Yesterday’s news that Robin Williams committed suicide has put a spotlight on mental illness and depression, and what I’ve seen in the light is disturbing. There’s still a strong perception that depression is something akin to a deep sadness that people can simply snap out of by finding something that makes them happy. More troubling is the sentiment that individuals who choose suicide have taken “the coward’s way out”, and were too selfish to realize the impact “their choice” would have on others.
Mental illness impairs a person’s ability to think or act as they normally would. People with mental illness often perceive the world and their circumstances differently than others do, and sometimes that goes to an extreme that those who haven’t been there could never comprehend.
I want to share some quotes and stories people suffering with depression have posted in the wake of Robin’s death. For the record, I am not now, nor have I ever been suicidal. I do not share these to encourage suicide in any way, but I’ve seen too many friends and family members struggle with this and deal with the aftermath to stay silent while others speak so loudly.
We need to broaden our perspective on depression, mental illness, and suicide.
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.” ― David Foster Wallace, “Infinite Jest”
“Depression isn’t sadness.
Depression isn’t pessimism or disappointment or low self-esteem.
Depression isn’t a bad mood that eventually passes.
Depression has a depth that’s impossible to understand if you’ve never experienced it. So if you haven’t, consider yourself lucky and hold your judgment.
Depression is a monster that replaces your personality.
Depression is a deafening scream that silences your fight-or-flight instinct.
Depression, at its very worst, turns every family member and accomplishment and privilege into another reason to die.” –thepupilindenial.com
“When someone tells me [in the context of suicide] ‘I’d be sad if you died,’ I think, ‘Great, so I should endure my pain every day because you don’t want to feel pain yourself.’ I think, ‘How selfish’. How is it more selfish to desire an end to my pain than it is want me to remain in pain? It’s easy for the other person to ask me to remain in pain. They don’t feel it. They don’t see it. Because if I show it, ‘Hey, perk up. Be happy. Turn that frown upside down.’ Depression isn’t an on/off switch.”
“I remember reading one post that said ‘A permanent solution to a temporary problem isn’t the way to go.’ But the chronic depression I’ve had sure feels like a permanent problem, and most treatments have only been temporary ”
“…when you judge a suicide in terms of its effect on you… that’s very selfish. So many people genuinely don’t understand what depression can do to a brain. It removes all reasoning skills, it cancels out all love/support/success, and it turns suicide into a logical and inevitable solution. I hoped this horrific tragedy would help more people understand that, but I just keep seeing comments to the contrary.”
“Depression isn’t something you can just “switch” off. Imagine being caught in the strong current of a river. You’re struggling to get out-you WANT to get out. But you can’t. Now you see somebody on the bank telling you to just get out. It’s easy. Just swim out. Now I’ve gone over this-you want to get out, life outside of this river is fantastic, and you’d love for everything to be back to normal. But you can’t escape. That’s what depression is.”