The Darkness of Depression: It’s Not “Selfish”


Photo courtesy of The NY Times.

Ever since I heard of the death of Robin Williams, I’ve been shocked. More than that, I’ve been dumbfounded by the reactions on social media regarding Robin Williams’ suicide. Truthfully, I’ve been enraged at those who have insisted his suicide was a “selfish act.”

Though it hurts my heart to know Robin lived in the frightening and unrelenting darkness of depression, I can’t even begin to call him selfish. Doing so would make me sound like quite the hypocrite. Truthfully, I have been struggling with depression for years. In fact, last fall, I fell into the deepest and darkest hole of depression I have ever experienced. Though I had faced depressive episodes in the past, nothing was as bad as the mental state I found myself in during the first semester of my senior year in college.

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Last August, when the depression began, I wasn’t convinced it was depression at first. I thought maybe it was just sadness, especially since I had been off my antidepressants for about a year, and I felt okay. However, as the weeks passed, the “sadness” became overwheming and constant. I didn’t start to realize I might be having a major depressive episode until my dad saw me cry for what seemed like days and then gently asked me whether I would consider getting back on my antidepressants. Until that moment, I didn’t think anyone really saw what was going on with me.

Until that moment, I hadn’t really even seen myself. What I continued to think was sadness was actually something else entirely. Besides the overall feeling of sadness and the crying spells, my life began to feel more dull. I started to lose interest in things that I’d previously enjoyed doing, like photography and drives on the parkway. I found it hard to make it to class, much less even attempt to get out of bed. It just all felt too hard. Upon waking in the mornings, I’d open my eyes to a gray world that no longer brought me happiness. Though I did still get my schoolwork done, my love of school was no longer there. I felt down constantly, wanting nothing more than to hide in my room under my covers with the lights off. I got to the point where all I was even able to see was my depression. It was everywhere, enveloping me, surrounding me, causing me to feel trapped. As things got worse, my friends drifted, not knowing what to do to make me feel better. When they asked how they could help, I shrugged my shoulders. What was I supposed to tell my friends if I didn’t know how I could help myself? The frustration of not being able to just pull myself out of the depression hole was incredibly hard on me, and I knew at that point I needed to talk to someone.

During this time, I was seeing a therapist, and I continued to see her even while depressed. She helped me to understand I was going through something not many people would understand if they hadn’t been through it. However, I was still sad because it felt like some good friends of mine had abandoned me during my lowest point. Conflicted, I got angry, not knowing why I had ever considered them close friends in the first place. Though I did later mend those friendships once I was able to get back on my antidepressants and get my depression under control, in the moment, I thought I’d burned bridges for good. Despite feeling like so many of my friends had left, I did have my dad and one of my friends.

My dad was a huge help during my major depressive episode. Thankfully, talking with my dad about what I was going through was easy because he and I have always been close. More than that, he was able to empathize with me because he’s dealt with depression as well. Honestly, just having someone who was actually able to understand the emotions I was feeling helped so much. While talking to him, I didn’t get responses full of worry and pity. Instead, my dad explained just how much he could relate to what I was facing, and that’s exactly what I needed. I needed someone who was able to nod and say: Yes, there were times when I thought about death too.

My friend was also a huge help, and I know, without a doubt, I wouldn’t have made it through my depressive episode if she hadn’t been there for me. She was the one friend I had who responded just like I needed her too. She stuck around, no matter how much I cried. She spent time talking about the people who needed me, reminding me of the things I had to live for. More than anything, though, she called me every single day. Despite being a working wife as well as a mother to a newborn plus plenty more obligations, she called me every day, and we also texted throughout the day. She was concerned about me, and that mattered. She never settled for the times when she’d ask how I was doing and I’d reply with a simple “fine,” as I’d try to not think about it. She’d lower her voice and say, “How are you really feeling?” With that, I broke down in tears, talking of how alone, sad, and frustrated I felt. I talked about how I just wanted it all to stop because I couldn’t stand living in such a frightening place anymore. I told her how I’d hidden in my closet all day with the door closed, curled up into a ball, not getting out except to go to the bathroom. Even after releasing all my pain and anguish onto her, my friend did what no one (but my dad) had been willing to do: she sat with me, doing nothing but listening, and it helped. It kept me grounded. It kept me from listening to the drifting thoughts that talked of not wanting to live anymore. It kept things at bay until I was able to face the fact that I needed to get back on my antidepressants and find the right dose to help me feel better.

So, what I mean to say is, depression is an incredibly deep and dark place, and no one is immune. Declaring that someone is “selfish” if they end up committing suicide as a result of depression is hurtful, especially to those who are in constant battles with the disease. In fact, I assume many of those making that remark cannot even begin to imagine what it’s like to live with depression. Though it is sad Robin Williams may have believed suicide was his only escape, I know enough to say I can see how he could have reached such a conclusion.

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What has helped me to not fall into a similar trap has been SUPPORT. Depression is a lonely world to live in, and so many people who struggle with mental illness might feel too ashamed to seek help. Though it makes me sad, the stigma of mental illness is a very real problem. However, sharing personal stories is a start. After all, we’ve got to start somewhere, right?