I can’t help but think that any one of us could have been in Robin Williams’s place, yet we are here and he is gone. His suicide has left us weepy, reeling, and grief-stricken. His suicide has made a statement, one of the need to better address and treat those with depression. While he cannot be here to continue that conversation, we are. And because I too have suffered from depression, I can use my voice to talk about my experiences, as uncomfortable as that is for me.
I had my first taste of what Andrew Solomon called “the noonday demon” when I became a mother. The first few weeks and months of my daughter’s life were overwhelming and lonely. I began to wish that I could escape, even if that meant death. I talked to my physician about it, and she decided it was “only” the baby blues.
However, I would’ve never made it to my physician without a chance encounter with a neighbor. She came to my house one morning to bring a gift, and when I opened the door and immediately started crying, she stayed with me for a few hours and helped me out. She continued to make an effort to help me over the next few months. She encouraged me to get help. She commiserated with me. She is still one of my favorite people and holds a special place in my heart.
Things seemed to get better, but about a year later, when faced with a small but meaningful change in my life, I couldn’t handle it. I broke down, and my husband and I realized that I needed counseling. We realized that I’d spent the entire year dealing with depression. The counseling sessions helped, and I learned ways of coping and thinking that changed my outlook. Obviously, my problem was not clinical, but post-partum, and I did well for several years. I was “cured.”
This is the story most people hear from me. This is the story I purposefully tell. It has a nice narrative arc, and it has a happy ending. I was depressed, I sought help, and then I was better.
That’s not the whole story.
I’ve had bad episodes in the years that have followed. I’ve spent many times in a locked bathroom contemplating how to end things. I’ve had dark moments that have been hard to shake. I still don’t think I have clinical depression, but I do have depressive tendencies. Many times, I wish I had never been born. Rather than wanting to die, I want to not exist. I spend a lot of time hating myself. Sometimes there are triggers to these feelings, like social rejection, a lack of purpose in my life, a drastic change in my schedule, or conflicts with family or friends. I’ve been handling it on my own, often hiding it from my husband, although he is aware of my tendencies. I’m pretty sure that nobody knows what I’m revealing now, except for him.
Earlier this month, when I realized that I had a checkup appointment with my doctor at the end of this month, I had resolved to talk with her about what has been going on. I’ve noticed more of a propensity to these feelings during certain times of the month, and as a female, there might be ways for me to manage that. My problem may be hormonal. It may be genetic. (I have had a few family members commit suicide, and I know my mother’s behavior growing up was not normal.) It may be that I need another round of counseling and better ways of managing self care. And we all have down times. However, when these become debilitating or so regular that they are distracting and life-threatening, it is time to take action.
I think it is time for me to pay more attention to my mental health and to learn healthier ways of coping and reacting to stress and disappointment. I think it is time to pay attention to the fact that my depressive episodes may not be normal and that they aren’t always triggered by outside factors.
I am not Robin Williams. I haven’t experienced what he was experiencing, but I do have a taste of it. I admire his enormous talent and ability to touch us all, and I hope that he’s finally at peace. I mourn and pray for his family.