Editor’s note: I’m happy to bring back the Honest Moms Speak Out essay series. Every week, Honest Mom will feature a reader’s story about her mental health battles and triumphs. The goal of these essays is to give women who deal with similar challenges hope, and to help them to feel less alone. If you would like to contribute, read this (you do not have to be a blogger to participate). And you can read other HMSO essays here. Thanks to Marcia for sharing her story with us!
When the country first learned of Robin Williams’ suicide last year, people were scratching their heads, confused over what would have driven America’s favorite funny man to end his life so abruptly. On the surface, Williams he had everything: a unique brand of humor that brought him fame, a loving family and a multitude of adoring fans. How could he have been so unhappy as to take his own life?
Only those who have a personal experience with depression can understand the scope of pain from this form of mental illness. It is a debilitating disease that robs a person of the simplest joys in life. It carves a hole too deep to fill in the hearts of those who wrestle with the inner demons of this acute, medical condition.
Depression is a nondiscriminatory disease that strikes every age, race, gender and class. It manifests itself in the form of physical pain, lack of self-worth, shame, helplessness and hopelessness. It is an invisible wound that is often misdiagnosed and in some cases, difficult to treat.
Those suffering from depression view the world through a warped lens where everything is distorted and emotions are muted. Even when surrounded by a loving family, they feel utterly alone. And while others marvel at the sun’s glorious rays as it rises over the ocean, they can only feel the weight of their emptiness. It’s not as simple as choosing to be happy. Depression traps people under a numbing layer of ice and leaves them gasping for air.
How do I know this? Depression has been a part of my life since childhood. Growing up, I felt out of place, even in my own family, and lonely for reasons I never understood. I woke each day with a sense of foreboding, and at times, became panicky at the thought of leaving my house. It was a struggle for me to find the smile that seemed to come so easily to others. I didn’t know what was wrong with me; I only knew that something inside was broken.
At the age of six, it was impossible for me to explain how I felt, and I was too ashamed to tell anyone for fear they would think I was abnormal. In my family, emotions were not easily expressed, and any show of anxiety or depression was frowned upon. It didn’t help that during that era of my childhood, there was a negative stigma attached to depression. Admissions of feeling isolated or extremely unhappy were viewed as a weakness of character and a lack of courage to overcome a difficult situation.
The shame I felt for having a disease I didn’t understand followed me well into my teens. I went through bouts of binge-eating, self-loathing and cutting. This type of behavior was the only release I had from the unexplainable, inner turmoil that plagued my life.
It took years of battling depression, phobias and suicidal thoughts before I realized I needed help in waging the war against losing my sanity. When I finally confided in my husband about my illness, it was as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Speaking openly about my anxiety and depression validated what I was feeling, and in turn, enabled me to open up to others who were struggling with the same disorders. In time, I found the courage to speak to my doctor, who then prescribed antidepressants after a long evaluation period. For me, it was the turning point that gave me a sense of control in my life, something that had been lacking inside me since I was a child.
There is no quick fix for depression, as each case is unique. It is a dark and frightening disease that cannot be cured with alcohol, drug abuse, or sex. In some cases, intense therapy and even love can’t save a patient from the inner demons that haunt them. Antidepressants work successfully for some, while for others, it functions as a temporary patch over a leaky valve that threatens to burst. Once the seal is broken, a storm of uncontrollable emotions is unleashed, driving many to the brink of desperation.
There are plenty of critics who view depression as a temporary state of “sadness”, and suicide as a selfish act of cowardice that inflicts unimaginable pain on the survivors. This is an unfair assessment of a disease that society still knows so little about. Depression is not a choice. It’s a mental illness associated with an immeasurable depth of despair and hopelessness that leads far too many people down the dark path to suicide.
It took the loss of a comedic genius last year to shed light on our country’s inability to recognize the difference between ordinary sadness and major depression. Society as a whole needs to erase all preconceived notions of depression and the stigmas attached to this debilitating disease.
Our job is not to judge or blame. It’s time we promote awareness and help those suffering from depression find the inner peace they deserve. Compassion and understanding are the gateway to hope and finding the courage to seek help. Only then can the people we love begin to heal.