A Survivor’s Take on Depression: We are the Sad Ones Try to Understand Us

Aug 15, 2014, 11:22 AM

Painted in the hospital after suicide attempt

(This post was written by a member of the RWJF family who has asked to remain anonymous.)

Every day I worry that I will be caught. It could happen any time, any place, and by any one person that looks past my smile and into my eyes and knows immediately that I am not like him nor her. He or she will not see the color of my eyes, but rather that I am hiding something.

I have been in and out of therapy since the age of 9, and on and off antidepressants of every color and brand for more than 20 years. Yet I stand here today with the same diagnosis that I had when I was a child, despite the “help” and the “work” that I have devoted to my illness ever since I can remember. I have clinical depression.

I will never be “okay” by conventional standards without medication. I have finally come to realize that this is not my fault, but rather a product of my DNA. Nonetheless, I hide in shame. No one knows of my diagnosis, or the medicines that I take to help control it, or the acting that I perform daily to hide it.

I could be your sister, your friend, your neighbor, your co-worker, your daughter, and you would never know it unless I told you.

The recent passing of beloved actor and cultural icon Robin Williams has spurred an online conversation around depression, shining a light on the disease’s severity, and the millions who suffer from its affliction. The confusion that surrounds his death prompted me to write my story.

So many people have wondered why he didn’t seek help. We (the sad people) know there is help. We just don’t want it. A 1-800 number will not help those who have reached the end, the point of no turning back. When we are sad, the last thing we want is “help.” But what may work is compassion and empathy for our suffering, and a communal acceptance that we are not crazy.

My mother would always ask “what’s wrong with you, you have everything, you have amazing talent and you are so smart, why can’t you snap out of it?” My response was always a calm, steady three words: “I don’t know.”

As a sufferer of mental illness, I cannot control it. It is as scary to me as it is to you. If I could change, I would.

I will forever hold on to the memory of attempting suicide and being held in a mental facility afterwards. My freedom and dignity stripped from me because I had a “bad night” and cut my wrists. Instead of compassion and empathy for my suffering, I was stripped of my clothes, locked in a dirty room with nothing but a stained cot and intense fluorescent lighting that prevented me from resting. I was questioned by very young psychology students who asked me remedial questions that were meant to judge my mental state, but all I could focus on was the thought of losing my entire life (job, children, family, etc.), and being locked away in a mental hospital against my will. I still recall the cries of the patients in holding cells next to mine.

I gathered my strength, stood in a poorly laminated floor hallway, and spoke to the loved ones of those in the adjacent holding cells. Everyone but me was a minor who had attempted to take his or her own life. I tried to sneak a peek at the boy across the hall; his dad just shook his head and said; “the system is broken and it really fails to protect the young. My son is being shipped over 90 miles away because all of the local juvenile mental facilities are full.”

Our society needs to take mental health care seriously, and make sure it is accessible to everyone. Simply asking the mentally ill to reach out for help, reminding us that “suicide is not the answer,” will not save us. Providing us with resources and support systems might. Make sure that health insurance covers the mental health needs of people like me, and that there are community-based mental health resources, so that all who need help can afford it, and find it. So don’t call us crazy, don’t feel sorry for us. Most of all, be patient with us. We did not ask for this affliction and we do not want to be sad. We just are.

Read Brent Thompson's post on bipolar disorder, and the death of a friend

Read Jane Lowe's post on an intervention program to prevent development of severe mental health problems in young people