When I heard about Robin William's passing in 2014, I wasn't surprised and shocked to hear the news as most people were. Instead, what I felt was an immense amount of sadness and a deep connection to a man I had never met and all I could do was shake my head and say a prayer. My heart immediately knew why he had left this world because my life, like so many millions of other peoples' lives, have dealt with, and been affected by, depression and mental health issues.
I am a mother who struggles with depression. Most days are good. I am one of the very few, fortunate souls who have found a medication that works to fill in the gaps in my mind that otherwise without meds, would leave it imbalanced and incomplete. And while my medication works its magic quietly behind the scenes to keep my brain from turning on me, I know all too well that it will never be a cure for my illness and that at any time, my meds could stop working. It is always a game of Russian roulette. Some days are good, some days are bad. Step up to the plate and spin the wheel.
When the news of Robin William's death broke, millions of people made comments such as:
"I had no idea he was struggling."
"But he was a comedian. He was always laughing. He made me laugh."
"I never knew he struggled with depression and bi-polar disorder."
And that's usually how it goes but it's also the point -- depression doesn't discriminate. Depression is real. It is a horrible, unforgiving disease that is relentless in consuming its victims. People who suffer from depression can't help their disease any more than they can help the color of their eyes. It is a medical, biological imbalance. And while most who suffer still cling to hope of a cure -- or just one peaceful day -- a large majority suffer in silence daily with no peace and no refuge. There is no hiding from depression and bi-polar illness. Instead, there is only masking. Mask the pain. Mask the struggle. Mask the voices.
I know this game well. I've played it many, many times in my life.
"Smile. Don't let them see you hurt."
"Laugh, make jokes, and be "normal" so they don't see the tears."
"Talk and think positively to shut out all the self-hate and self-loathing."
It makes sense that most people would have never known Robin was sick and how he had the amazing ability to naturally fit the roles of drastic, struggling human emotion given to him with such ease. It always made sense to me. He was good at playing the roles of struggle and covering his illness because he was struggling.
And I have too.
I am a healthy woman. I have a beautiful daughter and loving partner. I have a great job, wonderful friends, and an amazing and supportive family...a great life yet -- some days -- this isn't enough to fight off the demons of depression and the voices that tell me "You are not good enough. Nothing will ever be good enough." My brain has tried to convince me many, many times that the world would be better off without me. That I'm no good. That I'll never do anything right or amount to anything so why bother. My own brain -- attacking me.
With depression and bi-polar disease, your brain will lie to you, it will turn on you. Of course it's all lies, but in a depressive episode, you can't and won't distinguish between reality and the lies. It is a gut-wrenching battle that never ends.
If you take nothing else away from this post today, please let it be this: Those who suffer from any form of mental illness, whether it be big or small, are not flawed, crazy individuals. No one would ever choose to suffer from mental illness because that's what it is -- an illness. Just as you would have empathy, sympathy, and understanding for anyone going through another kind of illness (cancer, contagious disease, etc.), those suffering from mental illness deserve nothing less than the same compassion. If you are not familiar with mental illness in any of its capacities, I urge you to check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness website and get yourself educated on the facts of mental illness and do what you can to help those suffering find a way home. A way to peace.
When I heard the news of Robin William's passing, all I could do was cry and understand because I have been there too. I know how close I've been to feeling his struggle and how his path could very well have been mine.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.