I was not born depressed. I have proof. The images of me in old photo albums show a normal, happy child. A wide grin appears on my face as I’m being passed around from my mom, to her mom, to my dad’s mom, to aunts, uncles, cousins, and close family friends. My smiles were real. I can tell. The yellowed tape that still barely adheres the pictures to the cardboard pages is a stark contrast to my bright, alert eyes and pearly-white smile. “Let’s see some teeth!” my dad, an orthodontist, used to say as he focused his camera lens and clicked away. It’s ironic that so many years later I’d be using these images as concrete evidence that I didn’t come into this world with anything close to the chronic depression I developed in adolescence.
By the time I turned 12, everything around me appeared to be distorted. The ease and fluidity of my childhood seeped out of me like air from a balloon. The daily short walks to and from school with my friends became a hike up Everest. I began having trouble concentrating on my homework and started not caring about my grades. Somewhere between leaving my house in the morning until the time I crawled into bed at night, I faded into the background and became a reluctant observer of life, not a participant. I showed up to wherever I was supposed to be, but I wasn’t there.
An aura of sadness surrounded me at all times. I saw tragedy in strangers’ expressions – the teenage check-out girl in the supermarket, the middle-aged waitress in the diner, the greasy guy at the gas station – normal everyday people suddenly seemed like tragic figures who lived a life of desolation, just like me.
Gradually I felt completely invisible, but I didn’t think anyone around me realized it. That’s when the thoughts of making myself vanish permanently began to permeate my mind. Nothing about disappearing from the physical world seemed abnormal to my young, developing brain, and I kept that notion tucked away as an escape plan if “it” ever got to be too much to handle.
Depression is different for everyone. It can come and go quickly, or it can stay a while. When I’m in a bad way, it’s as if my mind is polluted with thick black fog. I frequently fantasize about drilling a tiny hole in the top of my skull and letting the smog spew out like a geyser, releasing all the toxic chemicals from my brain. When my depression is at a high point, I live most days with a sense of impending doom, a belief that life is going to come crashing down around me at any moment. Not believing that I deserve to be loved for any length of time – being “found out” that I’m really not worth much, and worst of all, becoming a burden to the people I love the most.
When I decided to speak openly about my illness, my disease, my disorder, there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. “But you HAVE so much, how can you be depressed?” is one question I’m asked frequently. It’s true – I have my own place to live, a close family and good friends, an interesting career, an education, excellent health care, an affectionate dog, and a touch of creativity. I also happen to have Major Depression. There’s nothing to sugarcoat – it totally sucks. Even with the greatest doctors and highly effective medications, there are days, sometimes weeks, in which I cannot find the speck of hope I so desperately need to see past my dark state of mind.
I made a promise to my family that I would never die by suicide. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think about it. I do. The ugly disease of depression keeps that f-ing idea alive and it scares the hell out of me.
Suicide does not make sense. It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. When I heard the news a few days ago that Robin Williams died, from the exact same disease I have, I was struck with profound sadness, grief, disbelief, anguish, horror . . . I’m struggling to attach words to the emotions that have only become more acute as the hours go by.
I’m never comfortable writing about other people, especially someone I’ve never met. I did not know Mr. Williams. The closest I ever got to him in person was sitting in the audience at Radio City during one of his famous Comic Relief shows. It’s not my place to publicly speculate on what was happening to Mr. Williams in his final hours. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. All I can do is imagine the immense amount of pain he was in – the unthinkable hopelessness and despair.
Out of fear of ever going to that awful place, that filthy sub-basement without light, where I fail to see any aspect of my existence ever getting any better, I’ve devised a new plan of action with only one possible outcome – LIFE. I would advise anyone who lives with Major Depression and Anxiety to do the same for themselves. Everyone’s course of action will be different, however the result will be the same. We can’t allow stigma or shame to get in the way of staying alive. Make the call.
If you have ever smiled before, there is no reason to believe that you won’t smile again. That’s what Robin Williams did for all of us. He made us smile. That will be his legacy.