Out of the shadows

By Abby Cavenaugh

August 20, 2014

The tragic death of Robin Williams last week has opened many people’s eyes to the plight of those who suffer with depression. It’s not merely something you can “get over” or “cheer up” or choose not to be. I saw a tweet that said asking someone why they’re depressed is like asking someone why they’re diabetic. And that is the truth.

It’s not easy for me to admit, but I have been there, probably exactly where Robin Williams was last Monday when he decided he had no way out, other than death. Somehow, I managed to pull myself out of it and he didn’t. He had millions of dollars, a loving family, the ability to make the world laugh, and he still succumbed to this disease. It’s that serious.

Depression runs in my family. I’ve lost a family member to suicide, although he passed when I was 3 years old so I don’t remember him, sadly.

I was diagnosed with mild depression in my 20s, after I split from my then-husband. I wasn’t on any medication. I used talk therapy with a wonderful woman named Mopsy and that was enough for me at that time. Just to talk and know that someone understood. I would tell her each week about the little things that set me off and made me feel down, and it helped.

Fast-forward to 2011. I’m 36 and having the best year of my life. I got to go on a cruise to the Bahamas with my favorite music group, New Kids on the Block, I had the most amazing experience meeting my favorite New Kid, Jordan Knight, I was 125 pounds for the first time since college. I should’ve been happy. I wasn’t.

I finally had the breakdown that led to my “recovery” in 2011. It was over something silly, I don’t even want to say what, but one little thing happened and my world fell apart. All I could think was that I wanted to die, I didn’t want to be here anymore, everyone would be happier if I was gone. My twin sister and niece could cash in on my life insurance policy and be financially better off. I thought about ways I could do it. I could never blow my own brains out, but hey, maybe if I cut my wrists, that wouldn’t be too bad. I could just slowly fall asleep and never wake up. Or, I could step out in front of an 18-wheeler and pray they wouldn’t stop. Or maybe I could take a bottle of sleeping pills.

Did it matter that I was having the best year of my life, that I got to cruise, that I’d be leaving behind a family who loved me? No. Depression isn’t logical like that. It lies. It tells you nothing will ever be good again. Your life is always going to suck. It’s never going to get better. You’d be better off just disappearing.

I think author J.K. Rowling described it pretty well: “It’s so difficult to describe depression to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling— that really hollowed-out feeling.”

She based the Dementors in the Harry Potter series on depression, and I totally see that now. They are depression. After a Dementor attacked Harry, his friend Ron Weasley says, “I felt I’d never be cheerful again.” Yep. Dementors = depression.

The good news for me is, I finally listened to my awesome twin sister and sought help. I went to my doctor and he prescribed medications for depression and anxiety. I didn’t want to have to take pills every day to feel normal, but that’s what I had to do. Drugs aren’t the answer for everyone; they weren’t the answer in my 20s, but they are now. On the few occasions when I’ve let them run out, thinking I’d be okay now, nope. Depression comes back, tells me I don’t want to be here anymore, things would be better if I was gone.

If you ever feel like this, please know you are not alone. Talk to someone. Anyone. Go to your doctor. Even if you think there’s no way, someone will understand. Do not let the Dementors take over. Don’t let them steal your joy. Don’t let them steal your life.

I hope this has helped someone. It took a lot of courage for me to write, but I did it so maybe even one person will know they’re not alone, they’re not crazy, and they have a choice.