"You will have bad times, but they will always wake you up to the stuff you weren't paying attention to." -- Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting)
This week our global community lost someone so very special. Actor and comedian Robin Williams has made me laugh (hard, very hard) throughout my life and I'm sure yours too. The thing is we never know the interior battles others face. There are things we can't taste, or touch or see. There are also things that people hide for many reasons in total silence.
I'm so very sorry for Williams and his family. Suicide is the most terrible thing you can do to yourself and the people who love you. It's possible to forget that anyone could possibly like you at all, let alone love and need you around, which becomes more and more alien in that horrible illness. Depression is by far the worst suffering I've known.
Like Williams, I've struggled with chronic depression for many years, which made it hard to experience any sort of pleasure. I felt like I was wading in a very rough river, the water forcing me under to the dirt. The river kept me under for years. In fact, I was suicidal at one point. I could envision the world without me. And it wasn't so scary.
Depression runs in my family, and it wasn't long before I realized that this wasn't seasonal. This wasn't a phase I was going to come out of. This was chemical. Many years went by before I did anything. Two years ago was my lowest point. I wasn't writing, I was gaining weight, no exercise. I hated everything and my social life existed in this perpetual state of zero gravity. I was tired of being tired. I was tired of letting an illness control me, define my life. I'd put off going to see a doctor for a long time now because I was scared to be confirmed as someone with a mental illness. But, would you not go to the doctor if you had the flu? So I forced myself to go to the doctor. "I'm ashamed I'm not strong enough," I said to the doctor. The burden of resistance was on my back. I cried throughout the exchange.
Getting to the point, awareness is the first step to betterment. I've been on a regimen of weekly therapy, medication, and exercise. I forced myself, I encouraged myself to get better. I researched depression and worked with my doctor to get on a path to recovery. I never miss a therapy session. I never miss a dosage of my medication. It's about self-care. I learned that while I might not ever kick depression, that I could manage it. That I could keep disciplined and dedicated to my recovery.
And so my life has changed drastically. I've published two books, The Dark Cave Between My Ribs and Indie Authors Naked. Secret: I'm writing two more. I started my author blog on my personal site and on The Huffington Post. I also started writing a column with IndieReader.com. I traveled to London to read from my poetry collection. I published more poems, wrote more, freelanced and mentored new writers.
I made a promise to myself: I come first. Always. That if I'm not taking care of myself, that if I'm not making a daily commitment to love myself and to remain committed to wellness, that nothing will change. I can't go backwards because I'm unavailable to go backwards. I'm not ashamed that I have a mental illness. And I don't believe it defines who I am. It's one part of me that showed me I'm strong. It showed me how much I love myself. It takes work (like everything that matters in life).
I want to live. I want to love. I pushed myself even during the days when I stayed in the dark, under the sheets, crying for hours in shame and loss of my spirit.
What I've learned though, is that it's OK to ask for help. Believe me, people will be happy you did.
Please reach out to those in need. You can call the Suicide Prevention Crisis Services 24-hour facility with a hotline at (716) 834-3131, or if you are personally struggling you can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at http://www.afsp.org/.
And so, I'll leave you with one of my favorite Williams' quotes. Because it's true, we have a purpose. We are purposeful and awesome. I mean, just look around. Life is pretty amazing.
"I believe in destiny. There must be a reason that I am as I am. There must be." -- Robin Williams (Bicentennial Man)