Much has been written in the past week about Williams' suicide and how mental illness, if it doesn't affect you personally, is hurting the people closest to you. Many people have written eloquently on the topic, and I have shared multiple articles on my personal Facebook page. I have seen outpourings of love and affection for a man that many admired, but so few actually knew. It gives me hope that the stigma that has long surrounded depression and other mental illness is lessening, and it has been staggering to see the number of people in my life (both real life and online) who have come forward and announced that they too struggle with the dark side of humanity. Do I have anything new to add to this ongoing conversation? Not necessarily, but sometimes a story just needs to be told.
It creeps up on me when I least expect it. Like the sun being blotting away from the winter's night sky. It's so subtle, I don't even notice the change. And then suddenly I am alone- cold and in pitch-black darkness. Depression and anxiety belong in the night. They are dark, creepy subjects most people try to ignore or brush off.
I can't really determine when this latest wave hit me. For some reason I am usually the last person to notice when I have fallen into a "funk". I think I realized last week that I had been really "tired" lately. I'm always tired- it's a combination of deep-set laziness and slight medical issues. I've already blogged about how much I love naps. But this is always different. It's not the decadence of a midday nap, it's the necessity of crawling into bed as soon as I get home. It's not getting up when the alarm goes off the first time or the fourth time. It's waiting all day to get back under the covers and sleep away the world.
I am pretty sure I can pinpoint my first depressive episode to eighth grade. I don't remember much (it was a long time ago!), but I remember missing a ton of days and being so incredibly tired. I struggled off and on for years with depression and anxiety, always too afraid to ask for help. In college the stress of working full-time and going to school full-time finally became too much for me, and after some encouragement from a close friend, I made an appointment with a psychiatrist- one of the scariest AND bravest things I've ever done.
And thus began my ten-year journey through medicated depression and anxiety. It's a vicious cycle- I would go on an anti-depressant because I just couldn't survive anymore. Then in a few months when I felt better, I would take myself off of the drug (often with disastrous side effects and withdrawals). A few months later I would begin to feel bad again, and go to the doctor for a different anti-depressant. And so the cycle continued year after year. I have been on nearly every available anti-depressant on the market and can recite the litany of side effects like the commercial voice-overs.
To prepare for conception, I again took myself off my anti-depressants. I was wracked with depression and anxiety. I was sick with worry and finally, halfway through my pregnancy, admitted my problem to my OB who immediately put me on, you guessed it, another anti-depressant. I have already blogged about my experiences with post-partum depression and anxiety here at ModaMama, and it wasn't a fun experience. Looking back on it seven years after the fact, I can clearly see how those months following Sean's birth, which should have been the happiest of my life, were my darkest moment.
In the past three or four years I have continued my cycle of on-med/off-med, until this past May. As I sat at our high school graduation ceremony, I found myself struggling to breathe. I was sweating and nauseated. I was panicking, imagining the humiliation I would experience if I vomited on stage during graduation. The people sitting around me could tell something was wrong. I spent the entire ceremony planning my exit from the stage and desperately willing the time to go by faster.
As I recounted the incident to my physician, she gently told me I had experienced a panic attack, and despite the fact that I am an armchair physician and a WedMD hypochondriac, I had never realized I have panic attacks with some regularity. And then she said something that in the past ten-plus years no doctor has ever told me. She told me I was never going to get better. That my anxiety and depression were never going to magically go away, that I would probably need to be on an anti-depressant forever. For some people this may sound like horrible news or discouraging, but this was exactly what I needed to hear. It's not my fault. It's not something I can control or fix on my own.
In high school I took a creative writing class, and in that class I expressed for the first time the depths of my pain and sadness. Now we are required by law to report students exhibiting suicidal or self-harming tendencies, but the laws must have been more lax because I just can't believe that I didn't get locked up immediately. I recently tracked down my journal from that class to share with my current creative writing students, and I was shocked at the contents. Yes, there was plenty of super-cheesy, lovey-dovey poems, but the vast majority reflected the inner demons I was battling on a daily basis. In one, dated just ten days after my 16th birthday, I wrote: "I remember the first time I wanted to die/ The gun held against my head/There were no more tears left to cry/ I felt I was better off dead."
|Original poetry and artwork, my poetry journal from 11th grade and me at 15-years-old|
Please know the warning signs of depression and suicide. Please don't be afraid to speak up if you need help or if you think someone else needs help. Too many people have complained that the media and others have glamorized Robin Williams' death and made suicide mainstream or cool. I don't see that at all. I see that through his tragic death we've all been able to open up about a topic that is too often ignored or trivialized. However, I do want to end with probably the most touching tribute to Williams I've seen. Have a tissue handy because if you haven't already seen it, you will probably tear up.