Yesterday evening I heard that Robin Williams was dead, reportedly from a successful suicide attempt. A lot of other people had heard too and my Twitter feed was full of comments and expressions of sympathy. Many people said many wise things, but one stuck with me. It said: Depression lies.
I have been fortunate. In the 35 years I've been alive, I've only had serious depression three times.
First, my last semester of my sophomore year in college.
Second, my last semester of my senior year in college.
Third, during and following my mother's struggle with metastatic melanoma.
Increased mindfulness, the recognition of stress as a key trigger, and a better relationship with food and sleep (as in making sure I get the right amounts of each at regular intervals) have drastically reduced my tendency toward depression. But I've been in deep and I know that it's always there, waiting for the opportunity to sink its teeth in once more. And that's a scary and bewildering thing because sometimes I don't know why I get depressed.
However, one thing I can say for certain is that depression lies.
Don't confuse this with: depression is a lie. (More about this in a moment.)
The black hole-in-my-chest, white noise buzz that cuts you off from the folks around you, even when you're sitting right next to them? That's very real.
The overwhelming urge to sleep because anything and everything else is too hard? The feeling that even the thought of doing anything (including pushing the covers back) is exhausting? That's real.
But the things depression whispers to you, the thoughts it feeds into that crushing void, those are lies.
Here are some of the lies depression has told me.
That I'm a horrible person.
That ultimately I just push people away.
That wanting to be happy is selfish and greedy.
That I'm stupid.
That I'm unattractive.
That I'm lazy.
That my goals are silly and meaningless. (Really, you want to write novels and there are people out there dying of Ebola?)
That I'm worthless.
That I'm awkward and talk funny and too fast.
That I have no sense of humor.
That I'm not compassionate.
That I'm arrogant.
And, this is the big lie that is the deeper lie beneath all the others, that this feeling and hopelessness is all my fault.
Of the three times I've been seriously depressed, the first time was the worst. There's some part of me that would like to say that's because I've gotten better at handling things. (Mindfulness, being aware of stress, eating right, etc. All good things. All things that help manage the tendency. But they are just tools, not a "cure" or overall solution.) But it's not just that I'm more aware now of the things that can trigger depressive episodes or that I've gotten better at "coping". The reason the first time was the worst was because I lacked a support system.
Don't get me wrong, I had some good friends who were trying to help as best they knew how. I had parents who would have done more if I had told them just how hard I was struggling. (Which I didn't because I was afraid they wouldn't understand.)
I also was surrounded by people who had never dealt with depression and, like far too many well-meaning folks, thought I must be doing something wrong. (This is a problem I see a lot, but it's especially prevalent in the Christian community where the idea that "Jesus will make you happy" has deep roots. I do not disagree that faith has a lot of meaning and provide a lot of comfort to certain folks. Nor will I deny that faith has supported me personally in many circumstances. But the idea that "If you're a 'real' Christian you wouldn't be depressed" is a poisonous lie that even the most well-intentioned folks spew out.)
Which brings me back to the Big Lie. Depression likes to tell me that I am the problem. Sure, maybe there are tough things going on in my life, but there are folks out there in tougher situations and they aren't having to fight to get out of bed. Yeah, maybe my mom just died because cancer ate her brain, but I was 27 and not 5 and I had a chance to say I love you. and Good-bye.
The problem, depression likes to whisper in my ear, is me. And that first time I went under, I was surrounded by people who seemed to think the same thing.
Here are some of the things they said to me.**
"If you would just stop moping around you wouldn't be depressed."
"Maybe if you stopped wearing black all the time, you wouldn't be depressed."
"I always find comfort reading the Bible/going to church/praying every day. Have you been reading the Bible/going to church/praying every day?"
"That music you listen to is awful. Try something more upbeat."
"Maybe you need a boyfriend."
"You watch a lot of R rated movies. Maybe you should stop."
"Your friends are weird. Maybe you should join X social group."
The Big Lie was everywhere. It said that if I would just hang out with different people, listen to different music, dress differently, talk differently, be differently than what I was, then I would be happy. And if I didn't want to do all those things, then I had only myself to blame for my unhappiness.
It was a lie, but I believed it. And I struggled.
Because here's the other thing about when you're depressed. Everything is a big deal. It's like being in junior high and high school again where it's all drama and not eating the right thing at lunch might mean you don't get invited to that party this weekend. It's all bull shit and the connections depression makes between one thing and another are just more lies, but it doesn't feel that way. There is no way to distinguish the fact that scuffing the toe of your favorite pair of shoes won't actually cause you to lose your job. Depression lies. It tells you that everything hinges on you not fucking something up and when you forget and leave your coffee on the kitchen counter it's OMG! YOU ARE SUCH A LOSER!
But you're not. And I'm not and depression lies and the only thing to do is to remind yourself of the truth, which, in general, is that life is pretty good.
Here are some of the things I remind myself of.
No matter how fucked up things seem, the problems I'm facing are all fixable. (Left the coffee at home? Pick some up on the way downtown. Scuffed my favorite pair of shoes? Maybe it's time to find a new favorite.)
Even when things are really awful, there is still something good to be found in each day. (Some days this is more of a challenge than others. Some days it boils down to "Ice cream for dinner, because grown up." Some days it's just recognizing that no cat has peed on my sheets and I can go straight to bed if I want to.)
Also, the sun came up today!
My cats are butts but they are amusing butts.
My skinny jeans still fit.
AC/DC on the radio is the best! (Especially if it's Thunderstruck.)
And most of all: Depression lies. And no matter how things seem to suck right now, I would hate to do something impulsive*** because of a lie.
Finally, I would like to say that if you are thinking about hurting yourself please talk to someone. These folks are a good place to start: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255
And then, go read this: Matt Fraction - Sorry to put this on you, but I have an honest question
He says a lot about things I don't have any particular experience with and probably a lot better than I say anything. (But with swears. I mean, even more than I do.)
And talk to someone. You are not alone. In fact, you're probably less alone than you could ever imagine. So talk.
*I mention addiction here, because I've seen a lot of the same responses to addiction as I have to depression. Folks who don't know, just don't know and they say some stupid things even when they're well-meaning.
**These are paraphrased, because most of the details are fuzzy, but I am not exaggerating the ludicrous responses I got from folks.
***let me just say, my depression has never made me suicidal. I get very reclusive and listen to Matchbox 20 way too much, but I don't have any desire to end my life so please don't think I'm saying that. Because I'm not.