Like many, I have spent considerable time over the last few weeks pondering the loss of the great Robin Williams. It seems that nothing in the news, not even the happiest or saddest story, is immune to nastiness and negativity. So, naturally, people—most of whom have never lived in the black-hole of despair and crippling anguish that is chronic depression—came out talking about how selfish suicide is and proposed various bogus theories regarding how to “cure” people like Mr. Williams of these terrible thoughts. If only he’d had more faith! If only he were stronger! If only he had a better support system! If only he’d turned his frown upside-down! Hogwash, all of it.
Those of us who have lived with depression, including myself, realize that it is never that simple. I am a big proponent of optimism, gratitude, and focusing on the good in life, but I am also a person who has battled anxiety and depression for about seventeen years. I know what it is to fall into that darkness and feel there is no escape, to see all the good around, to feel the love and support of family and friends, and still not want to live one more day. I went through that in my teens, college years, and again about 6-10 months into my marriage. When I was 14, a mysterious illness ravaged my body and left me bedridden for months. At 15, I was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematous and my life has never been the same.
Battling this crippling illness and the emotional war it wages has been the greatest physical struggle of my life. It is unending, disheartening, and unbelievably painful. To be “disabled” at such a young age can break a person. I can admit now that it very truly broke me many times. Because of this physical battle, I suffered for years with paralyzing anxiety and depression that would wax and wane—sometimes a storm wrecking my life and other times a quiet breeze whistling in my ear telling me over and over again that it was not going to be okay.
Since finding my “calling” and having children, I have been spared the plunge into that pit of despair. At 32, I like to think I have conquered depression; that the daily happy presence and love of my husband and children is enough insulate me from going to that place of misery ever again. I hope that the cold, dark thoughts and mindset that come with depression will drown in the light of my faith, my eagerness to follow Jesus, and my studies in theology. I assume that, if only I catch it early enough—as I did recently when I began feeling the mean reds attack—I will, at least temporarily, immunize myself from falling into that Dante’s Inferno-like state from whence no good can come. The truth is, however, that depression is a very complex beast with causes that range from physical, chemical make-up, to the change in seasons, to situational issues and everything in between. And over none of that do I, or anyone, have complete control. I hope I do not fall down that rabbit-hole again, but I cannot be sure that it is conquerable or that I am completely immune to it.
So what? Where does that leave us? Is it hopeless? Should we, all of us who battle these demons, just throw up our hands in exasperated despondence and let them swallow us whole? If all the therapy, medication, faith, money, and support in the world can’t save a man like Robin Williams (also diagnosed with a serious, chronic illness), what hope is there for the rest of us? For me, the hope lies in this simple fact: I did not always feel like that. So far, I have always, eventually come out of it. And so, I try to fight back early and hard, using coping mechanisms I have learned leaning on my support systems as I am able, and trying to hold onto whatever sliver or shred of hope remains. Will that always work? I cannot know. I cannot be sure, but I have to keep trying. I have to keep fighting. And I have to keep looking out for others I know are waging similar wars within.
I will leave you with this thought and encourage you to look out for others who might be fighting this type of battle alone: