an illness given all the talented beautiful people I have come to know.
- Meditate. trust me there is nothing better to remind you that YOU are not YOUR THOUGHTS.
IF YOU SUFFER FROM DEPRESISON PLEASE REMEMBER WHAT I AM ABOUT TO SAY…
** Depression comes from unexpressed emotions. *not because you have cured depression but because you have found the awesomeness in it.
You know – what we are looking for in life is NOT happiness…It is the ability to handle all circumstances with a peace inside that cannot be shaken.
Everyone can do this.
YOU CAN DO THIS.
Depression is a gift that makes you do the work. People without depression do not need to go as deep into their self understanding as you can. And the purpose of life IS to understand ourselves better. Depression is a gift of understanding.
I am suggesting a global open the door on depression initiative.
We need to talk. Openly and unabashedly.
Let us begin this dialogue today.
Tell us about your depression, your story, where has it taken you. What has it taught you? Where does it come from? Can you identify some needs after talking about it?
Share together. Don’t be afraid. We will catch you. I promise. Its a process…and it has to begin somewhere.
I send you real love – although we may never have met I really do understand we are all connected – we are each other. The more we heal each other, the more the whole world will benefit from your awesomeness.
COME OUT AND SHINE TOGETHER.
In love and service,