I heard about Robin Williams’ death at the dog park last night. Details were sketchy, but we knew that he killed himself and that he had depression.
One of my dog park buddies said that she could never understand why someone would take their own life. I said, “Well, that’s because you don’t have depression. I don’t condone it, but I understand how he could kill himself.”
She asked why I understand.
In big capital letters, I boldly said, “I have Major Depressive Disorder.”
I don’t often talk about it to people in the real world, because it causes people to look at you askance. Admitting that you suffer from mental illness is not something we enjoy doing because it means admitting that we’re broken and because there is so much damn misinformation about depression that it’s scary. You end up exhaustively explaining how people are wrong.
This dog park buddy illustrated my point about misinformation in a textbook way. She told me that when she got divorced, she was depressed for a while, but as soon as the divorce was final, she felt better.
“So, I should get married and divorced then?” I couldn’t help the snark. She laughed, but I continued. “What you experienced was acute depression. What Robin Williams and I have is chronic depression or Major Depressive Disorder. They are not the same, even though they share symptoms. Acute depression is situational. Eventually, over time, acute depression goes away. Chronic depression is a fucked-up-ness in your brain that never goes away. It just comes and goes like the tide.”
She asked if I’d tried changing my diet, sleeping more and exercising.
I calmly told her that those kind of things help acute depression, but they do nothing to help chronic depression. “There are times when I’m depressed where all I do is sleep. It doesn’t make me any less depressed.”
“What about doing something you love?”
“The thing about chronic depression that really sucks–actually, one of many–is that you lose interest in doing things you normally enjoy. When I’m really depressed, I can’t create.”
“What about love? Love is the best feeling in the world.”
“When you’re depressed, love isn’t enough. Depression turns the volume down on everything positive and ups the volume on negativity.”
“What about antidepressants?”
“I’ve been on them as long as you’ve known me. I still have depression. All antidepressants do, provided you get the right pill and dosage, which is about as easy as harpooning a specific fish in the ocean, is help you cope a little better. They help me see depression more rationally, but they do not make it go away. It never goes away.”
“Well, there must be something you can do.”
“There is not. It never goes away.”
I must have repeated “it never goes away” about three dozen times and she still never really got it. There was no light bulb going off over her head.
For people who do not have chronic depression, understanding it is really impossible, especially if they have experienced acute depression; they think all depression is the same. But, when you are depressed because your brain is fucked up not because you’re getting divorced, well, nothing is really going to make your brain less fucked up. Telling a depressed person to change their diet and exercise more is like trying to cure cancer with sleep.
Finally, I said, “Remember how awful you felt during your divorce? Stretch that out over your entire life and you’re getting close to what it’s like. It never goes away.”
“That sounds awful.”
“Yes. Yes, it does. I can totally understand why Robin Williams did what he did.”