The humor burden
I’ve read at least a dozen articles about Robin Williams and depression. When the best help in the world is available to you and you are so depressed you stop asking for help and ultimately succeed at suicide, it begs a lot of questions.
I don’t like reading about it, I don’t like thinking about it, and yet I am drawn to it like the proverbial moth to flame. I don’t like it because it is just too damned close to home and it scares the hell out of me. The more I read the more I relate, and yes, I have suffered from depression, and more than once. I don’t talk about it very often because there is such a huge lack of understanding when it comes to depression. In light of this most stunning celebrity suicide, while many folks are receptive, I think its time to say something about it. First off, I didn’t choose it, and no, you can’t just snap out of it (I’d like to snap the ulna of every ignorant lout who has spoken that line to a person battling depression) and walking around smiling isn’t going to fix anything either.
While I may be a person who has dealt with depression, I’m no expert on it. My struggles with depression could be a chemical imbalance, or possibly a reaction to my early environment. It manifested itself with a sense of rejection mixed with a childhood that would turn difficult on a dime. I simply grew up convinced that I was worthless. To make matters worse, I had a lot of trouble focusing in school and was constantly getting into trouble. As I aged, positive things that happened in my life usually came as a result of dogged persistence, but I have always struggled with a sadness that can slowly drag me into its grip.
The thing that’s most disturbing to me about the recent focus on depression as a result of Robin Williams’ death is what people are saying about funny, creative people in general. The humor comes from tragedy. Lots of outwardly funny people are depressed, and some do actually commit suicide. That really hits home. I was the class clown. I still strive to make people laugh, and most of what I do in life is of a creative nature. How many funny, creative people have killed themselves? A lot. The self destruction takes various forms and can be abrupt or can take years of bad lifestyle choices. It isn’t like I didn’t already know this. I scaled back the attempts at being funny, and I also received professional help that was quite effective. However, when life gets really stressful I will revert back to humor, and I will seek help if I’m feeling overwhelmed. Life can suck, but I have been able to find happiness despite my lifelong struggles. I have to work twice as hard to achieve any kind of balance, but when I’m running on all cylinders life is good.
The problem is the seemingly unshakeable belief among the depressed that we are not worthy of help, and it keeps us from seeking it. Many of us also have a healthy dose of social awkwardness, and humor has been my crutch. For me, depression from self hatred started at an early age. I’m not blaming anyone because I own this. I’ve gone in and out of depression, beaten it, gotten beaten down again by it. I am not naive enough to think that I will never suffer deep depression again. On the plus side, I don’t have an addiction problem like Robin Williams had. I can’t imagine having to fight both at the same time, but many do. I actually think that I’m one of the lucky ones. Yes, I’ve lived through some exceptionally dark times but I probably bought myself some time because I was so sure that I deserved to continue suffering. More than 25 years ago I was lucky enough to have an employer who told me I was going for counseling, no arguments. He knows who he is, and I’m glad he did that. I was able to develop coping skills from that counseling, and when things get dark I am not afraid to seek help. It is still hard to deal with depression at times, and there’s no gauging the depth and severity that I will experience.
Every depressed person should get lots of hugs. We need people in our lives who let us know that someone cares about us when we are suffering. We need to be told sincerely that we are not alone in this, that hating ourselves is a big lie, and that we have some value in this world. We all need to strive to be kind to our fellow humans, because you never know what burden the other person is carrying.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.
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