The other day, the world lost a truly amazing human being and artist, a man that has impacted the world in ways most can only dream of doing. His death has hit us hard. It has hit me hard. Robin Williams was my childhood hero, as he was to so many others. It was through stories that this man taught us so much. He taught us that being weird was not a bad thing, in fact it is something amazing. “You are only given a spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” He taught us to love and help others. “Now, I want you to take care of everything that is smaller than you.” Most importantly he taught us to live passionately. “Carpe….Hear it boys? Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys. MAKE YOUR LIVES EXTRAORDINARY!”
We are told that, tragically, Mr. Williams took his own life after suffering from major depression. I think this is ultimately why it has hit us so hard. Society as a whole stigmatizes depression, they sweep it under the rug and make it even harder for those that are suffering. People as a whole do not understand truly what depression is. I think Mr. Sean McGuire would agree with me that you can not truly understand depression unless you have experienced it. To suggest otherwise is insulting and asinine.
So then, if we can not fully understand it how do we recognize it, what does it look like? In short, it looks like you and me. We are not strange. We are not simply, “sad folks that need a good cheering up.” We are people, pure and simple. We are people with a story that needs to be told.
Friends, I write to you this moment to tell you I am the face of depression. And this is my story.
It was the summer of 2011. I had just finished going to Tidewater Community College and was interning at my current church with the student ministry. That fall I would be starting at Christopher Newport University to finish my BS in psychology. It would seem that I had so much to be happy about, but I was not. You see, that is not how it works. I was depressed. Some days I would wake up and find the simple act of getting out of bed to be a Herculean feat. All I wanted to do was separate myself from my community, my church, and the world. I wanted to create my own little world within the confines of my cotton-polyester blend blanket, were I was the only living thing. Any social act, as small as texting someone back, or as big as a church picnic, became something of an abomination to me. I found myself questioning who I am and the purpose of myself, of my existence. I could no longer remember what it was like to be happy. This existential problem would just lead to further morose and, what now seem like, abominable feelings.
By only the grace of God I finally got the courage to tell someone how I was feeling. If it was not for my mother knowing exactly what to do, I fear the worst would have happened and I am eternally grateful. As I was getting the help i needed I went on to tell my pastor and, whether it was from ignorance or apathy, consciously or unconsciously, the church turned it’s back on me. Ultimately, it was the friends I told my story to that saved me. At the time a startup ministry was being put on by a few of my close friends and it was the encouragement to help and stay involved that brought me back. It was a slow recovery. One night a dear friend, Jeff Riggs, spoke at this ministry about a song he had written called “In the Absence of Applause,” a song of heart ache and pain but the hope we have in our God and his new mercies every morning.
“When it all just falls apart, broken lives and broken hearts, where redemption has its start, its where you found me. And then the morning comes, the sun had shown its face and I’m no longer afraid because You’re beautiful. And, in your warming light, the shame I hold inside because I’m not stronger, it melts away, it melts away.” [Please forgive me if this is not exactly correct]
I went home that day and weeped. I cried because I still didn’t know what to do, who I was, and why I was continuing to feel this way. But, it was the memory of this song and message that got me through. It was my friends and my family that allowed me to see the morning. By the end of the summer the prozac had taken its full affect and all that was left was a memory and a story.
It is still a constant struggle. I believe Søren Kierkegaard sums it up most eloquently; “In addition to my other numerous acquaintances, I have one more intimate confidant… My depression is the most faithful mistress I have known — no wonder, then, that I return the love.” Every now and again, when I am most vulnerable, this mistress will beckon me to come to her. In my weakness I acquiesce. That’s the funny thing about ‘recovering’ from depression, it comes back sometimes. The symptoms will come back, sometimes for a night, sometimes for a week. It is only when I am open and honest with close friends, family, and my God do I find I have the strength to brush off this burden and find the morning.
That is my story. It’s not over, however. I am sure I will continue to have bad days, but if the past year is any reflection of the future, than the good days will far outnumber the bad. Friends, if your story is like mine, tell someone. Admitting that you are struggling with depression does not make you weak, it does not make you crazy. It makes you normal. Ignore the stigma, ignore the friends telling you ignorantly that “Yeah I’ve had days like that too.” All you need to know is there is hope, it gets better.
One of the most profoundly human things we can do is hear another’s story. So that is what I am asking you to do. Ask someone about their story, tell someone yours, and hopefully healing and restoration can take place. And know that you are not alone.
–Your humble servant