In light of the recent passing of Robin Williams, a lot of conversation has been happening about depression. Although this post is taking more courage to write than I have ever had to muster, I feel that I must speak out and put a face on this disease. What I am seeing online and in the news is that people are shocked, because the public face of Robin Williams was one of laughter and fun and success. Depressed people can’t possibly be like that, right?
Adrianna Collins is the vice president of Blue Byte Technology Solutions, is the editor-in-chief of WayBetterBlog.com
and is working on her first novel. She’s lived in Elkhart for 18 years and is one of The Elkhart Truth’s community bloggers
. You can read more of her work on her blog, Just Go With It.
Twenty one years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I have suffered from it all of my adult life. It isn’t fun, and it isn’t something I publicly speak about. Only my family and a few very close friends know that I have it. I am extremely good at masking my symptoms when I am in a depressive state. But that doesn’t mean I’m not struggling. Depression is a ghost-like illness. It’s always there in the background, waiting to rear its ugly head. It’s in that small voice I constantly hear in my head, telling me that I cannot succeed, that I have no friends, that I am unlovable. And although I have trained myself to recognize that voice for what it is, that doesn’t mean I am not affected by it.
Depression makes it harder to be successful, but that doesn’t mean highly successful people are immune to depression. I can run my business, manage my employees and my clients, and work a 12-hour day. But where my husband can do these things easily, for me, it’s a mental struggle to maintain a smile on my face and think rationally sometimes. Where healthy people may be proud of their professional accomplishments, my brain constantly tells me that someone else is better qualified and could do the job better than I can. Where most people can shrug off this kind of self-doubt, I become paranoid that my employees and clients can see I am not worthy of their admiration. And that paranoia can lead to stagnation and the inability to return even the most simple of phone calls.
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Depression also takes its toll on your relationships. I find myself building walls around myself, keeping those I love the most at bay. Depression likes to make you believe that you are alone. And I find myself walling myself off from my husband and my children when I am entering a bad phase. And those are the people who can help me the most. Then there are the people who I know I have to avoid when I’m in a depressed state, because they know the buttons to push to send me over the edge, even if they don’t mean to or are unaware of the effects of what they are saying. There is a section of my family that I have put up boundaries with, because they don’t really care to learn about my disease or to be careful with their words. I have come to accept that as their problem, not mine.
I don’t speak publicly about my disease because as a general rule, very well-meaning people can say the most dangerous things. With the Internet and readily available information, everyone thinks he or she is an expert and that he or she has the right to give out free advice. Unless you possess an advance degree in psychology or are a highly trained doctor, please don’t dispense advice on care, treatment options or how to live with depression. It doesn’t help, can be condescending and can sometimes be dangerous to the person you are trying to help. If you know someone who suffers from depression, treat them like a normal human beings and be kind with your words. Don’t be judgmental and NEVER EVER EVER ask them why they can’t just be happy.
I am lucky. My depression is mild, and I have learned ways to deal with it to help me actually be happy 60 percent of the time. And the other 40 percent I have treatments for. Depression manifests itself differently in people. So just because I appear happy and successful, as Robin Williams did, don’t assume that I am cured. Depression is treatable, but it is a life-long battle. One I am determined to win. And to the families of those who have lost loved ones to that battle, you have my heartfelt sympathy, and I wish for an abundance of love and joy to help you recover from your loss.
If you know someone who needs help, please contact your nearest healthcare professional and then offer to accompany him or her to the therapist or doctor. Be supportive, empathetic (even if you don’t understand) and loving. Remind these people that they’re loved, even if they don’t believe you. Make an effort. Save a life.
This will be the only post I will be writing on my mental health. Please be kind in the comments.