After Robin Williams's Death, Unraveling Depression's Lies
I feel like an imposter, talking about this. My…depression. Depression? I’ve never even said that word aloud before, at least not in reference to myself. It is a word that feels foreign on my tongue.
I’m not a very good example of what depression looks like, but I think that might be why I feel compelled to talk about it. There must be others out there like me who know there is something very wrong with them, but, because they are able to “fake it,” are paralyzed as to how to handle it. I always thought depression meant lying limp in bed with a tear-stained face, totally incapacitated and unable to accomplish even the smallest of life’s tasks.
But it doesn’t always look like that, does it? You can be depressed and still function. You can do all the tasks you’re supposed to do, though maybe a bit slower and with less accuracy and attention to detail, and no one will be the wiser. On the inside, though, you’re an aimless, amorphous glob.
For me, it started just before Robin Williams’s death. I’ve always been an anxious person, but last year, something triggered me and I cracked. Suddenly my nerves were unsheathed. My thoughts raced out of control, my dreams went absolutely crazy and I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. It was my usual anxiety to the tenth power. Instead of talking about it, I folded into myself, isolated myself, hid what I was feeling in hopes that the fog would dissipate as quickly as it had rolled in.
That’s when the lies began. “Depression lies.” You’ve heard that before, right?
It didn’t take much to make my thoughts spiral downward into depression’s pit of lies: “I’m annoying.” “I’m unlikeable.” “I’m not funny.” “I’m fat.” “I’m ugly.” “I’m stupid.” “I’m incompetent.” “I’m worthless.” “I don’t deserve anything that I have.” “The people who act like they like me are only pretending.” “I hate myself.”
Even as those ugly taunts stomped their way through my head, I heard conflicting thoughts: You know something is wrong with you. You know these thoughts don’t make sense. That should’ve brought me back to earth, right? But it didn’t. All it did was make me realize that I was arguing with myself, which meant there was indeed something quite wrong. So my first line of reasoning–those rotten, hateful thoughts–must be true.
After a while, a new lie began to worm itself into my head: Life will always be like this.
That one scared me.
To most people, I didn’t look depressed. I stayed active, tended to my responsibilities and generally moved forward with life. I got out of bed every morning, mothered my children, cooked meals, did laundry. I showed up on time (usually) to the places I needed to be. I paid the bills (though I often paid them late). I wrote. I maintained intimacy with my husband. I smiled at people.
I did all the things one is expected to do. I was my own puppet master, manipulating my arms and legs and eyes and voice in ways that, for anyone watching, appeared normal. But it was an act. I was a zombie and I was living a lie. Depression lies in so very many ways.
There were little clues, though. My mom and sister might remember when I stopped calling them as much. My friends, if they were paying attention, might be able to look back and say “Oh yeah, that’s right around the time we stopped hanging out.” My husband might remember a few times when he gave me a hard look and said, “Are you okay, honey? You seem unhappy.” He might also remember how our children laughed as they pointed out, on numerous occasions, that I seemed like I was in “outer space.”
During that year, I sometimes became mesmerized with the kitchen knife while making dinner. I’d watch it slice through an onion and my breath would go ragged with excitement over how one pull of the blade could, for a time, mask that other unnamed pain. But I was lucid enough to know that if I did make that cut, my husband would find it, and I’d end up trapped behind locked doors in some cold, sterile room. The release via the cut would not have been worth it.
I’ve never contemplated suicide. Never been bedridden for days at a time. Never been on meds. For a long time, the absence of these obvious signs of a disorder convinced me that I could not claim the word “depression” for myself. Something else must be going on. Not being able to name what I felt only added to the wrongness of it all.
Still, although I haven’t considered suicide, I understand well how someone could get to that point. I understand, because of that last, hopeless lie: Life will always be like this.
A few months ago, a friend in a Facebook group mentioned she was depressed, and she received an outpouring of support. People believed her, and I made note of it. Weeks later, I read an article about depression and my mouth turned to cotton as I mentally checked off almost every symptom on the list.
Then one day, in a small, private Facebook group, I wrote, “I have forgotten how to be happy.” Before I could delete what I’d written, one of the other group members told me I needed to get help, now. It took me a few months and a few more admissions to others about how I felt, but I finally did get help. I’m still in the early stages, still learning about my anxiety, my triggers, my PTSD and the events that caused it. It will take a while to unravel it all, but I can honestly say I feel hopeful again, and god, does that feel amazing. Working with a therapist has done wonders. I’m making great progress, but even as I write this, the fact that I am claiming depression while unmedicated makes me feel like a liar, like I made this whole thing up. I’m considering deleting everything I just typed so you readers won’t point at me and call me a fraud.
Which brings us back to depression and its lies. I’m writing this because Robin Williams’s suicide rocked me. Because I get it. I get it how a person can sink to the point that they can convince themselves that life will always be like this, and if it’s going to be that bad, well… isn’t it the kindest thing to do for oneself, to end it?
NO. That is a lie. In fact, if you see yourself at all in my words, then you can be sure those ugly thoughts in your head are lies. Do what I did and talk to someone. Life will NOT always be like this. There is hope, there is help, but you have to be willing to take a chance and ask for it.
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