Depression =/= Unhappy

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(Note: I write about depression on a fairly regular basis. I don’t know how long I’ll continue to talk about Robin Williams. I am profoundly saddened by his death, and I may find that I’m repeating myself. I was shocked, and I am still in shock. It is a very sad day for many people, but my thoughts and prayers are with his family. I can remember the shock of my mother’s death, and while it wasn’t a suicide, it was sudden and unexpected. I hope that they can heal and move forward.)

 

I recently posted about the passing of James Garner. He truly was one of my longtime heroes from my childhood. Of course, he was in his 80s and I’d been expecting to hear about his passing, and was pre-sad in the waiting.

My sister does this thing on Facebook. She posts when celebrities die. It’s kind of an informational thing, but she is always the first, and it’s always a huge shock to family and friends when she misses one. Yesterday, I got a text message from her telling me that Robin Williams had died.

I gasped and stared at the phone. I had been midsentence talking to my husband and he asked what and I couldn’t speak. My eyes welled up and I put up my hand to kind of say wait a minute, I can’t say the words. I couldn’t say the words. They got caught in my throat and part of me thought that if I didn’t say it out loud, it wouldn’t be true.

Robin Williams died.

His eyes reflected my own shock. We put the television on and saw the headlines, possibly suicide. This was beyond belief. I knew that Robin had more than his share of problems over the years: drug addiction, his struggle with sobriety, heart surgery, even depression, and he’d come through it all.

His kind of genius was either snuffed out at twenty-something or he was safe from the demons.

Whenever his name was mentioned on television or in the news, it would never cross my mind that he might have died.

Robin Williams was supposed to live forever. Forever.

How is it possible that his energy, his vibrancy, his manic hilarity is silenced? How does the world keep turning when Robin Williams isn’t in it any longer?

In the past eleven hours or so, I’ve read of many fans’ shock and disbelief, some knowing that in the heart of many a comedian lives the darkness of depression, but many others asking how someone so funny could be depressed enough to kill himself. He had a great life: marriage, three great kids, a career, a ridiculously funny sense of humor, a humanitarian, money and he was well loved, not only by his fans, but by his fellow actors and his family. How can someone so happy be so sad on the inside?

I posted a statement in response to this and said, “It is so important to keep repeating: DEPRESSION HAS NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING TO DO WITH HAPPINESS.”

I was asked about this earlier this morning, and I do understand that people who are not exposed to depression might not understand the severity and the forms it comes in. I didn’t understand how depression worked just a couple of years ago, and unless people know someone with depression, most people misunderstand how serious it is.

 

I describe it as an iceberg. The part that you can see from the outside is so much smaller than the actual problem. So much of what is there is lurking below the surface, waiting to pull you under when you least expect it.

There are three types of depression (that I’m aware of). The mood descriptor is the most confusing because it uses the word ‘depression’ and we talk about being so depressed, and so when we are talking about the clinical, chemical imbalance, physical manifestations of the mental illness, it is often confounded with the much less serious depression or down mood.

When you are down and your mood is depressed, this is a normal emotion and feeling and we all get that every now and then. Sometimes there are reasons for the down mood, and sometimes it’s a lightweight apathy or boredom in a moment, and it always passes. One of the reasons that the miscues come from is that we should really use a different word when describing the depressed mood rather than depression the mental illness.

This comes and goes and everyone gets in this kind of mood now and again. It comes, it goes away, and that’s all normal.

The second form is situational depression. This might need medication temporarily or it might need close observance. It definitely should be seen by a doctor to make sure that it is situational. This type crops up when something big hits you unexpectantly: someone dies, you can’t afford to fix your car and can’t figure out how to get to work, you get seriously ill, a friendship ends – the kinds of things that pop up and are more than just a minor sadness that will pass. It is serious, but it’s not clinical. There is a reason for it and everyone’s reaction to the same stimulus will be different. This strikes me as an emotional response but more than a simple moodiness.

Clinical depression (and I don’t know that this is what Robin Williams had, but clearly he had something), (and this is what I’ve been diagnosed with) is that feeling of nothing. Mood swings, bursts of inappropriate emotion in both happy and sad directions, lethargic, nothing feels right, everything feels empty. For me, I just stopped. Everything. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t cook, I didn’t want to do anything, and it was well beyond just being lazy, and ever worse was that I didn’t care that I felt this way. It didn’t matter; nothing mattered and I was okay with that.

My husband would ask if I wanted to use the computer and I’d shrug. I’d sit in the dark, not doing or looking at anything; not sleeping. I thought about the logistics of driving my car over a bridge, and how reasonable it sounded. My best friend would get on the phone with me and ask if I was drunk – I was so out of it – brain fog: I couldn’t remember things; I didn’t know if I’d eaten or when I’d showered last. I forgot appointments and my children’s assignments. It’s serious, and in retrospect, I’ve always had some form of depression with varying degrees of severity. I didn’t realize it until I was suicidal, and it has nothing to do with cheering up or having a good job or being happy.

It’s also scary because you’re alone and at the point you don’t care about being alone, it’s already almost too late.

I also liken my recovery to being an alcoholic. There is always the chance that it will come back or rather it is never gone. I need to be vigilant and aware of how I’m feeling and if I’m in a normal mood or if I’m coming on a more depressive one (like I’ve been feeling recently).

I’m on medication, I’m in therapy, I have coping mechanisms and friends who understand and support me when I’m having a bad time of it, but I can also feel it most of the time and I’m in a constant state of checks and balances to make sure that my meds are working. When it’s really bad, I go back to my lists, listing every infinitesimal detail of my day, including eat breakfast and take a shower.

I hope this isn’t too much of an info dump. These are questions a lot of people have about depression and its misrepresentation in layperson circles, including my family that just don’t get it (and that’s not their fault), so I go to people who do understand; people who can support what I need when I need it.

Writing this makes me feel a bit better. It’s good to be able to change the idea that someone who commits suicide is weak when really it’s that they can’t control the avalanche when it’s coming down on them and burying them alive.

 

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