Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fighting Depression: A Personal Story

The sky out my window is overcast, clouds pasted in the sky like gray-white shrouds. There is enough wind to move the branches on the trees and increase the already-chilling autumnal temperatures hanging about this mid-August day. It's as if Nature herself understands that some magical Warmth has left the world.

The news of Robin Williams' suicide yesterday caught me completely off guard, as it did everyone else. It's not merely the loss of such a man, one who has been a non-stop font of laughter and energy for a generation and an inspiration to so many, but the revelation that, during so much of the time when he was making us laugh, he was struggling to keep himself from crying. Depression is everything the opposite of funny. It is an insidiously dark, dangerous devil that does not admit laughter, that repels it. Robin Williams could spend a lifetime making us laugh, could spend it laughing himself, but it would not make one iota of difference: not one bit of that laughter could sink through the layers of impenetrable darkness that depression had wrapped around him. It's like walking on the beach slathered with copious amounts of SPF-10,000. You may look as vulnerable to the sun as anyone else, but you are not going to tan or burn.

But Robin Williams, of all people. Robin Williams, who just last year was manically making us laugh in "The Crazy Ones." Robin Williams, who will forever be the Voice of the Genie and Mork from Ork and Mrs. Doubtfire. Even Robin Williams?

Yes.

Because depression is far more common than anyone who is not depressed understands. Depending on whose statistics you wish to cite, between nine and fifteen percent of American adults are battling depression. The actual numbers don't matter; what matters is that they are not tiny. They are not just the people who are always sad and dark. They are normal people, trying to deal with their lives, fighting against something inside themselves that is making it harder. And if they are fighting chronic depression, as Robin Williams apparently was, all they can really hope to do is control it, not defeat it. It is a demon that does not give up: give it an opportunity and it will try again.

I know this.

I have suffered from depression for most of my life, though it was only diagnosed at age forty. And when the dark times came, trying to find my way back to the light was so hard that sometimes I truly thought it could not be done. Sometimes I thought it was not even worth doing.

My depression was exacerbated by my transsexual secret, of course. Keeping this from the world was such a huge burden that it pushed me close to the edge more than once. On those occasions when I reached that edge, though, when the darkness threatened to pull me under, I somehow found my way back without quite knowing how I managed it. And when I was finally diagnosed, I was given medications to control the parts of my brain that released the chemicals that created the imbalances that drove the demons in the first place.

There are times, though, when even the best drugs do not work against demons. Some years after I transitioned, when my life was on a stable course and things were going well, I was hit by the emotional equivalent of the mythical Three Sisters Waves. The Three Sisters are a myth on Lake Superior of three gigantic waves, one after the other, each more huge than the last, that pummel a ship so dramatically that, when the third and final wave has passed, the ship is simply gone. It was one of the many theories of what happened to the Edmund Fitzgerald, the ore ship that sank on 11/10/75 killing all 29 of its crew. Anyway, in rapid succession: I discovered my fiancé had given me herpes, my fiancé could not deal with that fact and so left me, and then my brother disinvited me to his wedding (because, he said, so many people had not yet seen the transitioned me that the wedding would end up about me instead of him). And to make sure my ship was well and truly sunk, a fourth wave: the transphobic superintendent of my school trumped up a reason to fire my from my theatre position, which I had held for fifteen years.

My head was spinning. My life was in shambles. I had no children with me that weekend, nor would until Wednesday. I was alone. I had an incurable disease and the guy who gave it to me, who didn't care that I was trans, couldn't live with giving it to me. My brother, whom I had allowed to live with me for two years while he made nothing teaching in Chicago, was about to do the most visible dissing that had yet been done to me. And then, my work, into which I had poured myself for years, was suddenly yanked from under me by a bigoted asshole even though I was by far the best qualified person in the school to do it. I tried to keep hold of myself, but nothing was working. I cried for a day. I didn't eat. I didn't sleep. I started hearing the demon for the first time in years.

The promise I had made to my therapist before transition was that I would die female. Well, I was female. That is what I thought as I climbed into the car. I thought about my children as I turned on the ignition, thought about what a fucking mess I'd made of their lives and how they would be better off without me. I knew it was my father's argument, but whatever. I turned on the radio and I just sat there. Waiting.

I do not honestly know if I would have gone through with it. I might have. I think I was almost hoping to fall asleep before fully making up my mind, thus creating a kind of default suicide. I know I would not have been missed until Monday morning, when someone at school would have figured out I was not there and tried to contact me. I'm not quite sure what would have happened at that point. But that is all conjecture.

My phone rang. I don't know why I answered it, but I did. It was a woman from my church, asking about me. She had noticed how I had missed a meeting of a group we were in, and she wanted to know if I'd be there the next night. She asked me if there was anything wrong.

I did not tell her I was in the middle of committing suicide. (Yes, a tad busy now: could you call back later?) But I did hear myself telling her everything that was happening, did hear myself crying, did hear her voice gathering more and more concern. She talked to me for what seemed a long time but probably was not. I don't recall the specifics of the conversation, only that, when it was over, I turned off the car. I sat for another minute or two before getting out and going into the house, but I did that too. The crisis was over.

There is so much life I would have missed had she not called me that night, so much joy (and yes, so much pain too). I talked with her last year to tell her what her call had done; she recalled the incident but had not known the circumstances and was overwhelmed at hearing it.

"Sometimes," she said, "I wonder if I really do any good around here."

I guess my point is this:

If you meet me you would never know that I suffer from depression. Nor would you know it to look at many of my friends who also do. We are not sad. And that is a good thing: it means the compounds we take to rebalance what is naturally out of balance are working. To watch Robin Williams work, you'd never know he was depressed either. Like so many others, he lost his battle. That is not how it has to end. His loved ones did know what was going on; they were trying to help. It just did not work.

Pay attention to your own loved ones. If they exhibit signs of depression, encourage them to seek therapy and/or medication. I am so very happy to be here: life is not to be tossed aside because the demon wants it. Help them fight back.

They cannot do it alone.

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sunsparks

it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
unmoving
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be


Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

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