Depression doesn’t show up on x-rays, but it’s readily visible in the morgue. When a famous person commits suicide then the world gets a tangible reminder that depression is real, and deadly. And so today, healthy people believe in clinical depression.
As an unhealthy person, I also believe in clinical depression. But when a famous person commits suicide and proves to the world that his depression was real, my own personal doubt always comes to the surface.
That doubt never fully goes away. I’ve been diagnosed, treated, even hospitalized for my mental illness (for me it’s an anxiety disorder with a side of depression), but I still always wonder whether it’s real. I’m the only one in my head, after all, and I know it’s possible that I’m just malingering. It’s possible that I’m using my diagnosis to get out of having to hold down a job or lose weight or find a boyfriend. It’s possible that I’m taking the easy way out.
I’m terrified of death, so for me suicide would be the absolute hardest way out. I’m not suicidal, and that makes me a poor example of a depressive person on days like today. More than that, it makes my depression suspect. Suicidal ideation is a clear sign of depression; its absence, then, might be a clear sign that mine isn’t a ‘true’ depression, whatever that means.
My mental illness isn’t romantic. It won’t lead to a profound, tragic end that forces people to rethink their views of human nature. I slog along and will continue to slog along, grossly underfunctioning in a way that makes me so angry at myself that sometimes I don’t know what to do with all that rage. My solution is to tamp it down as best I can so as not to be consumed by it. I tamp down the anger and the sadness and I tamp down hope and ambition alongside them. I don’t have the energy for any of it, anyway, since all my emotional resources go into trying to survive a gnawing, festering anxiety that never completely goes away.
Now and then I write about it, and that writing always sounds insufferably whiny when I read it back. Boo fucking hoo, Melissa. You get nervous a lot. Robin Williams – a genius and a philanthropist and true boon to the world – fought a titanic battle and in losing, gave society the final gift of awareness. I’m not fit to stand in his shadow.
And so my unhealthy mind finds ways to batter itself for not being unhealthy in the proper way. I’m writing this not for sympathy or validation – actually, I want to discourage anyone from putting anything of that sort in the comments. I’m writing it because everyone is writing about their bouts with thoughts of suicide today, and someone needs to speak for the people whose depression doesn’t flow in that direction.
As much as I sometimes doubt that my own problems are more than just character flaws, I nonetheless have plenty of evidence of my anxiety disorder as a real, medical issue. Not everyone is lucky enough to have the remarkable support structure I get from my family, friends and doctor. I’m writing this for those who compare their own depressions to Robin Williams’, and believe that they don’t measure up.
You don’t have to be suicidal to need, and deserve, to feel better. You don’t even have to believe in your own mental illness. You just have to know that not everybody dreads waking up every day, and looks forward to nothing more than getting to sleep again. You have to know that sadness is fleeting, and if it lingers too long that means it’s more than just sadness. You have to know that there’s help for you even if your disease isn’t likely to be terminal.
And once you accept those things, you have to remember that mental illness doesn’t strike only those who deserve to suffer. Robin Williams certainly didn’t deserve that, and unless you take active pleasure in harming others, neither do you.
You deserve help, and you deserve it even if you’re not dying.