I want to talk to you about depression. At first, I resisted writing this post, for a few reasons. After the sad and shocking death of Robin Williams, it seemed like everything about depression that could be said was said, and also, it’s scary and uncomfortable for me to come out and talk about my own struggles with depression. But then I realized, maybe that’s why it needs to be written. Because it’s scary, and because it takes a sad and shocking celebrity death for people to talk openly about depression, when the conversation should be ongoing. So here’s my contribution.
I’ve said that depression is like being stuck in an elevator in an empty building. You basically feel like you’re powerless, and that no one can save you, least of all yourself. I’ve also talked about struggling with anxiety. I’ve joked that anxiety is like forcing a cat to wear a costume. But really, having anxiety is awful, as is having depression.
The worst thing about struggling with mental afflictions like these, is the feeling of being trapped. You feel like you have no one to talk to about it, because if you tell someone, you’re afraid they’re going to say the worst possible thing they could say: “Oh stop, you’re being over dramatic.” Hearing the phrase “over dramatic” makes me flinch. I hate being accused of being “over dramatic” so I push all of my negative thoughts deep down, hoping that I’m doing my best at pretending to be a real, functioning person.
And yet, you know that if you have depression, you should talk to someone. (In the wake of Robin Williams’s death people have said over and over, “If you have depression, talk to someone”, as though it were that easy. I understand it isn’t that easy.) That’s why therapy is helpful, but I can’t call and text my therapist 24/7, even though she’s the only person who understands why I freak out at the idea of parking my car. Everyone else thinks I’m insane and ridiculous for freaking out over something so stupid, so why would I tell anyone?
I’m here to tell you that you can tell me. I understand. I understand that it’s the little things that build up inside that make us feel like we’re in that elevator. And I’m also here to tell you that it’s okay. It’s okay to have those scary, depressing, anxiety-ridden thoughts. It’s not okay to always give into them, but it’s okay if that happens, because you’re human, and sometimes, the thoughts win. Sometimes they don’t, and when they don’t, I give you the highest of fives. I want you to know, that you’re not over dramatic. You’re allowed to feel depressed even if you have what others consider an enviable life. They’re not “first world problems” — they’re real problems because they hinder your life, even if no one else thinks so. They don’t have to agree with you. They don’t have to understand. I’d like them to, but people won’t always understand.
Sometimes, the thoughts that win are the thoughts that make people choose suicide. “Why would anyone commit suicide?” people say. “That’s so selfish.” And that’s another word that makes me flinch, because there’s nothing selfish about depression. It’s a disease, like any other, but unlike any other, you get accused of being over dramatic. And these are negative words, and when negative words accompany negative thoughts, bad things happen. I want to tell anyone thinking of suicide that I don’t think you’re selfish, or a bad person.
What I’d like you to do though is think of the story about a man who jumped off the Golden Gate bridge. On his way down, his only thought was, and I’m paraphrasing, “There’s nothing in my life that can’t be fixed other than the fact that I just jumped off a bridge.” In that one moment, he would take it all back. He survived. There’s nothing sadder to me than the idea of someone having that moment and being unable to take it back; of realizing that they made a decision that they can’t change, and wishing they could. Of having the fleeting thought of survival and watching it get sucked away. Please think about that.
I’m not a doctor, and I can’t fix all your problems, but I can let you know that I’m here, if you want to use this post to vent. This is a safe space. I won’t think you’re over dramatic. I won’t think you’re selfish. I won’t think anything other than I’m glad you’re here to add your thoughts to this world. Let’s be good to each other. Let’s break in the building and bust open the elevator door.
CC Image, “Help is on the way, elevator, Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL”, courtesy of Cory Doctorow via Flickr.