Prior to the publication of this article, the staff of Literally, Darling learned of the untimely passing of Mr. Robin Williams. Given the nature of this piece, we thought it fitting to preface with our deepest condolences for Robin’s friends, colleagues, and most importantly family. At 63 years of age, acclaimed and beloved actor Robin Williams passed away on Monday, August 11, 2014. Coroner investigators suspect “the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia,” according to a statement from the Marin County Sheriff’s Office. In one of the first statements to be released about Williams’ passing, his media representative Mara Buxbaum told CNN, “He has been battling severe depression of late… This is a tragic and sudden loss.”
In remembrance of Robin Williams, we cherish the moments when he was at his best and funniest, bringing joy to people, and we celebrate his life. However, we must not forget to honor him by acknowledging his illness, its undeniable existence and its widespread and massive effect on those who also suffer from it. We must, as a society, stand up against this disease. We can no longer allow depression to take away any more of those afflicted. We must refuse to sweep the condition under the rug.
It’s taken me a long time to sit down and write this. Not only because things have been hard lately, but also because in the last few years it seems to take me a long time to do anything—to achieve anything. Even the smallest daily tasks can be difficult for me. I have depression and anxiety. Two things that admittedly I did not truly believe existed until I personally experienced the full, ugly brunt of them and was forced to face the truth.
For the longest time I thought I was just lazy. I thought, like I had been told many times before, that being productive was as simple as just getting up and doing things. I assumed that the surge of nervous energy that consumed me before work, school, meeting new people or doing new things was silly. I didn’t know that the alluring draw to stay on the couch, the feeling of apathy and the dizzying anxiety was a sign from my body that something was truly wrong. It wasn’t until I hit my own rock bottom and started going to therapy that I realized I wasn’t lazy and my worries weren’t meaningless. I learned that I was plagued with a real disorder that had skillfully seeped into and poisoned nearly every aspect of my life.
It may come as a surprise to many who know me, even my closest friends and family, because on the outside I am seemingly quite together and motivated. I have accomplished a lot in my life and throughout my years with depression and anxiety I have managed to maintain a relatively normal, even successful, existence. However, what people don’t know is that every day is a struggle to not give into that dark voice that tells me, “You won’t get anywhere. What’s the point? Just go back to bed.”
As a child I pretended to be sick a lot so I could stay home. After my parents would go to work, I would sit on the couch and cry, wondering why I ignored my responsibility. I rarely faked sick to avoid tests or projects. On the contrary, I enjoyed my classes and seeing my friends. But often, the simple thought of leaving the house scared me or seemed just too taxing. I didn’t understand why and couldn’t make sense of it. At a young age, I created an angry, judgmental, monster of an inner critic that got really good at pointing out how lazy and disappointing I was. That voice grew up with me and became stronger and louder.
Two years ago it got so loud that I was forced to reach out to a local guidance center and began some one-on-one counseling. My parents and friends were concerned. I would go weeks without leaving the house outside of general obligations. I’d stay up until 4 a.m. watching mindless television. Sleeping was difficult to do, but also the only thing I felt capable of. I’d cry every day, calling my best friend and my parents so frequently, I can imagine there were times they didn’t want to pick up the phone. Most conversations ended with, “I love you, but I don’t know how to help you.” They were tapped out, understandably so, and urged me to seek professional help. I begrudgingly went to therapy under the guise that I was just trying to get over a breakup, only to realize that admitting you have a problem truly is the first step.
Since then I have progressed in so many ways I can’t accurately convey just how integral therapy is to my life. I’ve learned to quiet the voice that tells me I am not enough and replace it with one of compassion, of understanding. Yet there are still days, weeks, even months where I avoid my responsibilities. I commit to hanging out with friends and then cancel last minute. I sign up for projects that I never complete. I go MIA for a while and don’t talk to anyone. I know that in doing so I let people down. I let myself down.
There have been many times on my journey I have asked myself, “What’s the point?” if I still can’t manage to follow through every time. During the moments when I hit setback after setback (and mind you—there are plenty), I lose perspective and think that I’ll never be as great as I have the potential to be.
I’m doomed to let everyone down, even myself.
That is when it’s more important than ever to remind myself how far I’ve come. That while I may have never written that one story, taken that class or answered that email, that text, that phone call, at least I made it to my therapy appointment this week. At least I got that new job. At least I talked myself out of that panic attack.
For someone who is intrinsically very goal-oriented, I have had to learn to acknowledge that I can only handle so much sometimes. That this life is a life in progress, and that with each passing day I am growing into someone who can better handle this disorder. I have learned that success cannot be met without a little failure. That from time to time I will falter but in the long run I will never give up. For others like me, I’m sure you might ask yourself, “Does knowing I can’t always handle the responsibility mean I should give up the things I love or the things I want to achieve?”
I have learned that the most important aspect of battling depression and anxiety is being able to forgive yourself for the things that at times you cannot do. Know your limits but healthily push yourself. Without something to work towards, depression and anxiety can and will eat you alive. Relish in the tiny victories, because some days just getting out of bed is enough. Most importantly, share your story. Share with those who love you the reality of where you are and where you want to go. Communication with yourself and with those around you is key.
Those tiny victories are what build your ladder out of depression, to refer to a method described by blogger Martina from Eat Your Kimchi. As she lives with EDS and chronic pain, she’s made it a priority to focus on the little joys and smiles that help you climb out of depression. You can support your virtual ladder through actual, physical, and tangible items, such as investing in personalized name necklaces for you and your best friends to remind yourself that you are not alone. Every day is all about making your ladder strong to battle depression.
Remind yourself each and every day—you are not less than. You are not alone. You are enough.
If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness, please utilize the following resources. There is always help.
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline
- Centre For Clinical Interventions
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
- International OCD Foundation
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Mental Health America
- Mood Juice
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