I have felt no desire to add my voice to the discussion of Robin William’s death. Until now. Now I want to say something about the inevitable and seemingly unending comments about how happy he seemed, how much he had, and whether he chose to die or died of a disease. Now I feel like my perspective might add something.
Everything I say comes with a caveat—it is based on my experience and my observation. I’m not a scientist or any sort of expert, just someone who has been severely depressed.
If you are depressed or know someone who is, a great number of resources can be found on this page: http://twloha.com/find-help
Telling someone who suffers from severe depression that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel—or that there’s help, or love, or that this, too, shall pass—is like telling a person who has lost their vision that it is day.
Maybe they’ve seen day before and maybe they haven’t, but they can’t see it now. Their ability to perceive day is gone. Let me be very clear about this. A person without the ability to see does not choose to look away from light; the mechanism in their body for perceiving light has stopped working. Depressed people do not choose to turn away from hope, help, and love, the mechanism in their body that allows them to perceive those has stopped working.
Maybe you’re right there beside them, telling them about hope, help, and love. They trust you, they know you wouldn’t lie, they know you love them, but they’re still taking your word for it. And, more importantly, they’re holding onto faith that someday they’ll see again, that, in some inexplicable way, someday they’ll be healed. Their vision will return somehow. They must constantly choose to believe that, by some unforeseeable miracle, day will relate to them again.
And so it is with depression. You can say there’s hope and maybe I’ll hear you from my depression, but I can only take your word for it.
Maybe they’ve survived depression before, but not even memory of day can always help. I’ve been depressed before and I know it’s ended, though not exactly how. I know some things that usually go hand-in-hand with healing—slowing down, sleeping, exercise—but sometimes they come first and sometimes they come after. I have knowledge and memory of passing out of depression, but, in my depressions, I cannot perceive it. It doesn’t relate to me.
The sun shines brightly and beautifully, even for those unable to see it. And those who love and care for the depressed do so brightly and beautifully. Believe me when I say that your light is there. But depression takes away our vision.
Holding on through that loss of vision takes faith, courage, and will on the part of the depressed. Yet we are human. Our faith can falter, our courage crumble, our will weaken. We can grow weary. And, because we’re navigating treacherous waters without our sight, we can crash into rocks. Our boat can capsize; our faith, courage, or will can fail for just that second that lets us slip beneath the waves.
Of course we could navigate that river if we could see. Of course we could grab hold of the boat one more time if we were perfect. But we are blinded by depression and we are human.
I stand in awe of everyone who lives with depression. I call you heroes. And I mourn those who have lost their lives to depression. I call you fallen heroes.