Like so many in the world, who grew up on Robin Williams (Mork and Mindy was a childhood favourite – not to mention the movies.. oh the movies), I was deeply saddened to hear about his death, and the loss we, the living, now face. I watched the commentary and media coverage unfold, and, since his death was a suicide, I saw the usual information around Depression and Mental Illness pop up, and the usual articles drawing attention to the mentally ill, start to show.
It worried me. I am not worried that people may care a bit more about the emotional well being of their fellow man – that is good to see. What concerns me, is this rallying call towards understanding “Mental Illness”. It frightens me to think that the pill pushers and shrinks will have a hay day filling their prescriptions and making money off of the well meaning people thrusting loves ones into their doors. It frightens me to think there will be yet more stigma attached to this thing called “Depression”, and more attention drawn to the problem – while totally missing the actual problem.
The “Actual Problem” for me, is a societal one. For me, Depression is not an illness. Depression is a mental and emotional imbalance caused by many factors, many of which are extrinsic, some intrinsic, that can be addressed with various kinds of work – the least desired or needed of which is medication (which is great at masking the problem, yet never quite solves it). It’s societal because I am not sure Depression would be so prevalent and pervasive if we had a connected culture to start with. If we had a culture of empathy, and understanding. If emotions and the expression of them, if vulnerability and fragility were honoured and not hidden, stigmatized, teased, repressed, and by all means changed to be something more logical and stoic.
Now, there are those who don’t need to express as much as others in this world, but there are those folks, who do need to express – who feel perhaps more sharply, who empathize deeply, who walk a finer and occasionally darker line in life. They need a place, a safe place they can be vulnerable and be okay just being them, just expressing that which is dark, and scary, without it being called a disease, or an illness, or told that what they have is something wrong, that they have something to be fixed. And, there are those who have hard times, who need support through periods in life that offer challenges they are not sure they can handle. We are so conditioned in this world to believe that anything out of what we deem “normal” should be “Fixed” to fit our notion of what society should look like, that we fail utterly to realize that that very fixing, is what causes depression, anxiety and addiction, in many cases, in the first place. Here is a notion: stop fixing – start accepting. Let the darkness, just be dark. Let the emotions, just come. Let it happen, without needing to name it, or repair it.
There are other things that can make one depressed – abuse, neglect, poverty – but I also think none of these things need medicating. I read an article that called depression a “demon” – and in a way it is. It haunts, taunts and torments. But like most of our demons – it is but a shadow and a calling card to a larger truth, that if we were given the support and tools to see, we would understand, confront, work towards and not be scared of. The demon, would just be seen for what it is – a part of us calling out to be healed. A part of us we are scared to see. A shadow made larger through neglect and fear.
There is a personal component in this for me, of course. When I heard that Robin Williams killed himself I thought – even he.. with all his resources, still felt different enough, empty, haunted, plagued – still felt as though he was not good enough to live – so much so that he took himself away. That money and fame and even the knowledge of touching so many, could not erase whatever demons he battled.
But I don’t view him as having an illness – I don’t need to wish that he would have been medicated or fixed. I find sadness that he perhaps, had no safe place to really just be him – as a character known for joy, and kindness, and generosity – perhaps the pressure of being all that, finally wore him down – his darkness having no where else to turn. It is but a guess in his process, but I wonder.
And I fight, I fight against these labels, the stigma, the medications, this notion to fix – because as someone who has personally felt that stigma and been in the light of loved ones wanting so badly for me to be normal and fixed and no longer showing my emotions so profoundly and acutely- I found a place in my life where I could just say “fuck it”, and I let myself have the darkness and weirdness and emotions – and for those who could not understand it – well, there simply is no need for them in my life. I found a freedom in just being who I was: a sometimes logical, sometimes highly emotional, sometimes creative, spiritual being – who feels that darkness prick at me with sharp sticks – and who is lucky enough to have someone to listen to me when the pricks become too much and the voices in my head too loud for me to bear. Someone who will simply let me have it, without telling me I’m anything different, broken or someone to be medicated.
It means the world to me, and on many occasions, perhaps even saved me from my own dark moments. And it has made me, over time, more and more okay with who I am – just as I am. It lets me let others be okay, just as they are. In fact, I dare say, to know depression and still work through it and be okay with it – makes me, and others, more Mentally WELL. And I wish for every person labelled depressed, that there would be that connection with another – that space held by someone who cares – whether by friend or a professional – cares enough to just let them have their moments. To be held and accepted, to trust and to be vulnerable. We as a society owe it to each other to be these people. Really be there. Not run away, not foist them in a group or a hospital or a shrink, don’t offer meds or advice. Just be there.
It’s the most simple, and most valuable tools we have. Human empathy. Connection. Love. Acceptance. There are no side effects. It does not cost money.
And you have no idea how many lives it could save.