Nanu Nanu: Hello Depression, Goodbye Robin Williams

Annah ElizabethLeave a Comment

Robin William’s suicide has put mental health awareness in the spotlight again. And it has sparked a firestorm of thoughts and opinions from those who feel our mental health system is “the worst,” to those who believe the illness doesn’t exist, to those who think a person should just suck it up and accept whatever reality they are in.

As someone who has dealt with depression for years, and as a resourceful individual who has faced the tragic reality that fewer and fewer mental health professionals are taking on new clients, I believe that our culture has come a long way in the past twenty years, but I also believe we have so very far to go.

We need so much more: more research, more collaboration with insurance companies, a greater openness, and education that helps our communities realize that depression is not something to be shunned or ignored, it is a disease just like so many others out there.

Glennon Melton recently made the comment that “People who need help sometimes look a lot like people who don’t need help.”

We are only three, Glennon, Robin, and me. There are millions more of us. Please, please, please, don’t give up, don’t give in to seclusion or silence. You matter. You are loved. You have choice.

I’ve been thinking about doing a more in-depth piece on this subject, but Mr. Williams untimely and tragic death has brought it to the forefront so much sooner.

People remember where they were and what they were doing when they learned of the deaths of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. and when they heard about the planes hitting the Twin Towers.

Warren and Fave and I were cleaning out his bedroom closets, the moving boxes piling up in the hallway, when he got the text.

“Oh, wow. Robin Williams committed suicide.”

I’m sorry, Robin. I’m sorry our mental health system isn’t stronger. I’m sorry that you had to experience depression, sorry that you felt you had no other choice to end the madness and the pain and the doubts other than to claim your own life.

Nanu Nanu, Neighbor. Goodbye from all of us who you never knew loved you and hello to whatever this next chapter might offer.

Below is a musing about Depression, originally published on July 11, 2011.

On Depression

Depression. It lives all around us. In every walk of life. It often resides in unsuspecting places. In unsuspecting persons. And yet, sometimes it sits undetected, right in front of us, in a Hidden Objects picture, of sorts. We know something is there, inside the image that is Our Self, but we just can’t put our finger on it.

I first learned of my own depression some fifteen years ago. At the time, the therapist I was seeing indicated I’d likely been depressed since my teenage years. The thought infuriated me, especially the part about needing medication. I didn’t like the idea of pumping pills into my body. Not that I’m against modern medicine, but depression didn’t seem like a justifiable reason. When my counselor posed the question, “Would you deprive yourself of chemotherapy, if you had cancer?” I came to see Depression in a new light. Depression is an illness. A bonafide sickness. Depression needs treatment, just like any other disease.

A low dose antidepressant, coupled with continuing therapy, brought about a new clarity. Depressed thinking is always askew. Sometimes the thoughts are merely a little off kilter, and sometimes they are drastically distorted. For those who have lived with depression for an extended period of time, the one consistent is that the skewed thinking is considered normal, it isn’t questioned, it is believed to be how everyone exists. Yesterday, the Oprah Winfrey show featured a young woman named Chelsea, who as a seven-year-old girl was forced to live in a dog crate. Not having any other examples, she believed her experiences to be no different than those of everyone else. One of the most important details to note, however, is that she wished for something different. She recalls finding joy and longing in pictures of her teacher’s daughter, who had her hair all done up in pigtails and pretty bows.

When we suffer depression we, too, long for something different. We don’t like the feelings of frustration and failure, hopelessness and helplessness, sadness and self-loathing. We want to feel better. We yearn for confidence, for positive and uplifting feelings. That longing, especially when the emotions last for an extended period, can be a sign of depression, for depression is often an insidious illness, appearing to us as slowly as the objects in a complicated I Spy game.

I have been planning this post for weeks. I have looked forward to the end of the school year, to the end of June, which I describe as a hamster wheel month. I wanted to wait until I could give the writing the attention it deserves, when I could carve the post out without feeling rushed by one of the many parental or household obligations. Had it not been for a series of figures who recently came into my field of vision, I might have procrastinated my reflection a bit longer.

