So yesterday I found out that Robin Williams died and most likely due to suicide. It was public knowledge that Robin Williams suffered from depression (more specifically bipolar disorder). He had spoken publicly about it. So when the world learned that he most likely committed suicide, I started seeing the typical comments that I always see when this happens like the following….
So sad—too bad he didn’t get help
Jimmy Kimmel’s response was “If you’re sad, tell someone“
And this is what I really want to address today. Because every time something like this happens, people tend to say the same thing. They automatically assume that if someone commits suicide due to depression–they just didn’t utilize the resources around them! That they didn’t get help. That they didn’t reach out. That they didn’t tell someone they had a problem.
Why do people think these things?? Why do they assume this? Is it because deep down inside we need to desperately believe that all things are curable? That everything has an answer? That mental health issues are all in our head and can be fixed with some positive thinking or a prescription?
As a society, we have all around us counselors, therapy and more commercials for depression and bipolar disorder than ever before. And after all, a celebrity has access to all the best resources right?? So how can they not get help if they need it? How can they not find a way to manage this problem?
Here is something that a lot of people apparently do not know. There are certain issues out there that do not have a cure. They cannot be fixed. They are ongoing issues that must be MANAGED. But they do not EVER go away. They reoccur. They cycle. And many are NOT responsive to medication.
We all think that someone who is depressed can just pick from any variety of medications and get happy in 6-8 weeks! After all, that is the time they say it takes for an antidepressant to kick in. Prozac, Latuda, Abilify—-just pick one and get happy. Whats the problem, right??
This is the great myth unfortunately. This is the great lie that is believed by more people than I can count. Many mental health issues are not cured by any of the above medications. In fact, there are some people who have what they call “Treatment Resistant Depression”. It just doesn’t respond well to anything. And then there are some issues that might take someone repeatedly trying different combinations of medications before they find one that can stabilize them.
Do people know this? Are they aware that depression is not a one stop cure? I’m going to say that they probably don’t because every single time someone dies due to suicide they always say…
Why didn’t they get help???
Why didn’t they just tell someone??
Of course there are some people who don’t reach out for help. But I’d venture to say those are in the minority. Most people who suffer with a mental health issue, depression or addiction DO reach out for help. They reach out for help OVER AND OVER AGAIN. They try everything. They try counseling. They try hospitals. They try group meetings. They try medication. They try it all. And then they try it again. And again. Until one day they wake up at 63 years old totally exhausted and most likely find themselves in yet another dark place. And perhaps they just grow tired of trying to get help. Maybe it’s exactly the OPPOSITE of what everyone thinks. Instead of them not seeking help maybe they’ve grown tired OF seeking help. And never getting the help they desperately need.
Someone who doesn’t cycle through manic phases of extreme highs and lows could probably never understand how truly exhausting that is. Someone who has never suffered from clinical depression could never “get” how different it is from being “bummed out” or just in a “bad mood”. It’s not the same thing. And if you live with this issue every day of your life, it has to be managed. That is the difference from being cured. Some things are not cured. They are lived with. They never go away. They get better and worse. And all that can be done is to live with it.
Gee that’s uplifting, right??
I also have heard the comments about his substance abuse. And we all know that alcohol and drugs make depression worse not better. They are depressants. That is what they do by nature. So if you suffer from depression– alcohol or drugs WILL make it worse. So why would anyone that suffers from depression go near them??
As I said above, many times traditional therapy or medication does not help. Or maybe it will help but not for awhile. Maybe the right combination of medication has not been found yet for that individual. Maybe the medication they took for years suddenly stops working. This person could be facing months or years of living with uncontrollable depression now because nothing they are trying is helping them. But you know what will help instantly??
That was always my first drug of choice. When I am deeply depressed and nothing is working—chocolate helps. Chocolate cake. Chocolate pie. Chocolate candy. You name it. Chocolate WORKS. But how much chocolate will it take?? How much food will you have to eat in one sitting to make that black cloud move just a little to the left so that even one ray of sunshine can come through? If you look at my before picture you will see—it takes A LOT of chocolate. SO much that you end up barely able to walk and with so many health problems you are in worse shape than before.
The same is true with alcohol and drugs. You go to them because maybe nothing else is working. And even though you know they are bad for you, you also feel like someone who is in the middle of being tortured. The pain is so great that you can’t take it anymore. So either you have to give up completely OR you have to find something ANYTHING that will ease the pain even a little. Even if that “something” you are choosing is horribly bad for you.
This is the catch 22 many people end up in. They know that substance abuse is bad for them and will ultimately make the depression worse. And by substance I mean any kind of substance be it cocaine or too much chocolate. If you abuse it or use it to ease mental and emotional pain, then it is a temporary fix. But even a temporary fix seems better than endless torture, right?
And this is how many people live. Day in and day out. And it doesn’t matter how successful or how much fame or money you might have. If you wake up every day of your life in dread and fear or a black hole of depression—it is torture. And if you spend your whole life trying to manage an ongoing problem that never seems to go away—it’s tiring. And if you fall into substance abuse to try and self medicate what no doctor has been able to cure—-it makes it worse. And many times you fall prey to it eventually. You fall prey to something you spent your ENTIRE LIFE trying to get help for. Only to then have people say….
