A cherished friend once told me to “write it out” when I was feeling pressed in on every side–experiencing more sadness than joy. This was her admonition because she believed in my writing gift. I tried to oblige her, but found it difficult to put my woes into words. Upon hearing of the death of comedian/actor Robin Williams, my heart felt a sorrow so deep it seemed as though it had sprung a leak. It is still bleeding for him, for his family, and for myself and others who struggle with the heaviness of depression and all the extras that come with it. My bleeding heart is taking the lead and writing out what is difficult to express, at best.
In a christianpost.com article, the wife of Williams is quoted as saying, “…it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.” Certainly, millions have and will testify to the joy and laughter Robin deposited in the earth, yet his manner of death will be his defining role. It cannot be helped. The irony of a comedian–one who lives to bring smiles and rip-roaring laughter out of his or her audience–living daily in despair is more than most of us can fathom.
Unfortunately, it isn’t hard for me to understand. I don’t know how many days Robin spent under his cloud or shrouded in darkness. I don’t know if he explored counseling or had been prescribed anti-depressants. I don’t know how much his family knew of his pain. What I do know is depression is real, and at times real scary. I know, because there was a time I struggled every second of every day to maintain hope when despair engulfed me.
Mine has been characterized as a “functional depression.” For the most part, I functioned like anyone else–going to work as scheduled, but little else. Often, it felt as though I were holding my breath for 8-10 hours a day. I couldn’t wait to get home and find shelter from the pain of interaction. “Depression hurts” is more than a slogan popularized by the promoters of Cymbalta; it is a fact of life–the depressed life.
My bed was my sanctuary. There was no need for television or telephone. My “comfort” was darkness, silence, stillness, and tears. During my deepest despair, I avoided corporate worship, bible study or fellowship of any kind. On the occasion I couldn’t cancel a commitment, I learned to hold my breath and fake my way through. This was my routine; it was my life. It was an energy sucker, and it was killing me slowly from the inside out. This particular season of despair took place during the last nine months of my mother’s life (another story for another day).
The way a person manages their struggle with depression is as varied as the individual, themselves. For me, it was a lack of concern for interaction and a failure to attend to basic needs. I’ve known others who developed eating disorders, surrounded themselves with stuff to the point of hording, and–as in the case of Robin Williams–succumb to the belief that life no longer held purpose for them.
That, however, is a lie from the pit of hell. Even knowing this, it requires extensive intervention to move past the lie into the light of hope for a brighter tomorrow. I cannot speak for others, nor would I try. In my case, when the thoughts of suicide surfaced, I was terrified–literally scared to life! Initially, I was ashamed to admit I was having this experience. After all, I was a Christian and a minister. What was I doing struggling with depression and I proclaimed to have the Holy Spirit of God residing on the inside of me? I couldn’t answer that question for myself, so I got over my shame and sought counsel of a godly and trustworthy ministry leader. Deliverance came in ebbs and flows. There were (and are) triggers to be managed, and I had to choose to fight.
Today, my struggle is not as severe as it was, but I still have to make a daily plan to ensure the triggers don’t get the upper hand. Over the years, I have benefited from professional counseling, prescribed medication, and disclosure. There is no cookie-cutter remedy, but there is a way out from under that does not have to end in a coroner’s slab and devastated loved ones who have only speculation to torment them.
There are obvious signs, and there are signs that only survivors of depression can detect. The obvious signs are sadness, isolation and negativity. Anything uncharacteristic is cause for inquiry. I would caution you not to assume the worse; every sad expression is not depression. We all have down moments or down days. Anything over a few days warrants conversation. Listen for brief responses, disinterest in social events–especially family gatherings. Observe changes in hygiene. A less obvious sign may be the avoidance of conversation by phone or in-person. Since texting is such an integral part of life these days, it is rarely seen as a sign of isolation. An unwillingness to accept new responsibilities is another subtle sign.
Until it was my experience, I thought those who committed suicide were selfish, uncaring and insensitive to the concerns of those they leave behind. Then, without forethought or planning, I was overwhelmed by thoughts of suicide. It was then, I had a glimpse of the struggle. This brings to mind Jesus’ teaching on judging, “Judge not, that you be not judged, for with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And, why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or, how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:1-5).”
Robin Williams’ struggle with despair has ended, and a new struggle has begun. When you know better, Dr. Maya Angelou advised, you do better. Now that I’ve walked, not miles, but years in this experience, my eye is clear enough to see, care and act–because “I am Robin,” and but for the grace of God, go I. That, combined with the support of family and friends, has led me to my forever mantra: “I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of the Lord (Psalm 118:17).” Christians get depressed, Christians commitment suicide, and Christians can be a resource to change the outcome. My mission has been defined, and for all the other Robins, I’m on post. -WordsInPrint by Suni