I woke this morning after a full nights sleep and stretched, feeling completely refreshed. I then realized I also felt completely sad. It took me a moment to remember why… Robin Williams had died, a victim of the Beast. The recollection of that awful truth, the reality of it, sucked the joy out of my morning. I no longer felt refreshed. Ironically, that is how depression can seem. And although today I am not actually depressed, just deeply sad, I know all too well what it is like to battle the Beast.
Robin Williams embraced life with creativity and manic intensity. He was the ultimate embodiment of “Not Boring”. He was able to gift the world with great beauty and uniqueness because of his incredible talent and fervency. But the ability to feel so deeply, live life so intensely, can often come at a great price. Many other great artists also struggled with depression or mental illness. Van Gogh, my favorite painter, was said to be one of them. His “Starry Night” is a striking visual representation of a life spent caught between the darkness and the light. Many of those who can soar to the heights of emotions also know what it is like to inhabit the most remote depths of despair. One day everything is so stunningly bright and wonderful that you weep at the sheer beauty and intensity of it all. Then far too soon the clouds roll in and you wonder if you will ever see the light again. Depression lies. It can make you feel completely alone in a room full of people. It can make you feel cold and dark to your very core even while standing in the sun. I have heard those whispers in my ears, and they have literally sent me screaming into the night. I have stood at the brink, completely helpless, terrified to die but unable to live. The only way I was able to pull away from the edge was because people helped me.
Depression is real. Many people, like me, struggle with it their whole lives. It is also self-perpetuating. You feel depressed, so you don’t go out and do the things you once enjoyed because it sounds too hard, even painful. But then you become more depressed because you don’t go out. It is a difficult cycle to break. Depression also does not discriminate; it affects all kinds of people, in all walks of life. And it steals, and it lies, and it devours. Its hunger is insatiable, and if allowed free reign within our souls the Beast KILLS.
I took a personal risk by writing this. There is still far too much stigma associated with mental illness. People that I know may read it and judge me. They might come to look down on me as broken, or unstable, or even attention-seeking. Potential employers may read these words and not want to take a risk on me. While it is actually illegal to discriminate against someone because of illness, sadly it happens far too often. But if someone wouldn’t hire me because of my struggles then it is someone I wouldn’t want to work for anyway! I take the time to write these words because I think it is important. I write to still the Beast that lurks within me, threatening to wake. I write to shed light on a misunderstood problem and shatter some of the stigma attached with it. I write so that maybe, just maybe, it will help one person get help. If you are depressed, please, please, I beg you to FIGHT. It WILL get better. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help, but a sign of strength. That is not just a cliché, but the truth.
You are going to see a lot of articles about depression and suicide prevention in the coming days. Last night I saw countless comments with the number for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (which is 1-800-273-8255, by the way. It is open 24/7). As wonderful as that is, most people will have moved on to other causes within a week. In my opinion it is not enough to pay lip service to depression awareness, then post a phone number, and feel like you made a difference; you need to also follow through. I implore you to REACH OUT if you see someone struggling, but it may take some caring and perception on your part. Many truly depressed people no longer scream because we feel there is nothing left worth screaming about. It is a difficult thing, nearly impossible, to ask for help when you feel completely alone and completely hopeless. So let’s not place the burden of getting help solely on the shoulders of those who struggle with depression. Let US help them. Find someone and lift them up today. Don’t turn your back. Life is precious. Let’s not let the Beast steal any more beauty from this world.