What Even Robin Williams Probably Didn’t Understand About Depression

Posted: August 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

Robin Williams and I shared a birthday – we were born, not only on the same day, but also in the same city in the same year. Like Mr. Williams, I, too, suffered (note the past tense) from depression to the point of wanting to commit suicide. Having grown up with a father who was bipolar (I am probably bipolar myself), I am fully aware that some people don’t understand depression. They wonder why we can’t just get over it. Depression is not something you “get over,” though. Depression is something you learn to accept – if you can stay alive long enough to come to terms with the ache of being depressed.

Whether depression is physiological or psychological, neurological or physical doesn’t matter to the person who can’t see beyond his or her own pain. I tried to explain to people who’d never experienced prolonged depression how it felt to be chronically depressed. We can go through our daily lives looking as if we are just like everyone else, but inside we feel “heavy,” as if we carry the burden of everyone’s grief upon our shoulders. When we look out from our souls, we see a yellowish cast on everything. When we look at scenery, for instance, we don’t see thriving foliage; we see dead trees; we see destitution.

We feel worthless and inept, incapable of helping all those causes that mean so much to us. And we feel guilty for being so stuck in this pit of depression, unable to move, because our focus is drawn to everything wrong in this world – and with us. We look around us and ask, Why bother? What’s the point? Who cares?

We assure ourselves that our families would be better off without us. We often feel that we don’t belong in this world – that we’re too different from everyone else. We convince ourselves that we have done everything within our power to help ourselves feel joy and happiness, but we look out of eyes that hold only our own perceptions.

And that is our biggest mistake. Loving friends or family members who offer comfort don’t realize that while we appreciate their kind words, we just cannot pull ourselves out of this deep well, because what we actually feel is complete and total despair. We’re good actors. You might never know that our very souls cry for release.

We are unable to see the world through your eyes. The yellow cellophane that covers our eyes colors our world in desperation. We can’t fix ourselves and we feel ourselves plummeting into depths so unfathomable we can’t see where we’re going, and the further we fall, the harder it is for you to reach us.

Sometimes, through some leap of faith, we learn how to cope with the devastating effects depression brings. Drugs, therapy, friendship, prayer – work only some of the time, though. Or maybe they work most of the time. But they don’t work all of the time. Depression, like alcohol addiction, can be handled IF depressed people are able to step out of themselves and become aware of the demon that is possessing them.

Alcohol and drugs exacerbate depression, because alcohol and most drugs are depressants. The depressed person drinks or takes drugs because in the moment the drink or drug masks the depression, but the depressions is ALWAYS there, and drugs and alcohol really don’t help – at all.

From all the people I know who have considered suicide as an option to relieve the pain brought on by chronic depression, one simple observation I’ve made is that they are both highly sensitive and very creative. A depressed person walks into the room and absorbs the feelings of those around him or her. I can see why Robin Williams enjoyed standup. People around him were enjoying themselves and expecting some fun. The atmosphere was filled with laughter or expectations of laughter. Those moments probably gave him the biggest thrill.

But turn on the radio or the television and suddenly the depressed person plummets, wondering how to save the world from poverty, war, greed, and so many other evils. We feel so inept, so incapable of helping to the degree in which everyone needs help.

Depressed people also filter incoming messages differently than non-depressed individuals. Dr. Phil says it takes a hundred “atta-boys” to erase one negative comment. Maybe that works for most people but for those of us suffering from depression, the only thing that filters through our brains is the negative messages we hear.

More often than not, we look upon the world as a sham – nothing seems genuine or real and we are irritated by everyone acting in ways that are so obviously pretentious. Pretense annoys us.

Whatever you think of suicide, understand that suicide is not an option we take lightly. As a matter of fact, we agonize over it. We know we’ll leave in our wake (pun intended) immeasurable suffering, but for those of us who haven’t learned how to cope with depression, in the moment, we feel as if we are ending the suffering of those around us – for a variety of reasons.

Maybe we realize we’re not living the life we wanted to be living and we’re getting too old to make changes. Maybe we feel as if we haven’t made a difference in anyone’s life. Maybe everyone around us expects from us things we can’t ever fulfill. Maybe we were asked one too many times to do something we’ve always agreed to do but didn’t want to do anymore, and we never learned how to say no.

