Life is difficult. This is what I often tell my children. That life isn’t all about things coming easily but that it often can be about rising to challenges, overcoming obstacles and mustering courage until things get better. What I forget to tell them is that we aren’t meant to suck it up and power through life’s challenges all on our own. That we should be cultivating friendships that provide more than just a gang to go to the movies or lunch with, but relationships that become a framework of stability made up of people whose ears listen, whose arms embrace and whose hearts desire only the best for us.
The news of Robin Williams’ suicide shines a light into the shadows of depression. It’s not that his passing is any more tragic than any other loss of human life, created in God’s image and deserving of love. But the shock of it, the reality that no amount of money, fame or success can insulate a person from the prowling lion of despair, demands a shift in thinking. How do we defend against hopelessness?
I once heard it said that depression can be like missing layers of protection necessary to guard the windows of your heart, mind and soul. So when the winds of calamity blow in, carrying heartache from around the globe via network news, or spin up like spontaneous tornados in our own personal lives, it’s impossible to draw the blinds, slam the sash or secure the shutters. It all just pours in unfiltered, overwhelming our coping mechanisms and churning up emotion void of perspective. I can only imagine that a similar unfiltered awareness of the world is also part of what makes an artist able to portray great depths of reality or an addict more prone to seeking shelter in the numbness of self-medication.
And when the storms come, to the depressive and non-depressive alike, why do we feel the need to hunker down alone? Do we really believe nobody else understands? Or cares? Are we embarrassed by our suffering or our seeming inability to improve our own condition? It’s probably this and more; cultural heritage, family history, fear of difficult or unwanted advice. Silent suffering is why we never seem to know when friends are getting divorced until the papers are filed or when someone has lost their job until the house goes into foreclosure. Lips remain sealed and those who are supposed to be our friends languish alone in a crowd.
I am blessed to have fairly well functioning “window coverings”, and yet I’m not immune to episodic bouts of gloom. Sometimes it’s hormonal or seasonal and I know from experience it will pass. But other times, a life event, like a storm brewing on the horizon with angry black clouds, can threaten the integrity of my otherwise good mental health. And when that happens, I am tempted not to tell. If it’s a recurring struggle, I don’t want to rehash an overplayed complaint. If it’s an embarrassing situation, I’m tempted to resist any exposure at all. And if my story would be a buzz-kill at a dinner party, I may simply lift my glass among the revelers, smile, remain silent and sip until I feel less…
But, No! I will not let the lying lips of despondency convince me to close off from those who love me. I will not avoid opportunities to talk about what’s bothering me. I will not refuse to at least consider well-intentioned advice or encouragement. I will affix blessings on my doorpost and I will not be deprived of the power of prayers offered up by the God-fearing people in my life.
I will be honest. I will admit when I’m afraid or sad or in pain. And I will remind my children, my husband, and my friends that I love them and that although we are to have courage, we do not stand alone.