I take medication for depression. I’m fine. Don’t worry. But for awhile, some time after my son was born, I wasn’t okay. I dealt with being not okay pretty well, and kept up the facade of okay until one day when the facade cracked and I threw a bowl of blueberries across the kitchen and threw a folk into my kitchen cabinet and scared my kids.
What they didn’t know was that I had been scared for a while before that. Scared of the thoughts that popped into my head. Scared of how I would double over, wheezing and unable to catch my breath, panicking for no reason while totally safe in my own home. Scared of why I never wanted to get out of bed.
Some time after that – too long after that, in retrospect – I called a doctor’s clinic and, fighting back sobs, I asked for an appointment at the walk-in clinic that day. The receptionist asked why I needed to be seen and I choked out, embarrassed, “I think I have post-partum depression.”
“Oh,” she said, “We don’t normally see people for that at the walk-in clinic. Do you have a regular doctor I can book you with at their next available appointment?”
“I…I really think I need to see someone today.” There was some crying involved when I made that statement, and there’s a teeny bit now as I type this out, and remember it.
“I can get you in at 4:30.”
God bless that receptionist, and the nurse practitioner I saw that day. The nurse had five sons and understood that not sleeping for two years is a kind of special torture. She handed me kleenex and a stop-gap prescription for Sertraline and got me booked in with my now regular doctor for follow-ups.
Some time after that, I stopped having scary thoughts pop into my head unbidden. I was able to stop drinking too much wine as a kind of sick self-medication every night. I re-found the joy in raising my wonderful children.
It’s weird to talk about depression. It’s not like I had anything to be bummed about. I had (and have) a great husband, healthy kids, a great life. I go for walks, I practice active gratitude, I eat healthy fats. All that crap should have made me sunny-side up, all the time. But depression isn’t being sad. Telling someone with depression to just cheer up is like telling someone without a leg to just walk it off.
Why am I talking about this? Even as I write this, I don’t know if I’ll publish it. It’s a private thing, it feels private, and let’s face it – I’m a garden blogger. Who cares what I have to say about mental health? Plus, I imagine the barrage of not-helpful suggestions and comments and emails I’m opening myself up to – “you should try meditation not pills!” – because trust me, people have their opinions.
And yet…Robin Williams died Monday at his own hand. You don’t even have to be a fan of Mr. Williams to feel his loss; he was just part of the fabric of our collective consciousness. This man who made us laugh, this man who was outsized in his personality and in his life, this voice of fucking Disney characters was, according to news reports, battling severe depression. I know nothing about his personal life, of course, but his death says to me that he was awfully tired of that battle.
People all over are reading about Robin Williams and his suicide right now, and they are asking why? But I know why. People who know depression, they know why. The details and the individual differences aren’t that important; that big dysfunctional brain chemistry is common core. Nothing – not fame, or money, or prestige – can outrun brain chemistry.
Statistically, about a thousand people with depression will read my blog today. That’s a thousand people who have that scary, deep-bone understanding of why, and they probably don’t want to talk about this either. But still they know. Maybe they’ve had scary thoughts, too. Or maybe they just have enough experience with depression and enough imagination to extrapolate.
If you are in that thousand, and you are battling depression, please, please get help. The people who work with depression – doctors, therapists, naturopaths – whatever you’re comfortable with – they have seen it all before and they won’t laugh or judge or anything. And things can get back to normal, they really can. Depression is terrible. It is a terrible, scary, insidious mind-fuck. It’s not because you aren’t trying hard enough or aren’t “looking on the bright side” aggressively enough. Many things can trigger it, and it’s not your fault, and it doesn’t need to be forever.
And also, everyone go read this. It’s the most brilliant, hilarious, true description of depression I’ve ever read.
Rest in Peace, Robin Williams.