We couldn’t. We didn’t want to hurt your feelings. And it’s not that suicidally depressed individuals don’t love the people they leave behind. In an odd unexplainable way, the reason they consider leaving this world is because they love you. They don’t want to burden you with their suffering any longer.

You might wonder why they don’t just take antidepressants. Some of us try everything to rid ourselves of this awful disease. Antidepressants don’t work for everyone, though. They didn’t work for me. I was told to give it six weeks or six months (I can’t remember), but after that period of time, I felt no different.

The only thing that worked for me was faith and prayer. And, trust me, I’m not a religious person. I don’t attend any church, but I believe in my God (I say MY God, because my belief in God is belief in a God that is different from the traditional God many others pray to). I’ve seen first-hand the power of prayer. I’m not going to try to convince you of prayer’s effectiveness, because if you don’t believe, nothing I can say will change your mind, but prayer prevented me from committing suicide and it enabled me to get through some of the worst times in my life.

You see, thought, which is part of prayer, is energy. Energy acts and reacts. Prayer is intentional thought and emanates energy from us. Intention combined with emotion brings results to us.

Some people close to me also suffer from depression. When I’ve prayed for something or someone to intercede and prevent the person from following through with suicide, something always (repeat always) happens. The problem is that not everyone knows when others are depressed. Getting out of my own depression took me over 20 years of constant prayer and FAITH that prayer would work. I had kids who relied on me to care for them. And what didn’t help me was never having enough money to care for them. The lack of money plummeted me deeper and deeper and deeper into depression. I remember thinking I would hold off committing suicide until they grew up.

And when one thing after another after another after another broke on me (cars, refrigerators, vacuums, for instance), when I couldn’t pay my bills or get to school or work, and I was in jeopardy of losing my home, I didn’t know if I could hold on that long. So I prayed. (What did I have to lose?)

My mom and dad sent money, one of my sisters sent money, but because my income was so low, it was never enough. The kids needed new clothes and shoes every winter and every summer. They needed school supplies every year. Exes either never paid child support or never sent enough child support. And I still needed to pay the bills. Twice in my life, while I lived in different cities, I received a $100 cashier’s check in the mail from two different organizations sent by – somebody. I never knew who sent them.

Little things like that happened every time I prayed. But I didn’t just pray. I had faith that my prayers would be heard. I never expected them to be answered the way I wanted them to be answered, but I prayed that something would help me. And something always did.

When I received a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2009, people might have thought I was weird (I’m used to that now), but it honestly didn’t bother me at all to have it. When I had a premonition that I had cancer, I immediately took out an Aflac policy that would pay me for treatments, should I need them. And, whoa, did I! That money helped – a lot! Because I had a very aggressive form of breast cancer, I’m still taking a chemo pill and I will continue taking it until July, 2015, but I’m alive and I survived.

20 years ago, that diagnosis might have either devastated me or maybe I would have welcomed it, because I would have hoped to die from it. I don’t feel that way anymore. I actually feel joy in my life now. I have learned to say no to the people who ask me to do more than I can handle. I have learned to accept my financial circumstances. Just recently I sold my house and paid off my car with the money I made from the sale of my home. I hope I can afford my new life. I’m researching ways to live as minimally as possible so I can pay my bills and still have enough money left over to get gifts for my kids and grandkids.

My hope in writing this post is that I can reach one person who is in the throes of depression, and ask him or her to try prayer. If everything else you’ve tried has failed, give prayer a chance. Believe – have faith – in the power of prayer. And REACH OUT – ask others to pray with you and for you. One of the things depressed people need to learn is to SHARE their experiences. So many people suffer from debilitating depression that if only one of them reached out to share with one other person the pain of depression, one more life might be saved.

I am so grateful to Robin Williams for bringing attention to this devastating illness – and YES – it is an illness. And LOTS of us suffer from it. LOTS of people will die from it, and NOBODY has a cure for it. I’m not offering a cure, but I hope I’m offering a way to deal with it. Do I still suffer from bouts of depression? Absolutely. But I know now that I’ll handle it. When I feel it coming, and it could be brought on by just about anything, I allow myself to wallow in pity for as long as it takes me to move beyond the shroud of despair.

