“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The news of Robin Williams’s passing has dejected me deeply. He was a gifted actor, comedian, and from all accounts, a tremendously kind-hearted human being. It is a sad symptom of humanity that those whose hearts are filled with so much laughter and love can also be filled with so much sadness and pain.
How could someone with so much see only darkness? It does not make sense. It is not logical.
Depression is as near to an incommunicable experience as I have ever passed through. I know this because I live with it. Not too long ago, in the midst of what I felt was a vexing trial, I felt the full measure of depression. The virus finds its place into your conscious and subconscious, gnawing away at all you are. It cuts through socio-economic status, religiosity, gender, race, and all other divisions amongst mankind. It is an equal opportunity vexation.
Much more than simple sadness, depression chisels away at your very nature. You do not know why you are feeling what you are feeling, but the inability to find the genesis does not alleviate the depth of the distress. You find logic illogical and family nonfamilial. It is the darkest abyss of the soul. Depression morphs your past, clouds your present, and blackens your future.
Within weeks these feelings became inescapable. I wanted nothing more than to find a way to be free from their darkness. My brain began giving me answers I had never before contemplated. Maybe it would be better if I were not alive. I am simply a burden to those closest to me. Sure, they might be sad, but life would go on and I would be at peace. I grabbed my iPhone and punched in a quick Google search: “Committing suicide without pain.”
Thankfully, I found help.
The effects of depression are real and its clutches extend to each and every family you know. The World Health Organization surmises that more than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. Depression is not a sign of personal weakness. Depression is not a condition that can be willed or wished away. Taken to its extreme, it cuts off life itself in horrible abruptness — men and women who should be alive but are not.
In this the Age of the Selfie, I worry that more and more individuals who suffer from undiagnosed depression see the charade of perfection put forth on social media as a glimpse into so-called normalcy. Or alternatively: that those who post such perfecting portraits are trying to compensate for the depressive feelings inside of their hearts. It is past time for us to start talking seriously and intently about depression and bring its darkness into the light.
The stigma that follows questions of mental health is lessening but we are far from where we need to be. What is essential is often invisible to the eye. To be our brother’s keeper is to be willing to speak on his behalf and be prepared to shoulder his burdens. For the millions of individuals like Robin Williams, who feel disheartened beyond description, there is hope and there is help.