Robin Williams’ unfortunate and untimely death has brought depression, at least briefly, back into the public consciousness. While I mourn with the rest of the world the loss of a brilliant comedic mind, I am glad depression is being talked about. I am aghast that there are still people like Todd Bridges and Shepard Smith who use their celebrity (perhaps that’s a generous term) to make ignorant and insensitive comments about a disease they so clearly do not understand.
While I have no celebrity (I know approximately three people regularly read this blog and two of them are my parents. Hi Mom and Dad!) I do have an intimate and personal knowledge of depression. I have struggled with it for my entire adult life.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
Actually my struggle with depression began when I was 13.
While I can pinpoint for you the biological and environmental factors that jump-started my depression, I won’t. But I will share with you my first and strongest memory of my depression.
It was Sunday night which meant I was at church (because if the doors were open, my family was there.) It was time for a youth-led service and I was involved in some skit or other but we had a little time to kill (no pun intended) before service began and I wandered off by myself to the kitchen in the fellowship hall which also doubled as the kitchen for the daycare our church ran. I can still remember scanning the medicine cabinet, looking for something strong enough to just end it all because I couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life with all the emotional pain I felt. I remember finally pulling out a half filled bottle of ibuprofen, counting the pills, and thinking that there weren’t enough in it to kill me, probably only enough to put me in the hospital. I knew I didn’t want that so I screwed the cap back on the bottle, walked back out of the kitchen, and found the rest of the youth group so we could get ready to start the service.
At some point that evening I was given a certificate naming me “Youth of the Year.” The irony is not lost on me.
When I was 19, after another bought of suicidal thoughts, I finally reached out to my mom for help. “Something’s not right,” I remember telling her. “I think I may need medication.” She was skeptical but took me to a friend of hers who was a psychiatrist. That wonderful woman started me on anti-depressants and just a few days after beginning them I remember thinking, “Oh! This must be how everyone else experiences the world. This must be how everyone else lives life.”
That medication did not render me a zombie and it did not prevent me from being able to fully experience my emotions. It did the opposite. It enabled me to finally function like a normal human being. There were moments of joy again. And hope. I no longer lived under a heavy fog. Almost literally it was like a weight being lifted off of me.
I still struggle with depression and I am still on medication. In fact, unless God chooses to miraculously heal me, I will be on medication for the rest of my life. I’m okay with that. I wasn’t for a long time and have tried to come off my medication more than once. With my most recent pregnancy, my primary care doctor pushed me to stop taking it. When I relayed this to my poor husband, he yelled, “Do they know what that does to you?!” (He had been through one of my previous attempts to stop my antidepressants.)
While my husband has been around long enough to see the madness of depression take over my life, most of my other friends have not. Often when I tell someone I struggle with clinical depression their response is something along the lines of, “You? No!” But depression, like most other illness, is not a respecter of persons. It can strike anyone.
I am always astonished to hear, in this day and age, a Christian say, “Well you just need more faith,” or, “There must be sin in your life.” “I don’t understand why you just can’t snap out of it. Think of all the blessings you’ve been given.” But my favorite is, “Yeah, I get sad too.”
Depression is not a faith issue any more than cancer. It’s not a sin issue either, except in the sense that all disease is a result of the fall of man. I can’t snap out of it anymore than a diabetic can snap out of needing insulin. And sadness is a normal human emotion in response to sad things.
I am grateful for my depression. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t like being depressed or having to take medicine. But I am grateful for what depression has given me – compassion. What should you say to someone struggling with depression or suicide? Well, definitely none of those things I listed above. But you can show compassion. You can show Christ’s love. And you can walk with someone on their journey to get help.
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13