I don’t know how depression affects other people, but that depressive feeling doesn’t just wash over me; it feels as if a thousand pounds of oppressiveness hits me like a mack truck dropping from the sky. Lifting it is exhausting and I sometimes feel as if I might not be able to do it this time, but I pray for something to take me out from under it, and while I wait for it to leave, I use an old Alanon trick – I “fake it till I make it.” In other words, I pretend that I’m OK until I really am. The irony of being pretentious is not lost on me here, but it always works.

My heart goes out to all of you who have lost loved ones due to depression and suicide. Depression is a wicked illness. Please pay attention to your kids who are suffering from it. They are likely the quiet ones who prefer to play by themselves and who are too timid or too embarrassed to tell you how they feel. If you know someone who suffers from depression, find a way to let the person know that he or she is not alone and that you won’t feel burdened by listening or lending a shoulder to cry on. If your friend doesn’t want to see a doctor or take prescribed drugs – from a doctor – try prayer. If you feel you don’t have the faith to make it work, remember all you need is faith the size of a mustard seed. See the period at the end of that last sentence? That’s all you need. That size. What have you got to lose by trying?

(Photo credit – wikimedia commons)

  1. […] If you choose not to read the article, please at least answer this question: When exactly was Robin Williams born? Some sources list him in 1951; others list him in 1952. Inquiring mind wants to know. He may be my twin. UPDATE – After Robin Williams Died, we all discovered that he was born on exactly my birthdate – July 21, 1951. (Related reading: What Even Robin Williams Probably Didn’t Understand About Depression) […]

  2. I, too, share the July 21st birthday…and Robin’s death has hit me particularly hard as well. I wrote about learning to recognize depression and the signs that someone is contemplating suicide, on my blog as well. http://writeandgetpaid.org/honoring-robin-williams-legacy/ I have never suffered from the depths of depression as you, and some of the commenters here have…but definitely I have been there, too. I am so glad that you have found a way to handle it and move on. Thank you so much for sharing your story– I, too, believe that we can help to destigmatize depression and reach out to those who need it.

  3. menopausalmother says:

    EVERYTHING you said here is the absolute truth, and I saw myself in every paragraph. Especially the sensitivity–that explains why so many writers I know have dealt with chronic depression. That’s a really interesting coincidence about your birthdays, though. Wow!

    • theresawiza says:

      Those of us who are more sensitive to the feelings of people around us tend to absorb everyone’s feelings and react emotionally. Sensitivity is probably responsible for many psychological ailments ranging from depression to psychosis, or even pseudo-psychosis. I’ve often believed that people who see and hear spirits, for instance, are really just highly sensitized to the world around them.

      If only the media gave as much attention to the joys in this world as they do to the calamities, highly sensitive people just might go through their days filled with feelings of happiness rather than be bombarded with so much sadness and tragedy. Thank you for your comment, Marcia.

    • theresawiza says:

      Marcia, I hit the wrong button. My response to you is below.

  4. kjhack says:

    As someone who has suffered from depression for a great many years, Robin Williams’ passing has made me pause for some very serious self-reflection. The positive aspect of this tragedy is it has sparked of a national dialog on an often misunderstood — and minimized, to a great deal — illness.

    Thanks for composing a very thought-provoking piece!

    • theresawiza says:

      I agree with you. I think Robin Williams’s suicide has served as a catalyst for bringing attention to this very sad and often overlooked disease. Maybe the more we talk about it, the more likely we will learn how to prevent suicide from occurring. Thank you for your comment.

  5. brianadragon says:

    This was an amazing piece. I have talked openly about my own depression and suicide attempts, and my heart is with you. So many simply don’t understand what it’s like. We need to open up though, talk, tell people, help them to have understanding and compassion.
    Prayer helped (and still helps) me a lot. I’m not traditionally religious either. You do whatever works.

    • theresawiza says:

      I have Robin Williams to thank for bringing this subject to light. Maybe the more we discuss depression, the more likely we can save lives. Thank you for your heartfelt comments. I hope we all learn to how to handle our lives and reach for help when we need it.

  6. Coral says:

    Theresa…your willingness to share your thoughts here, to tell your story, is bold, courageous, and necessary. I applaud you for putting yourself out there in order to help (some) others to understand. I would like to share this story on my blog.

    • theresawiza says:

      Thank you, Coral. That’s the reason I wrote it, to bring even more attention to the sometimes deadly effects of depression and hopefully prevent another tragedy from occurring.

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