Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Out of the Darkness

There is only one thing on my mind today. It has been hovering in my head for about 24 hours now, ever since I became aware of the passing of the talented and much loved Robin Williams. I cannot stop thinking about that dark place that people are in when they kill themselves. That place that so many find themselves in from time to time in this crazy world we live in. 

I will go out on a limb here and suggest that most of us have had brief or not so brief encounters with that place. Most are able to turn back to the light before they become swallowed up by it, but many do not. For many, like Robin Williams, the desperation to turn off the pain outweighs the desire to go on living.  That is some kind of pain. There is no turning back. 

Speaking with my daughter yesterday afternoon and sharing our shock and sadness over his death, I said, I just find it so hard to understand that someone who was so loved by so many would feel so alone. Her answer was so simple, yet so profound. She said, "Depression is a disease of the mind mom, and it stops you from seeing the good things." 

The key word in her answer, as I mulled it over later was "stops". It does not cloud your ability or distract you, or sidetrack you. No, it is far more definite. And that, I thought, is the difference between those who actually do commit suicide and those who manage to stop themselves. They cannot turn the switch back on. Something in their brain "stops" them from turning back to the light in their lives. No amount of familial or romantic love can prevent them from their final act. So, how do the people who love them, help them? The truth is, even if we are aware of some one's depression and try to be more vigilant of changes in their behaviour or hints in their words or actions, we cannot be there 24/7 to stop them if they are determined to follow through with suicide. 

It matters not that he had what many imagined to be "everything". Talent, fame, money, love - none of it was capable of saving him. Depression is an illness. If anything is to come from his death, let's hope it is the beginning of more awareness, more research, more funding, more conversation and more acceptance.

About 12 years ago, I personally suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. I was ashamed to tell people and until now, I rarely shared this with anyone. I took some anti-depressant meds for a couple of years but never liked the way they made me feel. I did some therapy on and off and that helped. What has worked more than anything for me however, believe it or not, is exercise. Even a 20 or 30 minute brisk walk will do the trick if I am feeling anxious or depressed. I am not saying this is the cure for everyone, but it is what works for me. The point of my sharing is to do my small part to try to remove the stigma attached to depression. For many of you, this may be the first time you have ever heard me mention this.

For a long time before I realized I suffered from anxiety,(and that it actually was treatable) I used to berate myself and tell myself to get a grip and pull up my socks and stop being such a wuss. I would tell myself I had nothing to be anxious or depressed about and that there were people in the world with far more serious issues than mine and how dare I wallow in despair? I had a good life, people who loved me, I never went without, I  lived in an amazing country, etc. etc. Snap out of it! So, for years, that was how I dealt with it. I kept pulling myself up out of what I saw as my self-imposed mire with mental whipping, and punishing self-talk. There are even days now, when I can revert back to those coping mechanisms. It never really goes away.

The difference now is that I recognize it sooner when it rears it's ugly head and I can get on top of it. I always notice it if I go more than 2-3 days without any exercise. Fortunately for me, this is an easy remedy. That, combined with spending time in nature is my drug of choice. Maybe for some people, nothing works. I don't know. What I do know is that the darkness is real and it exists and I hope and pray that one day the Robin Williams's of the world will find a way to escape its clutches. 

Maybe his death will lead the way out for many others - here's hoping.


Geoyogi said...

Thanks Deb!!! Always enjoy your blog. Love Lawrie

Carla Sandrin said...

Deb, this is an interesting perspective on depression. Thank you for sharing your experience in dealing with a sensitive subject that still tends to evoke stigma. Exercise is very important for sure - but I think getting started is the big challenge for most people. Good for you for setting an example!