While trying for the umpteenth time in the last couple of weeks to finish last night’s blog entry, it became clear while lying on the floor of my writing studio that I’m headed downwards into yet another depressive cycle. I’ve known this on a conscious level since probably Sunday, that this is coming, but like a weather forecast I wasn’t 100% sure when the storm was going to make land.
I’ve started keeping a list of topics to write about on the ever-handy Evernote. So after publishing the last entry about revising the narrative about my parents, I tried to start into the next topic on the list.
And all I could do was lie there on the floor, staring at the screen, just wanting to sleep. The thought of putting any more words to paper, of trying to form intelligent, coherent thoughts, felt daunting beyond all imagining.
The last couple of weeks have been good. I’ve had creative energy again; there’s been a lot of good things happening; I’ve been going like a marathon runner from scheduled event to scheduled event. It’s worn on me, but I’ve still felt “up.”
Now, I’m not feeling “up” so much. This is the “down” part of the cycle that inevitably comes around.
This seems especially apropos after the suicide yesterday of Robin Williams. I saw dozens of posts and news articles about his death and how sad and senseless it is.
All I could think when I first heard the news was a kind of sorrowful kinship with this man I’ve never met. Because I can grasp why someone would go to those lengths, out of exhaustion and pain, wanting to permanently escape the constant sadness and emotional weight of depression.
Later, I actually felt a little indignant—not at Robin, but at some of those posting about his death. Why is the only time it’s seemingly appropriate to talk about suicide and depression right after the act has been committed? When it’s too late? It almost seems like a guilt-ridden act of contrition.
And what would most of those people say or do if Robin or anyone else confided in them that they were having these dark thoughts and feelings? Because I can tell you what I’m always afraid of hearing:
- “What happened?”
- “Hang in there.”
- “But I thought things were going so well for you right now…”
- “You just need cheering up.”
I’ve actually had people essentially tell me that I have no right to feel depressed when there are people in other parts of the world who have it much worse.
- “At least you aren’t running for your life through some African jungle.”
- “At least you aren’t starving to death.”
- “At least you don’t have Ebola.”
All of which is really helpful. Yeah. Thanks.
It underlines the reality that we don’t have space in American society for mental illness, to talk about these things without alienating or even blaming individuals for their condition. It’s a squeamish issue for most people, probably because it’s still so misunderstood. We think “mental illness” and the opening and closing scenes from the film Amadeus, in the halls of the lunatic asylum, come to mind.
Growing up, depression was always a symptom of a spiritual disorder, evidence of some sin in my life that I had committed. Depression was my fault.
We often view people with mental illness as being weak, broken, dangerous to be around, and maybe even somehow infectious—as if one could contact schizophrenia from a schizophrenic.
There are even some who think that mental illness doesn’t exist; that it’s all a choice; that a depressed person just needs to stop feeling sorry for themselves, pick themselves up by their bootstraps and stop being such Debbie Downers.
I’ve heard all of those, too.
We desperately need to be able to talk about suicide and depression at some other time than just after someone has killed themselves. This is the next big closet door we need to kick down. Just as we had to create safe space for gay people to come out and create a cultural context for that, we need a better cultural context for mental illness.
We need space for depressed people to feel comfortable opening up about their feelings (and—yes—sometimes dark, destructive urges), where they won’t be blamed or pathologized for how they are. Hell, we don’t blame a child for developing leukemia or a woman for breast cancer.
Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. It’s no one’s “fault.” So why do we still react as if depressed people are culpable for their condition?
That’s all I can manage to get out right now. If you’re still reading, no, there’s nothing you can do besides just be there. And no, I’ve no intention of hurting myself. This is why I write about my depression—so that it doesn’t get to that point, and so that people know.
It will get better. I rationally know this, though it feels like it’s going to last forever. I just have to hold on to my mood charts that confirm that, no matter how bad the darkness gets, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel will eventually appear.