The recent death of Robin Williams broke my heart, along with that of millions of people around the world. I grew up watching his movies, quoting his lines and trying to imitate his Mork and Mindy accent. It’s so heartbreaking that someone that was able to make so many laugh was living in silent misery and agony on the inside. His death has highlighted depression, mental health, suicide, all things that we still struggle to deal with and understand. There is still much to learn about it and, most frustrating, still so much stigma around it. I hear comments like suicide is selfish, or depression is just in your head and you need to snap out of it. Really? Can you snap out of cancer? Or diabetes? Depression and other forms of mental health illnesses are the same as every other illness with the exception that most of the agony the person feels is in their head. There is so much pain and suffering going on in the persons mind that suicide becomes a form of relief. I read someone describe depression as similar to being in a burning building: you’re suffocating with no where to go and you see a window and figure the only way you will get away from the smoke and suffocation is by jumping out of the window. It’s the only way to get relief.
In my teenage years, I sat on the outskirts of depression. I never really felt that I fit in well with people. Don’t get me wrong, I had friends and hung out with people and one of my best friends today is one of my friends from high school. But I never really felt comfortable enough to really be myself around people because I had been teased a lot in primary school and it stuck with me through high school. You will never hear me say that I wish I could go back to school – I couldn’t wait to get out! I had lots of ups and downs at school and it was made worse by the fact that my brother was Mr Popular – he was a brat of a kid – but he was popular and that made me more insecure (that’s on me, not on him) and made me even more depressed. The suicide thoughts came more than once while I was a teenager. They came when I was in my early twenties as well but that was me being overly dramatic after a break-up and thinking I go never go one without him. (Remember Mr Bad Decision from my intro, yeah..him. And while I’m not generally a drama queen, at 20 yrs old, I had a few moments!). But I think this is where people mistake depression for blues. Many of us get a little dramatic sometimes when we are overwhelmed by life and make throw away comments like – I can’t do this anymore or I just want to die – but that’s not depression. Depression isn’t a one-off moment of despair, it’s ongoing torment in your mind; just you and your thoughts and they just don’t stop.
My tangle with depression as a youth was brief but I see depression and it’s impact every day with my mum and other people in my life. My mum has had it for years and I’ve watched her change over the years. I’ve seen the strain it has put on her. I’ve seen the tears and anger and anguish. And I’ve cried with her. There were times when I was able to say things that were helpful to get her mind going in a different direction, but there were times when all I could do was sit with her on the bed while she cried under the blanket and just pray and cry with her. I try to live like Jesus lived and He just loved people. He never shied away from hurt and broken people, and that’s the kind of person I want to be: someone who just loves people and doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable. So I just sit in the silence, or in the screams, and just reach out. I don’t pretend to be an expert or an saint and I don’t delude myself in thinking I completely understand depression because I don’t. But we just need to reach out. We need to get past the discomfort we feel when someone says they want to end their life and stop saying things like “don’t be silly” because that doesn’t help them, it makes them feel worse and makes them reluctant to confide in you. We just need to get uncomfortable and meet people where they are and love them through it. I worked out a while ago that I can’t fix anyone’s depression but I can stand with them while they go through it. I can pray for them and with them. I can hold their hand and love them. I can just be there.