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Depression

I’m sad about Robin Williams.  I was also a little bit angry with him.  In much the same way, I was sad about and angry with Chloe Weil when news of her suicide reached me.

Yes.  Angry.  It took some time and help from a friend to work out why: because Kat and I just spent most of a year doing everything in our power to save our daughter’s life, and now here was someone just throwing that away.

Here’s the thing: they did not throw their lives away.  Both of them were suffering from a disease: depression.  That disease made them feel unloved and worthless despite any and all evidence to the contrary.  And they each eventually, despite years of trying to treat and deal with it, died from that disease.

I know this because I have a milder form of that same disease, one that rises and falls in slow, multi-year-long cycles.  I have spent time on SSRIs.  There are times I have gone to counseling.  I have contemplated ending my own life, though only abstractly, never in a detailed or direct manner.  I’ve never in my adult life had suicidal ideation and a plan.  Robin and Chloe did.  They had a disease much, much stronger than I do.

But that’s where my anger really came from: my own depression.  The same lying impulses that sometimes, not often, but sometimes make me feel worthless and unlovable also pushed me to be angry at these people who had the same disease, and died of it.  It lied to me that they had failed.  And for a little while, I believed that lie.

That reaction made as much sense as being angry at Rebecca for having cancer, as thinking that she failed to fight hard enough to live.  It was not their fault.  I know this first-hand… and yet, I believed the lie.

This is another sign that I have it much milder than they did: I could eventually, with some self-inspection backed by decades of experience, recognize the lie for what it was, and dispose of it.  Not everyone has that ability, no matter how much self-inspection and experience they may have.  Not because they are weak or foolish, but because they literally cannot do it, any more than a cancer patient can verbally order the tumors to leave them alone.

I have been lucky.  The disease is mild enough in me that I am still here, and have only sometimes needed pharmacological and psychological help.  That is not because I am strong.  That is because my disease is not strong.  I have still needed and obtained that help, and I feel no shame for that.  If you need help, please get help.  There is no shame in it, no matter what the disease tells you.  If it tells you that seeking help is failure, it is lying.  If it tells you that being sad is weakness, it is lying.  If it tells you that death is preferable to life, it is lying.

It is not shameful to feel depressed.  It is not weak to feel like you want to give up.  It is not failure to ask for help.  There are resources in almost every city of every advanced country—not enough, to be sure, but they are there.  Please use them, especially if you already have a plan to end the pain.  In America, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at (800) 273-8255, or (800) 273-TALK.  You will be connected with a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, any hour of the day or night.

If you know of a similar resource in another country, or other resources in America, please leave a comment with the details.  It could help someone right when they need it most.


Update 11 Aug 14: here’s a list of suicide prevention services throughout the world from the International Association for Suicide Prevention.  If you know of one not on the list, the comments are still open (and you should also let the IASP know!).  And information about depression treatment services, not just suicide prevention, is also welcome.

10 Responses»

    • #1
    • Comment
    • Mon 11 Aug 2014
    • 2324
    • #2
    • Comment
    • Mon 11 Aug 2014
    • 2332
    Stephanie wrote in to say...

    If it tells you you don’t deserve help, it is lying.

    • #3
    • Comment
    • Tue 12 Aug 2014
    • 0016
    Will Kessel wrote in to say...

    If it tells you that there is no help for you, it is lying. It told me that for years, until it was almost too late.

    • #4
    • Comment
    • Tue 12 Aug 2014
    • 0040
    Cliff Tyllick wrote in to say...

    Eric, Wikipedia has a collection of lifelines in many nations at http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines

    I thank @TheBloggess, who tweeted this link, and @BreneBrown, whose retweet brought it to my attention.

    Your points are well made. I hope I live to see the day when seeking counseling is given no more of a thought than seeking physical therapy, and when taking mood regulators is given no more of a raised eyebrow than taking thyroxin or insulin.

    In all four instances, the point is to help the patient free him- or herself of pain. Why should one be different from another?

    • #5
    • Comment
    • Tue 12 Aug 2014
    • 0050
    Deborah wrote in to say...

    For people in the New York City or Westchester area, the Payne Whitney Clinic is a great resource for treatment: Anxiety and Mood Disorders page

    • #6
    • Comment
    • Tue 12 Aug 2014
    • 0200
    Andre wrote in to say...

    relevant Wil Wheaton link: depression lies.

    • #7
    • Comment
    • Tue 12 Aug 2014
    • 1047
    Norm wrote in to say...

    Very nicely articulated, Eric. I have likewise dealt with depression in my own life and with some family members. All of your points are spot on and, by posting this entry, you have done a great service to others dealing with depression. Thank you!

    • #8
    • Comment
    • Tue 12 Aug 2014
    • 1558
    Diddybears wrote in to say...

    Eric, I have been depressed before and, on occasion, close to what I thought was the best end – suicide. I don’t mean to be trite, but the old adage “TOMORRROW IS ANOTHER DAY” is the best remedy ever. Seek the hugs/space you need – cry, if you need to – then sleep. Wake up in the knowledge that your nightmares are one day further in the past, and a positive future is one day closer.
    How many times do you think God wanted to give up on his creation and just bug out of our lives forever? God has an eternity to wrangle with his own doubts – we have the mere blink of an eye to make the most of our lives.
    Much love to you and your family, we will pray with all our hearts for your emotional healing and comfort xxx

    • #9
    • Comment
    • Tue 12 Aug 2014
    • 1705
    Linda wrote in to say...

    I was also angry at Robin Williams. I considered him a coward who took the easy way out. Your comments really helped me understand this disease better. I’m blessed not to have had more than a day or two of down time once in a while, but it makes it hard to understand it. The stigma is still out there, and maybe more talking, more transparency will help others understand. Thanks for your comments.

    • #10
    • Comment
    • Wed 13 Aug 2014
    • 1259
    M wrote in to say...

    Thank you. I would just like to stipulate that beyond “if you need help, get help,” that if you need help, there really isn’t an excuse for you not to. Tell someone, make the phone call, take that one single step that can just break you out of that default cycle.

    I’ve dealt with depression on and off. I conceptualize my negative thoughts and feelings like water channels that run the same course over and over through my mind. Like water, they erode deeper and deeper. They become the path of least resistance; a habitual way of thinking and feeling, and can seem impossible to think or feel any other way, because you’re stuck following these carved out channels. Therapy and medication can help lift you up out of that, so you can step back and get some perspective about what’s going on and how to make yourself better.

    Also, we can all have the knee-jerk reaction of thinking suicide is “taking the easy way out” when confronted with this sort of event. Take a moment to step back and think about what you’re saying. Being desperate enough to think this is your only option, deciding when, how, where to do it, and actually following through with it, removing yourself from people you love, your family and friends, knowing the lasting pain you will inflict on them… Consider how any of this can possibly be easy.

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