Depression is a Disease, Not a Choice

I know this is a blog for infertility and miscarriage. I know that talking about Robin Williams and the cause of death may seem off-topic to you. And if talk of depression, suicide, self-harm, or anything similar could be triggering or upsetting to you, read no further. Otherwise, please hear what I have to say.

Note: I am open to healthy debate and discussion about mental health issues in the US, or around the world. However, please know that if your comment is in any way rude or destructive to the cause, it will be deleted without incident. My blog, my rules. If you have nothing constructive to say, don’t say anything at all.

Last night, upon hearing the news of Robin Williams’ death, I cried. I cried as though I had lost a family member. I cried the way I’m sure millions who didn’t know him personally cried, just because he was that type of celebrity. He was real, he was warm, he was kind, he was funny, he was honest. He wasn’t the kind of actor/comedian you looked at on shows or in the movies or on the stage and thought, “That guy’s probably an asshole in real life.”

I remember watching his “Live on Broadway” show on DVD over, and over, and over, and over with my best friends when we were teenagers. We would quote lines from it everywhere: in class, at lunch, when we went out at night, when we stayed in munching on chips and drinking beers. I remember seeing him live, shortly after his heart-surgery. And I remember when George Carlin died suddenly, only months after I saw him live, and I remember saying, “The day Robin Williams dies is going to be a sad, sad day in history, too.” And I wasn’t being morbid, I was being sincere: everyone dies eventually, and thinking that it would eventually happen to him made my heart heavy.

But if someone had asked me back then how I would think he’d die, I wouldn’t have said suicide. Old age? Definitely, and hopefully. Overdose on alcohol or cocaine, or both? Sad, but probable. Williams’ problems were well-known to the world; he made no efforts in hiding his troubled past.

But suicide?

No. Never.

And that’s just the point: there are so many people out there, famous or not, that are hurting more than many of us can understand.

I’ve seen some of the nasty comments that have surfaced in light of this news. Thousands are calling out Williams as selfish (and other, worse words) for taking his own life. He had money. He had fame. He had millions of people around the globe that loved him and worshipped him and look up to him. How dare he do this to his family, his friends, his fans?

Depression is not a choice. It is a disease.

Money doesn’t buy happiness. Fame doesn’t buy happiness. Even love doesn’t buy happiness. Many people around the globe don’t seem to understand this. A person commits suicide and another’s first thoughts are “How could they do this to the people they love? They had everything, why would they do this? How selfish, how heartless they were to do such a thing.”

These aren’t the questions we should be asking, at all, but rather—”What can we as a society do to better help those struggling with mental health diseases?”

I haven’t talked about it on this blog, but I have been struggling with depression for a little over ten years now—and it started when I was a teenager. Looking back on it now, I see the errors in some of my judgements, but it’s because I’m beyond it. I’ve seen the other side of the coin, and I have reason. I have clarity. But that’s the problem. When you’re in it, you can’t see past it. Whether you look back on it and shake your head in disbelief at how silly you think you were, or look back and say “Shit, that was some seriously fucked up stuff I was going through”—it doesn’t matter how it appears after the fact. It’s how it appears when it’s all around you.

I withdrew from my friends and family. I took to self-injury for the better part of two years. I eventually turned to drinking. My spiral out of control at age 18 ended with an attempted suicide and an overnight stay in the psychiatric ward of my local hospital. That, for me, was rock bottom. That is the worst it has ever been.

And my life got better over the years. I reconnected with friends and family—those that I knew were good for me, anyway. I found love. I worked hard to make something of myself. I busted my ass through the rest of my undergraduate stay and brought my pathetic 2.3 GPA at the end of that rocky freshman year to a solid 3.3 by the time I graduated.

But I can’t say I haven’t been depressed since that night at the hospital. Though it has been years, I can’t say that night was the last time I hurt myself. And though it has been years, I can’t say I haven’t thought about it.

Recently, over the last nearly two years, my husband and I have struggled with recurrent losses and infertility. We’ve lost two babies. I have lost myself in ways I didn’t think was possible. I have fallen into deep depressions on and off since last January, every time struggling to get back out, every time struggling to get to the other side. Thankfully, I have a support system in place. I have tools I’ve learned from years of therapy that I try to use when I feel myself slipping.

When people think of depression and just want people suffering from it to “snap out of it,” I get so angry. I ask to you take a look at my life. Do you think I want to feel empty and hopeless sometimes? Do you think I enjoyed not being able to find the pleasure in the things that used to make me happy? It is not a choice to be depressed. If I had a choice, I would do anything to not feel this way.

Just because someone is in the spotlight for what seems like 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it doesn’t mean you know them. It doesn’t mean you know their struggles. You might see them on the red carpet, flashing a million-dollar smile, and they might be feeling more alone than ever. When someone is seriously depressed, they can’t find the joy in things they used to love to do. That is, in fact, a symptom: losing interest in things you otherwise found enjoyable.

I am not defending the fact that Robin Williams committed suicide. I would never, ever condone that type of action. I regret ever having attempted it myself, even to this day. But I am rising up against those who are quick to place blame, who are quick to say that a man who “had everything” had no reason to be so sincerely sad. We as a society need to put more effort into helping people with mental health diseases. I feel like at least once a year, we are reminded of this—celebrity suicides, mass murders, random shootings.

When will we all take the hint?

24 thoughts on “Depression is a Disease, Not a Choice

  1. “When you are in it, you can’t see past it.” I think this by far is the part that people who have never truly suffered through a depressive episode can ever understand. Brave post m’dear.

    • I’ve been there. Believe me. And a lot of people worry that as soon as you admit depression, you get pills pushed on you or whatever. But there are so many options out there (maybe not as accessible as they should be…), it’s all about finding what is right for you. Be it medication, talk therapy, a mix of the two, or other methods.

      Never be afraid to ask for help. ❤

  2. I agree with you. People don’t understand unless they’ve been there. I’m not saying what he did was right but I can certainly have mercy on him because depression can just totally block all clarity from your mind. I’m sorry that he didn’t seek the help he needed. Thank you for writing this.

  3. Thank you for posting this. I completely agree with everything you said. I too battled with severe depression after we lost our son. It was only because of my amazing husband that I pulled out of it. He made appointments for us to see a grief therapist together and then eventually I went on my own too. I was fortunate to have many people in my life who reached out to me to see how I was doing, but there were others in my life who stopped calling and talking to me. I think some people think the best thing to do is leave someone who is depressed alone, but it really isn’t. So thank you again for posting this and making people aware.

  4. Pingback: Ye Old Obligatory Post | When Dreams Become Rainbows

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