Editor’s Note: Today Is Bell Let’s Talk Day, which is a national day in Canada for destigmatizing conversations about mental health. As a nod in solidarity to a great cause, we’re republishing this piece today from Stef Williams few years ago as a reminder that mental health is essential to overall health.
“Just get over it.”
“You have to learn to deal with it, Stef.”
“I don’t get it.”
“You’re being ridiculous.”
The number of “answers” I got when I first began battling with depression several years ago from my family were enlightening. It was a condition, a situation that was incredibly hard to talk about with people I cared about.
“You’re so pretty and you have so much to be happy about,” my sister would say.
“You’re miserable all the time. I just don’t get it,” my mom said. “I don’t want to talk to you when you’re like this.”
I had seen a therapist and told him candidly about how I was feeling after a particularly hard end to a relationship with a guy. Lost. Embarrassed. Hopeless. I would wake up in the morning and hope to get hit by a cab. I would go to sleep at night and pray not to wake up. I would lay in bed and bargain with a God I didn’t even believe in that if he killed me, he could give all the years I might have had left to a child with cancer.
When I finally gave up on relying on God to answer that prayer, I tied a noose with a belt around a pipe that ran through my new bedroom in my apartment and stood on the window ledge below it. I stood there trying to find the nerve to follow through for about twenty minutes. And then I untied the noose and laid on my floor crying for about an hour.
It was not bravery or selflessness that made me decide not to do it. It was a deeper fear of the unknown that beat out my fear of life. I was lucky.
Shepard Smith, a news reporter on Fox News, took everything I knew about depression — about my own battle with depression — and, in the wake of Robin Williams’ own tragic suicide, made it seem irrelevant.
“It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?” Smith said. “You could love three little things (his children) so much, watch them grow, they’re in their mid-20s, and they’re inspiring you, and exciting you, and they fill you up with the kind of joy you could never have known.” “And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it.”
“Whatever the reason is.”
The reason Robin Williams took his own life was not cowardice. It wasn’t some arbitrary, throw-away moment of weakness. It wasn’t a “fit.” It was the tragic result to a lifetime battle with a disease most people can never understand because they have not dealt with it. But if you listen to Shep Smith, you would believe it was Robin Williams’ own selfish fear that lead him to abandon his children.
How incredibly irresponsible (though entirely unsurprising) of Fox News to dismiss the years of torment and depression Williams went through, battled through, survived, to conclude his life was ended in a “fit of depression” that resulted from being “such a coward.”
Smith is a perfect example of why it is so hard for people suffering from severe depression to seek help: So many people like Smith (or my mother, for example) can not comprehend the difference between being sad and being clinically depressed. They believe that somehow those suffering from depression should just “buck up”, “be grateful,” or “cheer up.” They believe these thoughts are self induced, self controlled. They can’t for one moment comprehend the idea of a feeling so deep, so dark, so all encompassing that it could wipe out every good moment of a person’s life. So they dismiss these feelings and assume those of us who suffer from depression are just weaker versions of themselves. And that’s what we’re told when we first make the decision to admit we are suffering with depression. That we are broken and weak, not people who do not suffer with depression. That we are ungrateful for all the good in our lives. That other people get “sad” too but no one else lets it destroy their lives. The guilt and shame that can sometimes be dealt to a person who openly admits they are suffering from depression can be worse than the depression itself.
I’m just shocked Smith would do it posthumously.
I was lucky enough that I battled back and found solutions and treatments to my depression. I am lucky that in those few moments between the decision to step off the ledge with the belt around my neck or without it, I chose the latter. I am lucky that I wake up every day now feeling what I describe as normal. But I am not brave because I was lucky. And Williams is not a coward because he made a different, sadder choice.
It’s frightening how quickly people can be to dismiss mental illness like depression as some throw away emotion we all deal with when the truth is most people thankfully have no clue how terrible depression can be to battle with, especially when you don’t know what to do or who to turn to. Smith should be ashamed of himself for becoming one of those countless people who belittle’s the absolute pain and tragedy of depression and acts as though his lack of suffering from such a disease makes him somehow stronger or braver than those who battle with suicidal thoughts. The answer isn’t demeaning those thoughts, mocking them, or belittling them. The answer is addressing and acknowledging them, along with finding ways to combat them. Some people find it impossible to believe a man who was so talented at making others laugh could feel this horrible inside, just like my sister found it so hard to understand that “the skinny one” felt so terrible about herself all the time.
Shame is not the answer to depression. Compliments are not the answer to depression. Understanding and the ability to have an open heart and open mind to the things you might not “get” is the only way people with depression can ever begin to deal with it. People suffering from depression need open arms who are willing to try to understand them, not change them right away. Only then do we find the world safe enough to discuss our battles and find ways to beat them, together.
People ask why I am so vocal about depression, so quick to admit my own suicide attempt, so unashamed to discuss my emotional and mental “dirty laundry” openly. The main reason will always be because I believe knowing others suffer from depression (and succeed in overcoming it) can be the best influence to asking for help. If you asked anyone who has met me, I don’t paint a picture of someone who suffers from depression: I seem happy, I’m smiling, laughing, joking. I write humor. But the truth is, so many different kinds of people suffer from this disease that I think it’s important to be out there and known so others who suffer know they are not alone.
Asking for help is hard. Explaining your situation can be difficult. But finding a friend, family member, therapist or in my case, general practitioner, who listens to you can be the first step in finding relief . My goal is to let people know there is no shame in suffering and no shame in reaching out for help.
Sad woman photo via Shutterstock
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