Why didn’t he just get help???
I mean if you’re sad….just tell someone
I grew up with a mother who suffered from severe depression and bipolar disorder. Every single person that knew her in her “public life” thought she was one of the most stable, rational, and happy people that they ever met. At work, she was the one that kept the peace. She was the one people went to with their problems. What they didn’t know was that my mother had to go to great efforts to function in her every day life. She would go through cycles of highs and lows. She was on and off medication her entire life. Different types and combinations of medications. She was even hospitalized at one time. She never stopped trying to get help but it was frustrating. Often things would go great for 6 months or a year but then inevitably we would go downhill again. And one of the things that used to drive me crazy was the fact that she would go OFF her medication. Something I also hear very often in the comments section after someone commits suicide
Too bad he didn’t just take his medication
And I have often felt the same way. But the older I get and the more I have personally dealt with the issue of depression myself—the more I become aware that medication doesn’t always work. And sometimes it works for awhile….even a good long while….only to STOP working. And can you imagine how difficult THAT is?? To finally get a break. To finally feel better. Only to find that the “Cure” quit working?? Or maybe even made it worse??
Many times this is an issue where people have to constantly persevere. They have to constantly work at finding ways to manage it. And for a regular person that is difficult. For a regular, normal person that does NOT have any mental health issues or addictions—is is still difficult to battle something over and over again. But for someone who already suffers from depression….it makes it even harder!
Society needs to stop assuming that people who fall prey to depression have done so because they didn’t seek help. They need to open their eyes to the fact that even seeking help people often cannot get the help they need. That they may try repeatedly to get help and still find themselves in a black hole that only gets deeper. What then?
It’s time we recognize that there are many issues out there which are far more complicated than we would like to imagine. And that they require ongoing management. People need a lot of support and encouragement to keep seeking answers when the answers don’t come. We all want to believe that we can try something and it will work. But that isn’t the reality for many of us. And we have to find a way to keep trying even when we face continued roadblocks no matter what we do.
This is how I feel about people that deal with eating disorders. People who turn to food for help. Many people out there don’t get it. They think….
Why don’t they just stop eating so much?
Why don’t they just put the fork down?
Why don’t they just go on a diet??
It’s not that simple for a lot of us. It just isn’t. And you have to be willing to deal with failure. REPEATED FAILURE. Over and over again. Because that’s how it has been for me. I tried for years and years and years to help myself. To get help from a diet. To get help from medication. To get help from counseling. I tried it all repeatedly only to end up hundreds of pounds heavier in the end. It was almost as if trying to get help made it worse sometimes. The more I tried, the more weight I gained. And how depressing is that??
Finally after 20 or more years, I found some things that helped me. I discovered some viable solutions but I can’t even call them that. Because at the end of the day, I will always struggle. It will always be a battle. After spending the last 2 decades or so of my life looking for answers, I finally found some that help. But that was a good long time before I did. And even then they aren’t cures. I will always have to manage this issue. And if I am not extremely careful I will gain the weight back even after having a drastic weight loss surgery that removed over 80% of my stomach.
Imagine how depressing THAT can be?? That even after having over half of my stomach removed, I can still gain the weight back. I can still struggle. And I still have to fight. Tell me that isn’t a depressing thought? To know that no matter what I do I will always have to fight this problem! There are days where the knowledge that this will always be an issue for me becomes overwhelming.
And then there is the real depression that I struggle with. The anxiety that I suffer with. The two problems that underlie the whole issue to begin with. Because if I didn’t struggle with those things I wouldn’t turn to Twinkies and cupcakes as often as I have. Robin Williams no doubt would not have struggled with substance abuse throughout his life if he wasn’t trying to self medicate the depression he continually suffered from. I have rarely met someone who falls into substance abuse that doesn’t have something else going on. And when you seek help and can’t find any—you find whatever you can to lessen the torture inside.
This is what I know. Some issues will not be cured in this life. Some things will have to be managed. They will be ongoing struggles. And we need to stop assuming that they can be cured. We need to stop faulting people for falling backwards after a period of success. We need to stop assuming that once people seem to be “better” that they won’t fall once again. Instead, we need to be aware that trouble will come. And then it will come again. And that many people will need ongoing support and encouragement to withstand the years and years of struggle they will face with the same issue again and again.
I don’t think it’s the initial issue that kills us so much as the long journey it takes us on that wears us down. I think maybe Robin Williams just got TIRED. Tired of dealing with it after 63 years. And that is the exact opposite of what the world understands when they say things like….
Why didn’t he just get help??
Maybe he got help. Maybe he had access to ALL THE HELP that is out there. And even THEN…he still struggled. Maybe it was actually seeking help constantly that tired him out and wore him down because in the end he still struggled.
When I weighed 417 pounds, I often had people pull me aside to let me know that I was dangerously overweight and I needed to do something about it.
REALLY???? NO WAY!! THANKS FOR CLUEING ME IN!
Do you really think someone that is over 400 pounds and struggles with the basic daily functions of life as a result doesn’t know they have a problem?
