Whether or not you believe that someone who commits suicide does it knowingly (as in, they are aware of the consequences) or unknowingly (meaning that they are not themselves) that does not change the end result. And yes, I am referencing Robin Williams. I do not advise reading on unless you are in a good place. I seek no one’s pity, but everyone’s awareness of the true issue at heart.
The fact of the matter is this: I suffer from the same illness that killed Robin Williams. No different from two people dying of the same type of cancer – Robin Williams took his life in a way that I could have taken my own…and still could. I am not currently suicidal, but I have been in the past. I have sat in dark rooms for hours on end, cried myself to sleep, not been able to get out of bed, and yes, even participated in what may possibly be the longest form of suicide – an eating disorder. Although, eating disorders are not necessarily intentionally a form of suicide, if I’m being honest – I was trying to kill myself, but too “chicken” to do it in an immediate fashion. No, I wanted time to back out if I were to “change my mind” and have a change of heart.
I was one of the lucky ones. Determined to not repeated loved ones past mistakes I suffered quietly for years…struggling to get through each day. I have dug razors into my skin and tried to hollow myself out. I have danced with death in the form of starvation and sleeping pills. But in the end when I was almost at the end of myself – I found hope, and I did have a definite change of heart. My heart was changed by Christ Jesus, but that’s a completely different story!
As I’m sure you’ve all read, “That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.” (John Greene, The Fault in Our Stars). But suffering from depression is more than just the everyday nuisance of feeling pain. It is unbearable sadness that knows no cause. It is not being able to think sensibly and truly believing in your heart that you and everyone around you would be better off if you were dead. Depression is more than that black rain cloud following you around. No, rain storms can’t possibly last forever – it’s not scientifically possible. Depression can. And depression will, if it goes untreated.
A common question is this: Why on earth would anyone leave depression untreated?
The truth: I don’t know. But I can speak from my own personal experience.
It’s easier to tell in reflection. As I have been journeying through my own recovery, I have had lots of time to reflect on my past and discover who I am in the present. I can easily pinpoint the time when my depression began…it was the beginning of high school. At the time though, I had no idea. I was going through puberty, struggling to find where I fit in at a new school, and the whole process of “growing” depression was so slow and gradual that I hardly noticed. It happened slower than molasses. I didn’t just wake up one day and feel horrible. I woke up one day feeling tired and that went on for awhile, so much that it became the new normal. Then I started to isolate myself, but again – that became the new normal. Next came hating myself, but I was convinced I deserved it…no one told me otherwise. And so the process continued on like that for 4 years before I ever realized that something wasn’t quite right, and even then I questioned my own judgment. I sought out professional help towards the end of my 1st semester of college…only after I had begun leaving scars on my body with a razor blade.
So, within those 4 years I missed out on a lot. A lot of fun times with friends and family, and a lot of joy and happiness. But I wasn’t out of the water yet – cue the medication roller coaster.
Any time someone has a mental illness, there are undoubtedly medicines involved. It’s a great solution once, and only once, you find something that works right for you. But every individual who struggles, struggles much differently. No 2 diagnoses (although the same words on a page) look alike. To this very day, almost 2 years later, I am still sometimes riding that medication roller coaster. Things work for a period of time, things stop working, things never worked, things are changing. Some periods in my life I have unbearable anxiety. Sometimes depression is manageable, sometimes not so much. Then, we can’t leave out the eating disorder in all this. It’s all an intricate web of tangles that is virtually impossible to sort out (props to my medical team for even trying).
Anyways, I digress. My point is not that I struggle with these things. My point is that LOTS of people struggle with these things. Mental illness is indeed an ILLNESS…no different than cancer or pneumonia. It should NOT be treated with shame. I think it’s safe to say that, at least for me, I haven’t seen much going around about anyone shaming Robin Williams…most articles, posts, etc have been uplifting and acted more as tributes to the great person that he was. NO ONE regardless of social status, money, job position, family, or anything else you can think of, should be shamed for struggling with a mental illness. EVERYONE has something in their lives that they currently struggle with or have had to overcome. We are HUMAN. Life happens, “shit happens”, but there shouldn’t be shame involved in living.
You can live with a mental illness. It isn’t easy, by any means, (Trust me, I know that 1st hand) but it’s possible. There is hope and there is recovery. People won’t seek out those things if there’s a stigma attached to it, though. Let’s change the stereotype. Let’s evolve the way mental illness is regarded and treated. There are a few things that people can do to help:
1. Don’t act as if you understand. Trust me, you don’t. Be glad that you don’t, but don’t say things such as, “I was so depressed when x, y, or z happened to me.” No…depression is usually chronic, chances are that you were just sad and your minimizing the struggle of those who truly do suffer when you say something like that.
2. Don’t make statements that stereotype. “So-and-so is so bi-polar sometimes.” No…they probably aren’t. Have you ever known a truly bi polar person? If you have, you probably wouldn’t have even known they were bi polar unless they told you themselves. It’s a complicated disease and diagnosis and it’s not as “in the box” as you’re making it seem when you say stuff like that. My personal favorite (for obvious reasons) “You don’t LOOK like you have an eating disorder.” Weight loss is a side effect that not everyone experiences.
3. Don’t assume. This one can go both ways. Don’t assume that just because someone is wearing long sleeves that they self harm. Don’t assume that someone has an eating disorder just because they’re slender. Do NOT assume that someone is just doing something/saying something just to get attention…you don’t know anyone else’s struggle. They may not fit the stereotype. That doesn’t make them dishonest or attention seeking.
4. Don’t change the topic. If someone is reaching out and trying to talk about mental health with you, it IS going to be uncomfortable. And that’s okay. But make sure you’re there to listen. It’s really, REALLY hard to admit you need help and to ask for it – don’t push anyone away just because you’re uncomfortable.
5. Listen. Sometimes people don’t want or need advice. Sometimes they just need to know that someone hears them and will validate their feelings. You don’t have to agree, but don’t try to talk them out of it. FEELINGS CAN NOT BE WRONG. They just can’t. They are an individuals emotional response to an event or circumstance. Don’t invalidate anyone because of their feelings, even if they may seem irrational to you.
What happened to Robin Williams is horrible and tragic and every other similar adjective in the book. It’s also preventable. I can not stress enough how much the stigma about mental health needs to go! There is far too much shame involved and it’s preventing people from seeking out the help they so desperately need.
If you’re struggling, know that you can never go too far down or be too far gone to be brought back to life. You deserve everything good in this world and there is help all around you, if you are able and willing to seek it out. Depression and other mental health illnesses are serious and LIFE THREATENING!! Stay strong my butterflies and know that I’m always sending love ❤ :*
“That's the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it's impossible to ever see the end.”
― Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation
I end with this:
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.