For the second time in a month my big, beige, suburban community is mourning the loss of a life to suicide.
Last weekend we lost another friend, a 46 year old father of two, to the vice-like grip of depression.
In the aftermath of these two tragedies, a lot of people are asking themselves what they could have done differently. There's so much regret to carry, and the tendency is to wish we'd paid better attention, that we'd been more attentive to one who was clearly suffering in our midst. It's hard not to shoulder the blame or harbor guilt for not having been there – for not stopping it.
But sometimes there is no stopping it.
Sometimes there's nothing anyone could have done, because, like many other chemically treatable illnesses, sometimes depression can be fatal.
My husband just talked to this friend on Christmas Eve and says everything seemed fine. “He seemed happy.” These are the words we hear all too often after someone we love succumbs to the crushing weight of depression.
|Total Wednesday Addams.|
...But, like, if Wednesday Addams was from California.
I've struggled with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. Like, even as a small child.
I had performance anxiety so bad that every day during 3rd grade math I broke out in hives. Now I like to joke that I am literally allergic to math, but the truth is I was just an incredibly troubled little kid. Recurring nightmares of being chased, abducted, and buried alive plagued my dreams, and I fretted constantly about my Mom dying or one of my siblings taken by cancer or something - there was a definite Wednesday Addams vibe to my childhood. I appeared to be a normal kid, the only outward sign of my inner turmoil were the sunken eyes and dark circles earned by long, sleepless nights of worry and fear.
But I seemed happy.
I played the role of happy well enough to not call too much attention to my state of mental health. As long as a person seems reasonably happy, usually no one around them will stop long enough to notice if they're not. The thing about life is that everybody's doing it all at once. Everyone is working really hard to navigate the rough waters of their own lives, and that makes it kind of easy for people who are battling depression to fly under the radar. I mean, as long as you're not doing anything really batshit, like talking to a fire hydrant or eating the couch cushions, mental illness can be fairly easy to sweep under the rug. It's just one of those things that everyone knows is there, but no one has to look at or acknowledge unless they've really got the time and energy to lift the cover. As a child, I seemed happy, or at least happy enough to stay safely swept under the rug.
That's the scary thing about depression. It lies. We know it lies to it's victims, but it also lies to everyone around them.
Depression is a real tricky son of a bitch.
And that's why we've got to get better at telling the truth about it and exposing it for what it really is.
MENTAL ILLNESS IS REAL ILLNESS.
I take an antidepressant every single day.
I also take thyroid medication every single day.
I need both to function, I need both to feel well, I need both to survive.
No one has ever suggested that if I only prayed harder, my thyroid disease would be cured.
No one has ever suggested that I'm clinging to sin which is causing my thyroid to malfunction.
No one has ever suggested that I need to get right with Jesus to heal my thyroid.
No one has ever grown uncomfortable or gone silent when I've mentioned my thyroid disorder.
Do you know how much stigma is attached to having a thyroid that misfires? ZERO STIGMA. I can talk about it at church. I can pick up my meds without getting sideways glances from old ladies. I can sleep aaaaaall daaaaay looooong because my Tsh levels are off - no one bats an eyelash. But, apparently, I'm supposed to stay quiet about depression because, apparently, the chemical imbalance that causes depression makes other people uncomfortable.
What is this, like, 1935? Should I be shipped off “to my aunts house for the summer” while I get my shit together through electric shock therapy? I don't get it. What brand of hypocrisy consents to the use of medication to treat one hormone imbalance but not another? And why are we so afraid to talk about it???
PEOPLE ARE DYING.
People are dying and we want to keep their problems swept under the rug.
Well, it's time to pull back the cover. It's time to give people the space and freedom to talk openly about depression without stigma, without shame, and without embarrassment. This is not a sin issue, this is not a prayer issue, this is not a faith issue – it's a medical issue and it should be treated like any other medical issue, with medication and/or therapy.
It's time for the Church to remove the stigma it has largely created around depression and other mental illness by acknowledging the truth that mental illness is a real thing and can oftentimes be treated by modern medicine. Then we can quit skirting our responsibility as prayer warriors, and peace makers, and care givers, by extending our hands to the hurting and the vulnerable among us and walking with them toward true health and wellbeing. Even if it makes us uncomfortable. Even if we never receive their gratitude. Even if we don't understand their pain. And even if, in the end, we fail to relieve them of their torment and lose them.
No matter how hard we try, or how present we are, we won't always win this battle for the people we love. Sometimes depression is a fatal disease... and that is not your fault. It's complicated, I know. But sometimes the best you can do when you Love someone who is slipping away is point them toward hope and healing, and then be there to pick up the pieces.
Whether you are afflicted yourself, our you have a friend or loved one who struggles with it, depression is nothing to be ashamed of. For me, most of the time, it's honestly no big deal (because PILLS). I'm just so grateful that God created humans with brains that can get kind of screwy but that are also smart enough to figure out how to set them straight. How cool is that?!
As we reflect on these lives lost to suicide as a result of depression, we can resolve to do something different. Sadly, it won't bring back the dead, but it might save someone else from the pain of having to say goodbye too soon.
WE CAN TALK ABOUT IT.
It's crucial that we open up the line of communication on this weirdly taboo subject. It's time for those of us who struggle with mental illness to quit hiding it, and those of us who don't to quit acting scandalized by it.
People are in desperate need of help and they shouldn't be afraid to reach out and get it.
Just talk about it... End the stigma of depression and save lives.