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Depression Is No Laughing Matter

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The world is in shock over Robin Williams' death. It's hard to believe he committed suicide. Or, is it? The brilliant actor and comedian candidly discussed dealing with addiction and depression throughout his life. Our society still stigmatizes depression, a mental illness that, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), affects 1 in 10 adults.

I've struggled with situational depression since my life took a turn seven years ago. In a toxic relationship with a man who has narcissistic personality disorder, I desperately needed to get out. Thankfully, with the help of a great therapist, I did. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I lost my social circle in the process. As a member of Toastmasters, I met many friends -- including the man I had to distance myself from completely. Although I told a few confidants, I did not publicly announce my imminent absence. I couldn't be cajoled into changing my mind. When I stopped attending meetings in the past (the longest absence was six months) -- futile attempts to stay away from my trigger (the toxic guy) -- friends who knew why I left begged me to come back. This time, I had to love myself enough to stick to the plan. I was surprised by the lack of calls and concern as the days, weeks, and months passed. I needed to be cared for cared and connected to people I loved, respected and considered family. I never imagined I would lose lifelong friends. Deeply hurt, I didn't understand why this happened.

I went from being actively involved in weekly Toastmasters meetings for nine years, celebrating with friends -- at birthday dinners, Barnes & Noble (including my book signing for Naked Desires), and parties -- to being completely alone. I naively thought it wouldn't matter that I left the club. True friendships survive job loss, divorce, even relocation. I didn't move. I made a necessary, traumatic life change. I tried, on a few occasions (after a long time passed), to rejoin my old social circle. Ignored and merely tolerated, I took the advice of the only local friend from our circle who stayed in my life: I stopped attending altogether. My friend witnessed -- and was shocked by -- how poorly I'd been treated. We both knew I deserved much better. In addition to being shunned, a dear friend (also a beloved member of our group) died of cancer, my best girlfriend moved and I fought to manage my mom's Alzheimer's disease. My car got stolen four years into solitary life, my "new normal." Moving on wasn't easy.

I felt abandoned, alone, betrayed. I wanted friends to talk to and go out with once in awhile. Taking my therapist's advice, I joined an anxiety/depression group. Willing to give it a try even though I didn't have anxiety, and wasn't sure if the term 'depressed' fit, I left after a few weeks. How ironic that members suffering from anxiety and depression were prohibited from contacting each other outside of the meetings. This didn't make sense! My therapist agreed. I took a codependency class. I learned a lot and accepted responsibility for my behavior. I vowed to enforce boundaries and avoid one-sided relationships. I attempted to rebuild my social life. I started a blog. I volunteered at an elementary school for five years, working with a wonderful, supportive friend. I loved helping the kids; it gave me a reason to get out of bed. I joined women's groups. I attended caregiver support groups. Last year, when I needed a boost -- and a reason to get out of the house -- ballroom dance classes saved my life. I had a blast! Unfortunately, the studio closed. I'm all by myself again -- dealing with it as best I can.

I've lived with loneliness for many years. Sometimes it gets better -- especially when a new adventure or friendship -- appears promising. I've cried many nights, not knowing how much longer I could go on. I contemplated the point of living -- but not because I feel worthless. I like who I am, appreciate my talents and people enjoy my company. It's daunting to reconstruct my social life. I'm an extrovert, a social butterfly who talks to everyone. But, that's not enough. The challenge is connecting with people who want to be actively involved in my life. In the meantime, Facebook friends are my lifeline. I'm thankful for my resilience, my family and friends and my SDR advocacy work. My plight with loneliness may come as a surprise because of my bubbly, positive personality. Don't be fooled. It can happen to anyone at any time.

Depression -- severe or situational -- is no laughing matter. RIP, Robin Williams. The English teacher he portrayed in Dead Poets Society, one of my favorite movies, said it best: "We're not laughing at you -- we're laughing near you."