This month, I intended on writing a post with a lighter, humorous look at living with depression. But, with the sudden death of comedic actor Robin Williams, I chose to talk about helping educate others about this often misunderstood disease. We’ve all been there baring our souls attempting to share the extent of damage depression has done to us, to our children, to our families only to be brushed off, or better yet to hear that person’s story about how they were depressed yesterday. It’s lonely being misunderstood.
I get it. Understanding true clinical depression is confusing to people who haven’t experienced its incapacitating effects. Many of us use the term, depression, loosely in conversations. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say their depressed their simply having just having a bad day. I’ve done it myself.
In a recent Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Facebook response to John Smydo’s August 13 article, Depression: A disease that conceals hope, one woman posed this question.
“How do you know if a person is truly depressed if they one day say, ’I’m so depressed, then the next day they are perfectly fine?’” Here’s my answer.
“People who are clinically depressed don’t typically announce it. It is evidenced in actions like withdrawal from life, inability to concentrate and function as they normally would and other similar actions or lack thereof. It is visible in their eyes. Looking into Robin’s eyes in this photo, you see a man struggling inside his brain.”
“This is what depression looks like.”
Robin’s suicide is still shocking to many of us. After all, this iconic man came into our homes and entertained us on the big screen and small for so many years that many of us feel like we knew him personally. He was our friend. How could a “larger than life” man come to this point? All of us are asking that question, but for those of us who have experienced the bleakness of depression, it’s easier to understand. For others it’s not as clear.
Underneath of Robin’s incredible outside world of laughter, inside was a man tortured by depression and addiction, both chronic illnesses. Depression is a complicated disease that affects mind, body and spirit. It is an equal opportunity disease/illness and can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, education, economic status, employment status, health, ethnic heritage, race or religion. Robin’s death slaps us right in the face and reminds us of this. It can affect anyone. And it’s not funny.
All of this got me thinking. How can we handle these moments better when many people truly just don’t understand. I began to really think about how to talk to people about what it’s like to have depression particularly in a setting where there’s not much time. The solution came to me the very next day as I listened to an interview of Henry Winkler on the TODAY show (Aug 13).
Henry simply said, “I don’t have depression but I imagine you don’t see what is just beyond the inside of your own brain.”
This is so true. You are caught up inside your own brain and can’t see beyond it know matter how much advice on looking outward is given. You are immobilized and the only thing that can help is seeking treatment. I will most definitely use this quote to help others understand depression.
About the Author
Cheryl Kelly is the mother of two and a member of the Glade Run Family Advisory committee. She came to Glade Run 2 years ago seeking help for her 17 year old son, who had been diagnosed with clinical depression and severe anxiety since the age of 12. The family spent 3 1/2 years navigating the system, advocating for help, and went through every service imaginable to assist with her son’s medical care. During this time, she was also attempting to manage her own depression while keeping her family intact. Once she found Glade Run, it was a lifesaver for not only her son, but for her entire family. Cheryl would like to use her passion for writing to share her experiences as a form of hope and encouragement to other families as they move along their journey.