Smile for the Camera

By August 18, 2014Blog, Uncategorized

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.


  • Lisa K says:

    I have so much admiration for you and your bravery. I’ve also BATTLED major depression and anxiety since the age of 13. I’m now 38. I’ve followed Bring Change 2 Mind since I first saw the original PSA as well. But unlike you, I haven’t been able to tell my story… yet. I’m still recovering from a major setback. I’ve slowly been telling more people my story. I also dream of writing a book about my struggle, my battle and my survival. So, Adrienne, thank you again.

  • Elaine W says:

    Thank you Adrienne for sharing your story!
    I first felt the effects of depression shortly after the birth of my first child. I had never heard of post-partum depression, but I remember rocking and crying while holding my perfect baby girl. I dismissed my feelings as being sad. We were a Navy family and my husband’s ship deployed for 6 months just one week after our baby was born. I expected the “fog” would lift in a few days. By the time my husband returned, depression accompanied me through my day like a close friend. Being “foggy” was a way of life.
    5 years later, we had our second child. Same symptoms, but more intense. Again, dismissed the symptoms because I discovered my husband was having an affair. Only after blurting all that out to my MD did he put me on meds. They didn’t lift the sadness, but I was able to work, care for my girls and find themstrength

  • Martha says:

    I too was saddened with the passing of Robin Williams. He was a terrific actor. And seemed like all was well with him. My husband from whom I am separated has bipolar and other issues. I at times struggle with anxiety. Keep on fighting and always ask for help. Someday hopefully mental health won’t have a stigma.

  • April says:

    Smile is the most beautiful cosmetics in the world. It is kind of human nature. You can do it!

  • Cynde B says:

    I too, have lived with my share of depression. Years. Family matters are one thing, but living with and TOLERATING an abusive mate, quite another. Take a good look at your entire situation. There is more ABUSE out there than most folks care to acknowledge. There are people out there who will prey upon your vulnerability, without you even realizing it. They will insist they want only the best for you, yet will put you down every chance they have. Verbally, emotionally, physically. Try and identify the source of your depression. Start talking. Acknowledge it, get counseling, then rise above! Let go of what no longer serves you. Embrace your self-discovery, empower yourself, and share it with others, in hopes that it may help them to be free! Blessings on your journey.

  • Ruth says:

    Dear Adrienne, I found your story after doing a search for the “” link from an ad in the magazine, “Shape”. Your story gives me hope and comfort. Depression makes me feel so alone. I’ve never heard of the, but now I’m glad I have seen it. I have chronic pain and there are those dark days when the pain of living seems greater than the pain of dying. I’ve had to give myself permission to take a day off of work or to go to the emergency room when things get really bad. I think I will print and tape your statement to my mirror, “Suicide does not make sense. It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” I got the book, “Final Exit”, from the library and read it. It was not in the correct spot, so I was reading the titles of all the books nearby and I happened upon another book (which was right beside the Final Exit book) which listed several arguments for why suicide is not a good idea. (For example, it may encourage others to do the same. I’d hate to be responsible for that. My whole life, the only help I’d heard for people thinking of suicide is that they need to find a good therapist…but never something concrete like your statement that I can say to myself in the moment. “Finding a therapist” sounds like an impossible task when I’m depressed.) I’m a divorced mom and, now that my kids are both grown, I have talked to them about it. There are stories of my grandmother standing at the fence crying and I know my mother also struggles with depression. My daughter has made it clear to me that she does NOT want to be the one to FIND me….I’m not sure why, but that made me smile. I clicked away from this page, intending to not actually submit it, but then I realized that I was missing one of the points-We have to be willing to talk about this. So I did a page recovery. I look forward to the day when depression and other mental issues are not a stigma.

    • Christine says:

      I wanted to ask you a favor, Ruth. You quoted the statement saying “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” I need you to know that saying this to someone who is at a very low point in their life, does not help. When you say that your pain is only temporary, it minimizes and negates the importance or validity of the person’s feelings, sending the message that he or she is wrong about the nature or value of the pain. It also might be taken as judgmental or condescending (the speaker knows what pain is really like, but the suicidal person is mistaken about it). Finally, it might oversimplify the ultimate solutions to the underlying problems that are causing the person’s pain, for the jingle suggests, in part, that if a person would merely believe that his or her problem is temporary, then all would be well.

      I say this to encourage you to think twice before using that phrase again. As someone who has made numerous attempts at ending my own life, I hated when someone would say that to me. They surely did not understand what my life was like at that point.

  • Adrienne says:

    Thank you to everyone who commented on my story. If we can continue to openly talk about anxiety, depression, bipolar and mental illness in general, it will empower us to rise above the stigma. We are in this together – never give up. Ever. If you’ve smiled before, there’s no reason to believe that you won’t smile again!

  • marlene says:

    I have two daughters who battle major depression. It is not easy for them or for anyone who loves them to cope with it. Pennsylvania laws are hurtful to people as well. For months, my daughter (32 yrs) did not go to therapy due to me having surgery. She does not drive and has a hard time dealing with social anxiety etc. Then, we had a date and I did not check close enough. It was my fault and she was dropped from the services. After months of getting to know someone–she was dropped. Why try again when those who are supposed to care, don’t. on it goes..frustrated mother in pa

  • Robyn says:

    Wow, this really resonated with me. I too became depressed around the age of twelve and I remember retreating completely and, oddly enough, the walk to and from school being one of the loneliest times in my day – comparing that to ‘a hike up Everest’ was so evocative for me.

    I think becoming depressed so young can be a traumatic event in and of itself, because you’re too little to understand what’s going on or why you feel the way you do. I didn’t know what depression was at the time so I was confused by my apathy, and after I came out of it and looked back at how close to brink I was and it really shocked me.

    Very relatable.

  • Adrienne Gurman says:

    Robyn, thank you for commenting – it helps me to know that I’m not alone in my experience with early on-set depression. Be well! Adrienne

  • Diana m. says:

    I too suffer with chronic depression. I’m at the point where I can’t keep saying I want to live solely not to hurt my family. I’ve been married for 26 years and was recently diagnosed with chronic depression and ptsd. I am seeking help. I go to groups 5 days a week I see a therapist and a psych Dr. I have hidden my depression for my whole life ..until I couldn’t take it and tried to take my life. I called the hot line and was treated like a criminal. 5 police cars and then handcuffed and taken to a psych ward for 2 weeks. I was drugged then released with no safety plan put into effect. It took a month to be accepted into mental health program – the first was a 3 week out patient program. I started feeling a little hopeful and was embracing the thought of recovery. I had hope. But then the program ended and I was full of more confusion. I felt I was learning coping skills and found the support of counseling and my peers was uplifting, but 6 weeks later I started a different program which isn’t helping. I’m withdrawing back to my room, closing myself off and living with my intrusive thoughts. I know I need to deal with my past in order to live my life now and in the future but I struggle with suicide and the pain of life.

  • Mary M says:

    Thank you to Hayden P When you have everything in this world why aren’t you happy? I began feeling alone and different in 1st grade. Talking about your feelings was unaccepted in our home. Please let your kids express feelings at all times. By the time you talk to a professional it may be too late. Give everyone a voice. Look all around and be someone’s shoulder with no limitations. Just like biblical perspective of body, mind and soul and the heart deserve it.

  • Violeta K says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! You are an inspiration! Your walking to and from school resonated with me. It means a lot knowing that I am not alone in my struggles to fight depression. I have slowly found my inner voice and am finally listening and going along with living life for ME!

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