It’s time to come out of the shadows, to break the silence in case it motivates anyone that reads this to get help: I’ve struggled with moderate to severe depression my entire life. I was also diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea almost a year ago, after suffering for an indeterminate amount of time, which I treat with a CPAP machine that follows me everywhere. It might look like a knock off Bang & Olufson CD player, but that device has very likely saved my life in the long term. The one-two punch of a chronic lack of quality sleep and depression could have eventually taken the ultimate toll. It’s hard to say what might have happened and I shudder to think about it.
It’s only been in the last six months that I’ve made (and been able to make) the decision to get psychiatric help a reality. It helps that I’m fortunate enough to work somewhere that includes mental health treatment as part of the overall health benefits package. So I’ve been taking medication every day for almost two months and seeing a psychiatrist every two weeks or so for therapy. My wife has been immeasurably helpful, thoughtful, supportive, and reassuring throughout. She’s definitely saved my life and has been my rock. I can’t do it without her. I love you Caro!
Anyway, it really sucks that it takes the death of a celebrity for the conversation about mental illness to come up again in the public consciousness. There’s still too much stigma in this country against diseases of the mind, while lives are lost every day. The more fellow sufferers and travelers down these dark paths step out into the light and show that recovery is possible, the more people will get help, the more lives will be saved.
Rest assured, if you suffer from depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia, or any other mental afflictions: it’s not your fault and you are not alone! It’s not a sign of spiritual weakness, demon possession, or a lack of mental fortitude. Turning your frown upside down and thinking happy thoughts won’t make things better, but getting help will.
By the same token, please know that getting help is not an indulgence. It’s not selfish (at least not in a bad way) nor is it something for people without “real” problems. Mental illness isn’t an affectation or a ruse to get attention. It is and should be as much a basic right as regular healthcare should be. Mental health shouldn’t be off in it’s own corner of wellness.
Which brings me to my final point, getting help isn’t about being happy because being mentally sick isn’t about just being sad (or angry or manic, etc.). In my experience, depression is an existential weight on your head and shoulders that gets into your eyes and ears and mouth, all the way down to the center of your being dragging you down from inside. It’s often accompanied by anger, at yourself for being depressed as well as from a more existential place where you’re just angry, for no reason at all. It saps your will and energy, making the smallest accomplishments feel Herculean (if not Sisyphean), the larger ones damn near impossible, and pushes the longer term ones out beyond your reach if not your sight. It’s drowning slowly, while hoping that no one is watching.
With practice, it’s also easy to hide so that you don’t worry those around you too much.
Getting help means being able to cope with all of your emotions in a healthy way for you. It means not breaking down over minor sentimental missives. It means truly enjoying the company of those you love most. It means enjoying the sunshine. And yes, it means being sad when it’s appropriate for you to be so. Getting help means finding and opening the door to feeling and being really alive, even if you need a Sherpa and some sled dogs to get there.
If you’ve read this far and it resonates with you, please reach out for help, even if it’s from a stranger: http://www.teenhealthandwellness.com/static/hotlines. If someone you love suffers from mental illness, please support them! Just being there and assuring them that they are loved without judgement is the best you can do while encouraging them to get help.
Poetry and art are two of my favorite reasons *for* being alive. Why? This is as good an answer as any:
"We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?" — Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society