We lost a friend 23 years ago. Every year different things happen that remind me of him. I mourn him on his birthday and the day he died and another year passes. And another.
I have grown up now. I have a family and a career and a whole new set of friends. That time seems so long ago. He was 18 when he died. I was 17.
Back in 1992 I thought I had gone through the grieving process. It took years but eventually I was able to move forward and create a life for myself. I thought I had moved on.
This year on his birthday a friend of ours posted an article to Facebook that changed everything.
As I had every year on his birthday I was thinking of the tragedy. My heart felt a little heavier. I reflected on him and what a waste it felt like to lose someone to suicide at 18. How senseless. How could he do that to himself. To us.
Then I saw this article. And I felt like I had been slapped in the face.
My friend did not die by suicide. He passed away from the devastating effects of the disease depression.
Sadly, that was the first time in over 20 years that I had thought of it that way.
For the first time since the tragedy I realized that this is NOT something my friend did deliberately. This is NOT something that I should be angry or bitter about. This is something that happened as a result of my friend having a mental illness that thousands live with every day. In his case it was fatal. He does not deserve my resentment. He deserves my understanding.
And with that I realized that every time someone had asked me what happened, and I said suicide, I was blaming him. And that hit me hard.
I have been an advocate for those with mental illness for years. Just last week I was at the State House testifying in support of a bill that would provide more services for those suffering from mental illness. I have several family members and friends that live with this everyday. Some of the bravest people I know. And still, for over two decades, I never realized that I still blamed my friend for what happened to him.
When Robin Williams passed away I was shocked as were so many of us. Even after losing my friend in this way I could not get my head around how someone that seemed to have everything, fame, fortune and the gift of his larger than life talent could take his own life. I viewed it the exact same way as I had viewed my friend. He committed a deliberate, selfish act that devastated everyone that loved him, and in Mr. Williams' case that meant a lot of people that he didn't even know personally.
These people who we have known and loved that have died tragically in this way have been overcome by a disease that sometimes results in death. Depression is a very dark subject that we don't discuss at cocktail parties. That needs to stop.
I hesitated to write this article because I was worried about offending someone. Why is that? Because we associate shame with depression. And if shame is involved, then I am sorry, but I am going to put a big, solid fence up between me and it. We protect ourselves from things and people we don't understand and can't seem to "fix".
Well I am here standing up to say I see you, I hear you, and I applaud you for being brave in all that you have to do just to stand up next to me. Depression is real, it is powerful, and it deserves our respect.
We fight for breast cancer, substance abuse, domestic violence. Let's bring depression into the light. Let's talk about it. Let's make it clear that we know it is there and that it is real and that it is nothing to be ashamed of.
We need to break down the barriers between how we view physical and mental illnesses. They are all the same. Some are invisible.
Please reach out to someone today and let them know you see them. Even if no words are exchanged. Just let them know.
Thank you for reading.