Two weeks ago, I was speaking with a woman who had been concerned about her own forgetfulness. Though this lack of thought focus often leaves us worrying about the possibility of Alzheimer’s, her physician diagnosed depression, a common symptom of grief, and one that is certainly unsurprising given the unexpected death of her child a little over a year ago. Yesterday I read an article about Britney Spears and thought about how she has overcome such a troubled past, one so painfully played out in the media. There had to have been some level of depression present during that troubling time. This morning I happened to catch a snippet of an interview with Rick Springfield on The View. The words depression and book caught my ear. A quick search on Amazon tells me his book, Late, Late at Night was released last October. Rick’s memoir details his long battle with this disease. Who knew? That is one of the most incongruous, ridiculous features of this illness: A person can appear bubbly and happy and successful and living a fairy tale life, when in essence they are coping with one of life’s most unglamorous, too often closeted facets. Depression.

I uncovered my final clue about a month ago. I noticed, once again, that I wanted to run away, after a difficult family situation. I could just move to some place like France and start my life over. This fantasy, in and of itself, doesn’t depict Depression. We all want to escape our lives from time to time. Why, Calgon’s slogan, “Calgon, take me away!” has lasted for more than four decades. But my depression symptoms have been slowly surfacing since last fall: a perpetual feeling of overwhelm, a perpetual state of forgetfulness, intermittent thoughts of self loathing—those that come from the gut, beyond the typical questions of worthiness. This Escape Plan, however, is a whisper that comes from deep within, revealing itself like the Sixth Sense that we often ignore.

Acknowledging these subtle undertones is the first key. Depression manifests itself differently in different people. Some of us treat our friends and family badly. We recognize we are being snippy and snarky. Sometimes we give credence to this behavior by turning the behavior into sarcastic humor. Some of us turn into ourselves, becoming introverted and less active. We recognize our frustrations and feelings of overwhelm, placing blame on the shoulders of the extraneous.

Our external lives do impact our moods. We all face stressful times. Life is an ebb and flow of demanding, restful, traumatic… This fact makes it difficult for us to decipher if what we are experiencing is indeed Depression or situational discomfort. Death. Loss of home, job, limb, security. Middle Age. The changing or declining health of ourselves, or our parents. The cyclic nature of parenting, our children’s detachment as they discover who they are, as they mature and evolve into adults, themselves… Every event impacts our psyche. The level and length of the impact will help in determining if we are depressed, and the appropriate course of treatment. If you are unsure, talk with your physician or schedule a visit with a therapist.

The realization that Depression had likely reentered my life disheartened me. The knowledge that I could do something about was inspiring. Tracing my behaviors of the past months, the first point I recognized was that I had slowly eliminated my daily vitamin regimen after last year’s family vacation. I had simply gotten out of the habit. The B vitamins are excellent mood stabilizers, and had been a part of my supplemental intake for more than ten years. My first step was to reinstall the intake of vitamins into my daily routine. Now I want to work on breaking the other behaviors that are counterproductive to my good mental health. I want to return to the lifestyle of eating less and exercising more… Chuckle. Chuckle. A saga for so many of us!! And yet, the choices are ours. The power is within us, if we choose it. If we work to create new habits…

We know that comforting occasions affect our state of being as much as the uncomfortable. That is why we long for moments that bring us joy, why we celebrate the approaching rest periods with “Over the Hump Day,” “TGIF!”, and why we count down the days to our vacations. Research has also proven that exercise and light are often key elements in helping prevent or combat depression.

Guess it’s time to begin plucking more of those healthy images from the Hidden Objects of my life. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon. Time to shower. Time to walk the dog. Time for some fun in the sun with my kid…

Until next time, yours in healing, hope, and happiness.

    ~AE

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