Sunday, August 17, 2014
Give Me Something to Sing About!
Diclaimer: What I write about here is very sensitive, very personal information. It is not something that I share lightly or share looking for sympathy. I share all this because I believe it is time to be completely honest and open about who I am. It is time to quit hiding. Also, I want to add that the experiences I relate here are mine and that I do not claim to speak for anyone else even in places where I use plural pronouns. My story is not everyone's story. It is mine alone. With that being said, please read below.
Actor/comedian/entertainer Robin Williams died earlier this week by taking his own life. His death shocked and saddened many. What so many found shocking was that it was so hard to believe that someone as well-loved and well-liked and respected and funny as Williams would do that. He seemed to have it all together. How could he do that? Why would he do that?
I can tell you why. You see, I have struggled with many of the very same demons that Williams himself battled. His death shook me up because it made me realize just how deadly depression can be. I've battled depression for years now. It's something I've learned to live with and have accepted the fact that it is something I will have to deal with for the rest of my life. I think I've written on here before somewhat about it but this post is intended to be my full, honest account of what I struggle with every day. It is intended to put a human face on it and to show that depression doesn't discriminate. Even those of us who seem so put-together and so care free can still be fighting a terrible internal battle.
I think I first started dealing with depression when I was in middle school. I can't really remember specific instances but I just felt such a deep sadness in my body. I also started hearing voices in my head. Voices that told me that I was worthless and would never amount to anything and that nobody loved me and nobody would ever love me. Voices that said that the people in my life would be better off if I wasn't still around. Those voices were always there, every single day. Sometimes they were quiet and I was able to get through an entire day without hearing them. Other days, they wouldn't shut up and I would be pestered by them all day. My teenage years were rough. I dealt with a lot of self-loathing and self shame. Some of this was due to the extreme verbal abuse I was receiving from outside forces but some of it was also my depression making itself manifest and telling me that I didn't deserve to live. At my darkest and lowest points, suicide seemed like a great and viable option. It would free me from my torment and it would relieve my suffering and misery. I came very close to killing myself on a couple different occasions. I really can't say why I didn't do it. To this day, I'm unsure. Something always stopped me. Still, the belief that I wasn't worth much always was there, preventing me from fully enjoying my life.
I want to address something here that I have seen come up over and over in the national debate about suicide that has been happening this week. I've seen several people call Mr. Williams selfish for taking his own life. Over the years, I've heard that repeated over and over that people who commit suicide are selfish. For a long time, I even believed that myself and that may be why I didn't do it. However, I've been thinking back on those times when I got so depressed that suicide seemed like a viable option. I have to say that at the time, I wasn't at all thinking of it as a selfish act. To me, it seemed like a selfless one. I felt like such a terrible burden to my family and friends that I honestly believed that they would be better off if they didn't have to deal with me. I wasn't very popular and had very few friends and the friends that I did have I wasn't very close with anyway so I honestly didn't feel like anyone would miss me regardless. I felt their lives would be better off if I wasn't a part of them anymore. I would no longer be a burden to anybody ever again. So, again, suicide felt like a self-less not selfish choice.When you are in that deep a spiral of depression, you lose your ability to think logically sometimes. Suicide can seem like a good option then. It can seem like the only option. It can seem like the self-less option.
Do I wish I didn't have to battle with this every day? Yes, I really do. You can't pray it away or wish it away though. You can only live with it and deal with it in the best way possible, whether that be through medication or therapy or something else. I never know when my depression is going to hit. It can come at any time and stay for as long as it needs to. I don't get to control it or tell it when it is allowed to visit. It sets the agenda. That's the most frustrating part. I can wake up one morning and be completely depressed and there can literally be no reason at all for me to be depressed. I can be completely miserable even though things in my life are going great. The voices in my head tell me that even though I have amazing, supportive friends and am going into a career that I have excitement about and am thriving at school and enjoying life, that none of it is good enough or that I don't deserve it or that it is all an illusion and will be gone in just the blink of an eye. The voices in my head tell me that I should be miserable, not happy. It's messed up, I get it. Believe me, I wish it wasn't this way.
I don't always tell people when I'm feeling depressed. I hide it pretty well. I don't like dealing with all the attention or the questions or the probing that telling people would involve. I have social anxiety disorder and Asperger's so being the center of attention is really difficult for me. This is also why I don't always tell someone when I'm feeling suicidal. I don't want to deal with all the attention and exposure that would bring me. Sometimes, I don't want to talk. I just want to be left alone to cry or feel sad in peace. This is why I take some issue with the whole "if you need help, get it" mentality. I don't always want to ask for help because of the attention it will bring me. I don't want to deal with all the questions or scrutiny or probing that will come about if I tell anyone I'm suicidal. Plus, what if word were to get out publicly to all my friends and family? I would feel so ashamed and so embarrassed and even humiliated and that is not something I want to be put through. That is guaranteed to make me feel much worse, not better. Instead of putting the onus on the person suffering, how about others around that person reach out to them instead? Look them in the eyes and ask them how they are doing. Be sincere with them. Maybe they still won't tell you. That's ok. Don't demand that they do. Don't shame them into telling you something that personal and private. Also, keep in mind that even if you do tell them that they are loved, that they may not believe you. I don't always. Doesn't matter who tells me. The voices in my head say otherwise. They say that that person is lying or just being nice or polite. How could anybody love me, a messed up screwup of a person who can't do anything right? These are the things that they tell me sometimes. These are the things that I live with.
Can I say with 100% certainty that I won't ever be suicidal or try to take my life again? No, I can't. I wish I could but I can't predict the future. I can't predict just how bad things might get for me someday or how bleak things might seem or what the voices inside my head will tell me. I hope I don't get to that point ever again. I certainly don't plan to. I plan to live a long, healthy life and die an old man surrounded by my loved ones. However, I also have to be realistic here and just admit that I can't say with any degree of certainty what might happen to me in the future. Am I ok now? Yes, I am actually. It's been a few months since my depression last hit. I'm feeling good at this point in my life and hope those feelings continue for a long while. Do you need to be worried about me? If you want to be, sure. Know that I do go to therapy and that my therapist has been really great at helping me mute the voices in my head. She might literally save my life someday. However, no method is 100% effective so there's no guarantee that I will be ok even with therapy. My depression can come back at any moment.
I think what I want to close this with is just a reminder to be kind to everyone. You don't know what type of battle they are fighting. We all are fighting some type of battle. The only difference is the combatant. I will also say that unless you yourself have battled with depression you don't get to judge those of us who do. Don't tell us that our problems are trivial and that there are starving children in Africa so what do we have to be depressed about anyway? That doesn't help. That trivializes my problems and insults me and my intelligence. Yes, I know there are starving children in Africa and people being blown up in Gaza and murders happening in Chicago. I know all that. That doesn't mean that my problems aren't real or aren't important or aren't worthy of attention. Treat me with kindness, not hostility. Treat everyone with kindness. Be gentle. Be supportive. Be a friend. Don't take offense if we have a hard time believing you when we say you care about us. We know you do. Our depression wants us to believe otherwise. The voices in my head tell me otherwise. Why would you want to be friends with me? Why would you care about me? Don't you know how messed up I am? You should stay away at your own risk so I don't become a burden to you later on. Get out now while you still can.
Like I said in the disclaimer, I didn't share this hoping to get attention or to elicit sympathy. I simply wanted to be more open and honest with everyone who happens to read this, whoever you might be. I wanted to put a human face on this illness that so many people struggle with on a daily basis. Just know that even if you see me laughing and smiling and making up a spontaneous song and dance routine that I just might be crying on the inside and may not even be able to tell you why.