Monday, August 11, 2014

I can stay silent no longer.

This is a really rough week for death.  Actually, it’s been over a week.  Israel and Gaza are killing each other.  ISIS is exterminating people in droves in the Middle East, one NASCAR driver accidentally killed another just yesterday, and then a police officer gunned down a young, unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri.

I was already feeling pretty sad, given that I keep seeing all this, and meanwhile, in my little corner of reality, my mother’s health is declining from cancer and Alzheimer’s, and it’s kind of a race to see if I get to say goodbye to her at Christmas or if she’ll have lost the battle by then.

And then today.  Depression killed Robin Williams.

That’s right.  I’m not going to make the victim the subject of that sentence.  I’m not going to accuse this actor and comedian we all love of committing murder of self.  Because depression is the killer.

If people want to say that a person who commits suicide is weak, then fine.  They’re weak in the same way a person in the final stages of cancer, or ALS, or multiple sclerosis is weak.  If they’re selfish, fine.  They’re selfish the way a person in the final stages of a torturously painful disease begs death to end the pain.

If you’ve never struggled with depression or addiction, then please: count yourself lucky and SHUT. UP.  You really have no idea.  If you have had to spend some part of your life battling one of these diseases (that’s right; I said it), then you know.  It could have been you.

It could have been me.

Now, granted, the only thing I’ve ever been addicted to is nicotine, for that brief period of a few years when I smoked maybe half a pack a day at most.  It was a rough time.  I quit.  It wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t impossible for me.  I guess I’m lucky that way.

But I know depression.  I spent years on medication, and I was hospitalized once for a week.  I know what it’s like to really believe the horrible, crazy things your brain tells you about the world, about reality, about your worth as a human being.  Thank God I recovered.

Depression is a disease.

Cancer is a disease.  We all know about that.  Who among you has never known a person who has had cancer?  Cancer attacks the body by dangerously multiplying diseased cells at a quicker rate than the body creates normal, healthy cells.

Heart disease is a well-known scourge as well.  Many of us have it in our family tree somewhere, what with high cholesterol and a tendency toward heart attacks coexisting in a society in which our increasingly sedentary lifestyle (guilty as charged) is conspiring with genetics to kill us early.

Multiple sclerosis.  Stroke.  ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Diabetes. Alzheimer’s. Parkinson’s.  You know their names.  We all live in fear that they will strike those we love.  Or ourselves.  Something happens in the body that isn’t the way it’s supposed to.  Illness ensues.  The sufferer has a decreased quality of life, is less able to move, and/or experiences pain.

I could be describing depression there.  I typed those sentences and it wasn’t intentional that I was also describing depression.  Addiction.  These two diseases, often found hanging around together, happen in the brain’s chemistry.

Something happens in the body that isn’t the way it’s supposed to.  Illness ensues.  The sufferer has a decreased quality of life, is less able to move, and/or experiences pain.

When depression or addiction claims a life, where’s the compassion?  So now we’ve somehow decided that there are acceptable diseases and shameful ones?  Why do you think so many people don’t get the help they need?  Why do you think they’re afraid to seek treatment?

No one chooses emotional illness or chemical dependency.  Robin Williams didn’t start using cocaine back in the day because he thought it would be great fun to be a drug addict.  He didn’t replace that with alcohol after finally cleaning up because he thought “everyone loves a drunk.”  He was self-medicating.  He could make you laugh, cry, love him, and idolize him.  But he couldn’t make you help him.  And he couldn’t make you stop him from succumbing to a disease any more than you could have cured someone of cancer.

So if you’re the person who says, “what a waste,” or “how selfish,” or “how could he do this to his kids,” then please move along.  There’s nothing for you to see here.  Depression, addiction, and suicide are not choices any more than cancer is a choice.

It’s been said all over the place, and I’ll say it again: Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be kind.

Even after they’re gone.


sarahlandis said...

Thank you for your honesty and bravery and voice.

Katie Warren said...

Beautifully written and stated, Diane. Thank you.

Daniel said...

I teared up as I read your post.
I can relate. I haven't had to deal with addiction issues, I guess I'm lucky there (although I have been tempted). However the feelings, I feel them. It creates a negative feedback loop. When I feel bad, I just reinforce that to make myself feel worse. I don't know why, but I like it.
I never met him, but I grew up with him. Aladdin was my favorite movie as a child. I'm crying right now as I type this. Never before has the death of someone I don't know, and a celebrity at that, affected me this way.

Anyway, thank you for your words.

Paula Torres said...

Everyone should read this post. Nicely done!

TheTechProfe said...

Well stated mujer.

Mr Diaz said...

Well done my friend.

Sonny Portacio said...

Very well written Diane. Thanks.

I am a Tech Teacher said...

Beautifully said. My husband and my brother both suffer from depression, and right now i worry about my brother because he's in a really bad place and won't seek help. I fear one day I will get a similar call.

Rebecca Girard said...

Thank you, Diane, for taking the time to write this post. You expressed many of my feelings since I heard of Robin Williams' death this afternoon. I have also been overwhelmed by the news of death over the past couple weeks. Reading your words let me know that I was not alone in my feelings. It is in moments of feeling connected to others that we can lift out of despair.

Joan Young (aka Mancini) said...

Thank you, Diane, for this beautiful, powerful post. So many of us have inner struggles that no one would ever imagine, and we live in fear that we will be discovered and judged. When someone like you, beautiful, strong, brilliant you, leads the way and shares, it leads us to affirming our own histories, our painful times, and helps us be human together. Thank you.

Bob Kelly said...

Thank you Diane! As a person who has known many people who have suffered from depression and as a psychology teacher who has TRIED to explain depression, I appreciate your candor as we still have a heavy stigma regarding mental illness no matter what it is. And YES we ALL have our own battle and trials. Good luck with yours and thanks again for your thoughtful perspective!

Kevin Fairchild said...

Thank you for writing this, Diane. I have been battling depression for most of my adult life, but only in the last few years have I realized it is a disease, not a personal failing. The increasing openness of people like you writing about depression helps that immensely.

JoAnnJacobs68 said...

Thanks Diane for putting your thoughts in print and sharing your voice with us.

Scott Marsden said...

Thank you for being so honest, Diane. Depression is a disease like the other diseases you mentioned in your post.
I once met Robin Williams in a ski/snowboard shop in South Lake Tahoe. He was telling jokes and making everyone in the store laugh. He was that kind of person.