The thing about depression is that it really is not very funny. That’s what makes it difficult for someone like me who relies on humor and wit to deal with every problem that attacks in life. Sometimes you have to stand toe to toe with the devil and look him square in the eye.
Robin Williams’ death is one of those things that can send you on a downward spiral into depression and darkness. Whenever someone loses the battle, you are reminded how hard it is to pull yourself out of the old black oubliette, the dark hole that is depression. I had to take some time this weekend to mourn and be alone. No one else can really do anything to help, other than to be there and be willing to listen. People think you have to say something to help someone with depression, but, in truth, talking makes it worse. If you tell the person you know what they are going through, or you know how hard it is, they might become violently upset. Nothing is more personal or individual than suffering depression.
Now, I know some skeptical sorts of know-it-alls out there are going to immediately think, “What the hell makes this guy a so-called expert?” And they are probably right to question it. But here is what you probably didn’t know. Of the five members of my immediate family, two of them have been hospitalized for depression a total of four times. One incident involved self-inflicted injury. We reacted quicker than is financially sensible the next three times. Two members of my family suffer from bi-polar disorder, though only one of those has been diagnosed by a doctor, and only one of those was ever hospitalized. We don’t get many visitors in our home any more. My wife is rightly embarrassed by all the holes that have been punched through the plaster of the walls. I have been thrown down the stairs once. I have had to hide all the knives in the house three times. One of my children had to dodge a knife that was thrown at them. We have called the police on at least one occasion, and been called in by child protective services once. Through it all, I have been the one faced with talking down the sufferer. You look them in the eyes and see their pupils dilate, and sometimes the eye-twitch, and you know, “uh-oh, it’s time for the hurting again.” There is nothing I can say. There is nothing I can really do. I just have to stay there (you can’t leave the sufferer alone for obvious reasons). I have to keep the sufferer safe, and hopefully calm, and wait it out. And I have to be ready to listen. No jokes are allowed. If you haven’t stopped reading this yet because it is too hard and ugly to consider, I can offer a little bit of light and hope. I have gotten so good at doing this, that when a girl in one of my classes had a suicidal bi-polar meltdown, I was the one who knew what to do. (All those hours spent with psychologists and therapists count for something.) The principals and the counselors helped to keep her safe, but I’m the one who allowed her to vent and have her say, who took the time to listen and assure her that she really was being heard. I’m also the one who got the thank-you and the apology for having to listen to how much she hated me and hated the school when she was at the bottom of the dark hole. I never asked for any of this, but I have come away with a rare set of skills. For now my children are safe and happy, and for now my worries seem to have come to a close… well, a temporary reprieve. These problems never go away. You get to keep them for a life time. But they are not 24/7.
So, you would think, with my ability to help others, I might not be totally without resources when battling my own depression. You would, of course, be wrong. You cannot beat back the darkness by yourself. Long hours of staying in bed and hating your life do not help. They are easy, but they do not help. So, I have to take to the keyboard and write. I fight back with words on paper. And more than that, I have to write for others to read, even if I have written personal things that really aren’t other people’s business and will probably be used against me if I ever try to do something totally stupid like run for public office. And from being a wordless wonder suffering in the bedroom yesterday, I have transformed myself into an eight-hundred-plus word fountain today. To get through life I have to sing and dance and tell jokes and write and play harmonica and write and spend time with my kids and write and write some more. Those things help when even the depression medication has no effect… when your favorite movie comedian loses his own battle.