Early this morning, the world lost a famous, beloved actor and comedian.
I know everyone is probably writing about Robin Williams’ suicide, and this won’t just be another eulogy. I’m using it as a segue to talk about something that’s been trying to get out on paper, as it were, for a good while now. It’s a touchy subject, and one that many, if not most people, misunderstand to varying degrees.
More specifically, suicide.
Now, when most people hear “depression”, their mind automatically goes to emotional sadness, able to be relieved by “thinking happy thoughts” or “staying positive”.
And this is so, so very wrong, that I literally laugh when I hear people say it. I laugh in their faces, no matter who they are.
There are so many topics I could hit on that have to do with depression, so I think I’ll split up my informational rant into a blog series. Tonight, I’m just going to talk about suicide.
People say that suicide is the most selfish thing someone could ever do. Their argument is that why, if the person was loved and wanted, and had a place in this world, would he not want to push through a little bit of sadness in order to be a father, a brother, a friend?
And honestly I can see how someone can have that point of view… if they’re totally ignorant of what depression is.
If you are one of these people and I offend you with this post, good. I am not sorry. You need to learn that you’re only making things worse by treating depressed people as if they’re idiots who never thought “Oh, why don’t I just choose to be happy?” Uh, yeah, we tried that, thanks.
(sorry, just had to say that before going any further)
If your leg had cancer, and that cancer was spreading, and growing more unbearably painful every day, chemotherapy was unsuccessful, and painkillers stopped working, you would probably want to have your leg amputated, or else the painful cancer would keep on spreading until it killed you.
Would that be selfish?
Now, is it such a far stretch of the imagination to think that depression is sort of the same thing?
A depressed person is constantly weighted down with thoughts of inadequacy, powerful doubts about himself, his future, his abilities, and especially his worth and the love that other people have for him. It grows so heavy that he doesn’t feel he’ll be able to stand up for another moment under the mental weight.
But he does. He does it because there are people counting on him, and he can’t give up or he’ll let them down. He’s already enough of a letdown just in the fact that he exists; if he quit existing, he’d be even worse.
Then those thoughts start to twist and turn, until instead of saying “I’m a letdown if I die”, they whisper: “I’m a letdown if I remain alive to burden these people any longer.”
Everyone knows about the theory of heart knowledge and head knowledge. But never is it more real than when one is going through deep depression.
One can know in his head that his wife loves him. It’s a fact, and who can argue with facts?
But his heart doesn’t feel it. All he feels is an all-consuming emptiness that’s eating him alive, taking pleasure and joy and even the ability to focus or take an interest in something away.
Depression steals everything. Sometimes even the victim’s life.
So the man cuts. He cuts because he needs to feel something, anything. Or because he feels he’s a horrible person and should be punished, and no one else will do it for him. Or because it will distract him from the pain of his emotions, and the thoughts chipping away slowly at his will to live.
He cuts in order to survive one more day.
But after a while, cutting doesn’t help anymore. It doesn’t distract him, no matter how deep he goes. But the urge never stops, never lets up – and with every effort to avoid the temptation, it grows stronger.
God, why can’t I just snap out of this? the man thinks.
Then his tortured mind replies: It’s time for you to go.
No, he tells it at first. No. I have a family.
Your family doesn’t need you. Did you see the way your sister looked at you yesterday? Can you even imagine her crying if you died?
And so on and so forth, until the man finally jumps off a bridge just to shut his mind up.
Depression is a disease. It is treatable for some people – some experience amazing improvement through simply taking a daily antidepressant, maybe in combination with seeing a therapist or counselor.
But we have not yet come up with ways to treat the worse cases. The cases wherein any form of conventional treatment simply makes the patient worse rather than better. In these cases, the patient will usually pretend to be better just to avoid further “help”.
I believe that someday, we will have a much better understanding of depression and how to treat it. But not if people keep treating it like a non-issue, or pretending it doesn’t exist, or what’s worse, acting like the sufferer is selfish or over-dramatic.
Wise up and see depression for what it is: a non-discriminating, rapacious, omnivorous cancer of the mind that scars, destroys, and kills.
Suicide is a choice, yes. A suicidally depressed person makes the choice between life and death. But take it from someone who knows: it’s really nowhere near as simple as one choice.
Thank you for your time.