Do you really think that Robin Williams who publicly discussed his struggles with depression and substance abuse hadn’t told someone….including the whole world….that it was an issue??
Every issue that a person can have (depression, substance abuse, weight issues) has been addressed in some way with a book, program or medication that claims to cure it. Every article I read on the subject of depression always includes a hotline number or some attached resource for people that need help. And that’s great. We need to make sure people have access to these resources. But SERIOUSLY we need to wake up and become aware of the fact that most everyone who suffers from something like this already knows those things. They have already sought that help. And they are STILL STRUGGLING ANYWAY.
Life is a journey. And many of the things that attach themselves to us in life are ongoing issues that we will have to deal with along the way. We will grow tired and weary at times of the struggle. There will be days when we just want to be done with it. When we just want to reach the finish line. And that is when we must be keenly aware that there is no finish line. That there are good days and bad days but this is not a race that has an end. This is more like a long stroll. And if you don’t walk it with people that get that—you’re always going to be hoping that the end is in sight. I think it’s time as a society that we stop assuming people who struggle with these things are selfish and lazy because they just refuse to get help. We need to wake up to the fact that they probably have tried to get help. OVER AND OVER AGAIN. And still struggle.
We need to add to our resource list a class in how to tolerate the never ending journey that it will take us on. We need to address THAT issue as one of the biggest ones people will face. In addition to finding resources to help the problem, we need to find resources to address strength for the long journey that may never end in this lifetime. Ways to persevere and keep going as the years go by. And developing the mindset that we may have to endure this same issue repeatedly in cycles.
Instead of looking for that perfect solution that will fix you—try to embrace the journey. And even see it as a way to connect with others who are uniquely like you. We have to encourage one another. We have to lift them up when they are down. We have to find ways to endure the storms without breaking. And that, my friends, is the hard part.
Even after I’ve said all this, I do believe there is hope. I even believe that there will come a day when all our struggles come to an end. Do I believe that will happen in this life? Not really. I do believe that we can find a way though to handle our problems instead of letting them defeat us. To manage them. To withstand the storms. For me, that involves putting my faith in a God who has promised me that while struggles may come in this life, there is a hope that one day we will see an end to it. The trick though is getting through the in between part! And I am often like a child sitting in the backseat on a long car trip saying
Are we there yet?? Are we there yet???
My mother who struggled with lifelong depression used to always get irritated at my Nana (her mother) because whenever Mom was down, Nana would say…”Just look on the sunny side of life. One day it will all be ok“
And Mom would say…”When will it be ok?? WHEN?“
My mom would get so frustrated with Nana’s comments. And yet when I was the one frustrated my mother would often tell me…
“Just keep getting the ball down the field, Holly. Just live life 15 minutes at a time and then start again“
That proves that my Mom had her down days but she also had her up moments. Times when she could encourage me and tell me how to get through it.
There came a time in my life when even living it 15 minutes at a time was too much. And that’s when my brother said “30 Seconds“. 30 Seconds at a time if that’s what it takes.
How do we survive? What do we do to persevere through these droughts? These storms? When it seems like nothing will get better?
I believe it’s in embracing the journey. Embracing the people who “get it”. And being good to ourselves. Reminding ourselves that it is ok to be who we are. To struggle. And to understand and know that the struggle is part of the journey. But then we must constantly remind ourselves of the great hope we have. And in the meantime, we must be the palm tree that can bend but not break.
When someone suffers, let’s stop just issuing a list of resources and a hotline number in the assumption that they haven’t sought help. I mean, let’s do those things for SURE…but let’s stop assuming they haven’t already sought help. And let’s start recognizing that some issues are ongoing in nature and that what people really need help with is the wear and tear that an ongoing struggle takes on their soul.
Let’s recognize that most people are trying to get help. And that “help” is no easy solution many times. That “help” doesn’t simply lead to a simple answer that cures them. Instead they need encouragement to tolerate the long journey ahead and to endure the ongoing efforts they will have to make when seeking answers. If we can do that, then we will survive. If we can keep seeking help without growing tired, we will make it. But we need to constantly remind ourselves that it’s not always about a solution. It’s about the journey.
One more thing.
Robin Williams was a comedian. He made people laugh.
Can we admit that we just don’t often know what lies beneath the smile?
Who will you encounter today that may be carrying a much greater burden than you could ever know?
Very often we seek help and we still struggle. That is because for many things, there will be no simple solution. Instead, it will be a journey.
Let’s not go through that journey alone. Let’s not make assumptions. Let’s reach out to those who are hurting. And let’s recognize that even behind the widest smiles may lie the deepest pain. So many times we make the mistake of believing we are the only one who struggles with something because everyone else seems to be smiling. Maybe deep down that smile is masking a greater pain than we are aware of.
If the long journey of life wears you down….. If seeking help leads to more questions than answers—then there is only one thing we can really do that will help:
It’s why I started writing this blog. And it’s why this blog has helped me so much. Not because in writing it, I have found solutions to my problems. But because in writing it, I have found people who understand me. Who are on the same journey. And knowing you aren’t alone is sometimes the best medicine that can be prescribed.
- the termination of a disease.