As the world stands in disbelief of the death of famous comedian and actor Robin Williams, it is difficult for most to fathom the thought that a man who made multiple generations laugh over the years could be battling depression. Despite his fame, fortune, and wealth, he was just as susceptible to the illness of depression as the rest of the estimated 18 million American adults who suffer from this disease (www.allaboutdepression.com). Depression is no respecter of age, race, gender, income, marital status, nor faith beliefs. While it may impact individuals to varying degrees, it has the ability to impact us all. Although there are some indicators that may put some at a higher risk for experiencing depression than others, such as having a lack of social support, you can be well loved, respected, valued and cared for and still struggle with Major Depressive Disorder. No one is immune to depression.
When most people think about depression they imagine someone crying, feeling sad, and staying in bed all day. Most people probably think if someone is depressed their mood is really down and they are withdrawn. And for some people who experience depression this is exactly what they feel, but depression does not always look this way. Sometimes depression shows up as anger and irritability. Sometimes depression is loud and chaotic instead of quiet and sad. Sometimes it is in your face instead of withdrawn and subdued. Sometimes depression shows up in the form of “nit picking”, or “pushing other people’s buttons”, or feeling like someone is intentionally trying to push your buttons.
Many people walk into my office describing these kinds of behaviors and are legitimately shocked when I say “sounds like you might be depressed”. Some folks get down right offended. You’d think I slapped them or something. “I’m not depressed”, one patient yelled at me. “I’m not crying all the time, I’m not staying at home, I get up and go to work every day, even though my boss is about to drive me crazy. I take care of my kids and my husband, even though they are getting on my last nerve. I am still doing everything for everybody just like I always have, so I know I’m not depressed. I just want you to help me deal with these crazy people in my life because it’s something wrong with them, not me. If they would just leave me alone, I would be alright; I am not depressed.”
And then there are those who, from the outside, appear to be doing quite fine. These are the “mask wearers”and they have mastered the art of masking their depression. They can be the life of the party when they are around others, but when they are alone they can experience feelings of hopelessness or they can be in a room full of other people, but feel like they are on an island all by themselves. Many people who experience this kind of depression may not even realize that they are depressed. They just know that they are feeling something that doesn’t feel right and they want it to stop.
Some people dealing with depression try taking things to make “it”stop on their own like drugs or alcohol, but these substances only tend to make things worse, although for a short while they may seem like they make it better because they can numb some of the negative feelings or reduce some of the negative thoughts he or she might be experiencing. This may have been what the late Robin Williams experienced as he struggled through his last days. It’s sad as we bear witness to the headlines of his death, to consider how many of us he made laugh over the course of our lives to now realize how much he struggled through extreme bouts of depression and hopelessness over the course of his own. You don’t have to suffer in silence and you don’t have to fight this battle alone.
It’s important for you to know depression has many faces. Many of us find it difficult to even consider the notion of having a “mental illness”. The stigma about mental illness and relationship problems still exists despite the popularity of shows like Dr. Phil, Dr. Drew and many others. Mental illness is something that “other folks” have to deal with not me and you. Until one day it is “me and you”. Mental illness is just like any other kind of physical illness, there’s a biological, psychological/emotional, environmental or social, and spiritual component to it. Most of the time, people don’t come to see someone like me until they just can’t take it anymore; their lives have become so unbearable or they are so unhappy that they just don’t want to “do this anymore”. That’s what I hear most often; “I just don’t want to do this anymore”.
Depression is a disease. We can do something about it, but we have to be courageous enough to acknowledge it, find out what we can do to get help, whether it’s counseling, medication, exercise, meditation, or a combination of those things and then be willing to do it. Depression doesn’t just come at the expense of the person who is dealing with it, it is a very selfish disease that takes a toll on everyone who cares about that person. It is a robber of relationships. Choose not to “white knuckle” it through life and get the help you need so you can have the quality of life God has purposed for you and those who love you.
Life is about relationships,