I know I talk about it a lot.
But I'm here to tell you that I'm not done talking. And I know I might sound preachy, or annoying sometimes, but guys, it's just too important to me not to talk about it. I've found my platform and my feet are on it.
A year ago the world lost a beloved gem, Robin Williams, to suicide.
To many, today is probably just August 11th. But I have the anniversary of his death seared in me. Not simply because Robin was a celebrity, and one of my favorites to boot, but because I can relate in many ways to the pain he suffered leading to his death.
Obviously I didn't know him personally, and I realize that some of the reason for his choice to take his life seems, at least, to have been in response to his developing of Parkinson's disease.
But as the media also reported, Williams suffered from depression for much of his adult life, in addition to struggling with alcohol and drug abuse. So while very few in the world were privy to his very intimate feelings, we cannot overlook, as his fans, and as fans of the people in our life who also struggle with emotional pain, that depression played a real part in his unfortunately cut-short life.
This past week I sat with a beloved friend, someone I've known going on 14 years, who has adopted me into his family as his own, though he and I both know that the family I've got is pretty superb. He decided I could remain with my given family, but that he wanted to claim me in some part as well. We've made the arrangement work.
We shared a bottle of red zinfandel, with an orange label, and slices of Monterey and cheddar cheese on a small china plate.
My child neighbors whizzed past on their razor scooters, making it hard to hear each other, but we talked over them. My friend has kids, and grandkids, so he knows that kids are kids; he didn't seem to mind the noise.
"I read your blog," he said, between sips and statements of "We really don't see each other enough," etc.
"One of your posts scared the hell out of me."
"Which one?" I asked, knowing the answer.
My friend proceeded to tell me how he couldn't believe that he didn't see any telltale signs of my longtime struggles with depression, anxiety, and serious mood swings -- struggles that have so thankfully receded twentyfold, thanks in large part to really good medicine, great family and friends, and well-learned habits regarding diet, sleep, exercise and routine.
Things have turned around, praise God, but for a long time there was a lot of dark. There was a lot of light, too, as my moods went both directions, but for my friend he mostly just saw the light.
And so did a lot of people in my life. Everyone, really.
Several people saw the dark, too, as I came to be pretty open about things as I struggled more virulently further into my twenties. But no matter how much I told people about my struggles, they didn't see them all.
Because when you're living in the darkness of depression and anxiety, you are very much inside yourself. That's one of the ways they rot you; they are wounds that fester -- don't quite kill you but you feel the blister, the ooze, the infection.
And while you can look on another's wound and wince as you imagine the pain, our wounds only belong to ourselves. We only feel the festering to the point that our own body festers, based on the chemistry we're born with, our circumstances, our attitude, our personality.
Some of us get little scrapes, maybe one giant broken arm -- or heart, as it were -- in the middle of our life somewhere, but otherwise remain pretty unscathed. Some of us have an open wound that never quite heals, or festers for some time -- most often, this is how depression and anxiety, two of the most common mental ailments in our society, present themselves. Yet we tend to keep silent about these everyday life-suckers.
I could talk ad nauseam on this -- and over the years, as a writer, I will, so buckle up. But for now I'll try and keep my message of today brief.
And that is this:
I believe, wholeheartedly, that all of us are affected by depression or anxiety, if not some other form of mental illness. Either we will experience one of those things ourselves, or we will know someone who will suffer.
I believe that this is nothing to be ashamed of, yet years of socialization and community structuring have caused us to find it deeply fearful to talk of such things. We have developed one bedroom apartments, we spend hours in our cars by ourselves, we reserve grief and tears for private locations, etc., etc., etc.
I work for a mental health center, and I see colleagues miming a gun to their head to express casual stress, and I hear them making jokes about "taking their meds." It's not a joke. We can make fun of ourselves, sure, and if we don't laugh in this life, we will die, but there is no reason that our culture should have to be one where licensed therapists feel that the only people who are affected by such common human emotions (depression and anxiety) are those who sit in their office for 50 minute segments.
Bitter as it is to swallow, the truth is that even therapists sometimes take their own lives.
It's not a joke, and depression is everywhere. I wish to God it weren't, but it is.
Here's the good news: we can fight it.
In my humble opinion, we need to TALK.
It will never cease to amaze me how much it helps to ease serious tensions in life when we do no more than speak. Or write, or sing, or cry in front of another, or what have you, but the point is to let something inside of you OUT, and to have an audience.
WE ARE SOCIAL CREATURES and WE ARE NOT MEANT TO BE ALONE. I am convinced this is why we are designed to eat. Think about it. Eating didn't have to be necessary in the human body; we could have been self sufficient. But designing us to get hungry three times a day -- that gets us in front of each other, talking.
But I digress.
Think of a time -- any time -- when you have spoken your mind, been heard, and felt better.
From a quick vent to a coworker about something that's annoying you, to sharing a hatred for nuts in brownies, to telling someone that you feel sad continually and you don't know why -- no matter what, if you had a compassionate audience, I bet you felt better after you talked it out.
There's a reason psychologists get big bucks. Talking is powerful.
**Talk about mental health. Don't make jokes about the seriousness of mental illness. If you're comfortable, be honest about your struggles with painful emotion. Those around you may not thank you for it in an obvious way, but most likely in hearing your candidness they will breathe a sigh of relief that they are not alone. And this, this this this, is what I believe will begin to change our society. I believe this SO MUCH.**
Like I said, you can -- and will -- hear more from me on this as we go forward, but for now please, if you will, for your sake and for those who you love, join me in TALKing:
Tell people how you're feeling.
Don't keep it in. I know this is SO hard, but tell someone. Start with small stuff if you're not ready to talk about the big stuff, and earlier in your life if you can, but know that it's never too late.
In the same way that you drink water before you get dehydrated, practice sharing your feelings before you get to a point of desperation. But if you're desperate, more than ever, start talking. If you only feel comfortable at a therapist an hour out of town where you won't be recognized, by all means go there. Talk to the bartender. Just get those words out of you.
Ask others about themselves.
Inquire about others. I'm not saying your opener needs to be "Are you depressed or anxious?" But everyone, I promise, has a story, and if you show interest in someone long enough, then you're probably going to learn something you didn't realize was under his or her surface.
In asking others about themselves you will:
a) learn that you are not alone, and that we are all more alike than we thought, and
b) discover that your friend will benefit from being heard by you and being considered valuable and interesting.
After you ask, listen. Show genuine interest, look for patterns of mild to severe unhappiness (or, for that matter, extreme and manic happiness). Watch body language. It is easy to hide depression, but if we pay attention we can hopefully see the things that peek through, and let those in our lives know we care about them.
Keep people close, and keep up on your good habits.
Don't isolate yourself. Please, please, please, I implore you. You're an introvert? I got it. Guess what, my homework for you is to get yourself out of the house at least once a day.
Second, learn how to maintain your mental health, and do what you gotta do to keep it up as much as you can, every. single. day.
Read. Write. Sing. Take medicine if you need it. See a therapist. Call a friend. Get caffeine. Limit caffeine. Go outside. Keep to a routine. Sleep. Exercise. Find someone in your life to check in with everyday with the magical words: "How was your day?" (Answer beyond "Fine" or "Good"). Travel. Get a pet. Clean. Cook. Bake. Knit. Create. Play with LEGOs. Get a new job. Go back to school. Eat a bowl of ice cream heaped with sprinkles. Watch this.
Need more suggestions? Hit me up.
Take it from someone who's seen the dark side and come back to light. If we talk, we have a chance at healing. And I so want you all to heal.
No more silence.
Please, don't stop talking.