Depression and Suicide- My Two Cents

13 Aug

Man, this has been a rough week and it’s only Wednesday. I’ve been meaning to post an update for a while. I had a post planned about the two vacations I took in July and how different they were from each other and how awesome they both were. I was going to post a whole bunch of pictures from both, too. But composing a photo/travel post takes time, something that’s always a precious commodity around here.

And now there’s this week with lots of shitty things happening around the world. I debated for a while whether to post about one in particular. I feel like there isn’t much more to add to the conversation at this point that hasn’t already been said. And I hesitate to post because I don’t want to cash in on something public and make it about me. It had nothing to do with me.

And yet, it did. The news about Robin Williams knocked me flat, made me cry, upset me, got me angry, and deeply affected me.

My first reaction was ‘How could Mr. Keating do that?’ Because that’s the first role I always think of him in – and my favorite. O captain, my captain. Carpe diem, boys. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary. (And, this desk set wants to fly. ❤ you too, RSL.) It wasn’t rational, at all, but my first thought was ‘How could Mr. Keating do that when he was so devastated when Neil died?’

It’s hard to separate a public personality from the personas they portray, especially when they put so much of themselves into every performance. And I know that Robin Williams wasn’t Mr. Keating, any more than he was an alien, a genie, a robot, Peter Pan, Armand Goldman (Col-man? Or Gold-man?), Sean McGuire, Adrian Cronauer, or Patch Adams.

Even when I reconciled myself to it, I still grieved. The same way I grieve when anyone commits suicide. And this is where the getting angry part comes in. Because someone inevitably says “Oh, if only they knew how much they were loved,” or some variation. “If only they loved themselves as much as everyone else did.” Both statements seem to imply that a person who commits suicide after suffering from depression was incapable of either giving or receiving love.

This statement makes me angry on two levels. It makes me angry for the person who committed suicide. Even though you suffer from depression, you can still give and receive love. You don’t lose the knowledge that other people love you when you’re depressed. It’s that, at your deepest, darkest times, when you’re stuck in the bottom of a dark hole, or at the bottom of the ocean, one of two things happens.

1) You rationalize that love away. You tell yourself, “That person only loves me because they have to. They’re my parent/sibling/second cousin once removed. If they really knew me, the real me, the deep dark parts of me, they wouldn’t love me.” Or you tell yourself, “Yes, I know that person loves me. But I suffer from depression, and I don’t deserve that love.” You are afraid, terribly afraid, of dragging that person down with you, and you think they would be better off without you.

Or 2) You don’t lose the knowledge, but you can’t hear it. You’ve been suffering from chronic depression, on and on, all your life. Or most of your life. Or some of your life. But you’ve had at least one clinical depression. With each episode of serious depression, your chance of experiencing another episode of depression increases by 16%. (I don’t know how to add a footnote, but I can provide a citation for this if necessary.) As Winston Churchill famously described it, it’s a black dog that follows you. For life. And every time you manage to crawl out of a deep dark depression hole, it’s with the knowledge that there’s a big chance you’ll end up there again at some point in your life. 

This, to put it mildly, gets exhausting. You get so sick of seeing that black dog. You think, “Didn’t I just get rid of you?” Or you fall into the hole, and think, “Again?! How long am I going to be stuck down here this time?!” 

For many people, at some point, enough is enough. They are tired of holes, of black dogs. They know that people love them. They love the people in their lives. But it’s just too painful to keep fighting the same battle over and over again.

This is not to say that this is the right choice. I am just trying to explain why it’s insulting to blame it on not knowing how much people love you.

There’s a second reason that statement is insulting. It’s when you carry it out to its logical conclusion that it becomes a real slap in the face to other people – the survivors. The family members, the friends. I have had the anguish of going to the wake of a mentor and friend who committed suicide. If someone had said “If only he knew how much people loved him” to me, what message does that imply to me? Simple: that it’s my fault for not telling him that I loved him. He didn’t know how much he meant to me! If I had only told him, maybe he’d still be here, cracking jokes and announcing “This is Fight Club!” to a new generation of law students! It’s bullshit. And it’s hurtful bullshit. Please, if you’re ever at the wake or funeral of someone who committed suicide, please stop yourself from saying “If only he/she knew how much people loved him.” Whether you mean to or not, you’re putting the blame on the surviving family and friends, and that’s just not fair.

Depression and suicide are not caused by a lack of love. Depression is caused by a combination of chemical imbalances in the brain, genetics, and just plain shitty life experiences. And it comes in lots of different flavors and varieties, too! Manic depression, chronic depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder… it’s different for everyone who experiences it, and everyone needs a slightly different approach.

Meds can help. Therapy can help. Love can help. But remember, before you judge someone who committed suicide too harshly, the 16% statistic. They’ve been battling this a long time, over and over. They might have masked it with humor, or tried to drown it in alcohol and/or drugs. But they were warriors who fought a hard battle, and they deserve respect for fighting it as long as they did, and as well as they did.

And that’s why, when Mr. Keating died, I fell apart. Because I’m fighting that battle too. And he was, and will always be, my captain.

Whew, that was a heavy load off my chest. Here’s a picture from each vacation, to cheer you up.

Vacation One

Vacation One

Vacation Two

Vacation Two

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2 Responses to “Depression and Suicide- My Two Cents”

  1. Susan August 13, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

    Well said. I don’t think anyone has put it more succinctly. Thank you. There are also some days where we know how much we are loved but it just doesn’t seem to matter because the war is not being won. Sigh.

  2. LAClancy August 14, 2014 at 11:05 am #

    You do such a wonderful job of explaining something that is too hard to explain and that in itself is a part of the bigger problem. I do want you to know that even though I’m not in your life every day, that I do love you. There I’ve told you. 😉 Thank you for putting your struggle out there. Maybe it will one day help someone.

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