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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Thoughts of the Week: Depression

Photo by Laura Bear
The Chris Thater Bicycle race is coming up in a couple weeks. It's a big deal around here because it brings in the pros as well as gives the amateurs a spotlight. There's a running race first then the bikes go. Here's a photo from last year to give you the sense of break-neck speed the pro-men achieve hitting the tight corners of the course. They changed to venue to a different location this year. It used to be based in a park. The course circled the park so spectators could hang out in the middle or on their front porches on the outside, and watch as cyclists completed each lap. This year, it is supposed to be held in downtown Binghamton. Not sure how this will work, but I'll let you know later.

Some sad things happened in the past week. I was struck the deepest by Robin Williams' death at his own hand. Robin Williams was a bicycle fan, which wins points for me, as well as a seemingly good and kind person and a jaw-dropping, cyclone-speed, sharp-witted comedian and talented dramatic actor. You don't have to search far on the internet to find examples of his kindness and his wit, as well as his work. This only makes the circumstances of his death all the more difficult for us to understand. Here was a man who had it all, right? Fame, fortune, a loving family, a beloved public personality. Yet, he suffered from depression. Watching him interact with Koko the gorilla on a recently shared you-tube video displayed a compassion and sensitivity that one rarely sees from public figures of late. I am pretty sure that Robin Williams understood the beauty of life, so why would he take his own?

Of course, I cannot begin to answer that question for Robin Williams, because I didn't know him. But, depression is a disease with a tremendous outreach. Being or living with a depressed person can be extremely difficult. Because depression is not rational. Depression is more than feeling "down." Depression is not a lack of being able to keep your chin up when things go bad. It is a chemical imbalance, a physical change in the brain that causes irrational thoughts and feelings and physical symptoms, such as fatigue and insomnia and irritability and crying or laughing or feeling suicidal or extremely, gravely hopeless for no specific reason. Yet, depressed people can still laugh. They may even seem okay most of the time. Perhaps people who are more sensitive to life's beauty and life's horrors are more vulnerable than most, but I would argue that anyone with a brain has the potential to get the disease. I have read that depression is anger turned inward. Maybe this is partially true, but this makes it sound like one can simply decide to express anger more outwardly and all will be well. As someone who has struggled with depression, I can tell you that this is not the case, although talking about it with someone who is trained to respond appropriately, or just someone who will simply listen, can help, at least for a little while. If only treatment were so simple.There are many triggers: a tragic event, a death in the family, divorce or any other loss, stroke, surviving a life-threatening illness, brain injury. But, sometimes there is no trigger. Sometimes, no matter how well we take care of ourselves, our brains betray us and we are left bewildered and shaken. We are alone in a crowd. No one truly understands. We want to stop feeling this way, but nothing we try seems to work. How does one stop that feeling of drowning over and over again, despite the life jackets floating just out of reach on the water? And then we reach one, but a rogue wave overtakes us anyway and we lose the life preserver. And then we get tired. Get the picture?

So, what can we do for someone who suffers this disease? What can the people who love them do for themselves? Don't be afraid to talk about it, would be a good start. Recognize it for what it is. Try not to place blame on anyone. Get help, this may include meds, so what? You take meds for other diseases, don't you? Give support. Accept support. Take care of your needs. Seek the company of others. Express your inner beauty. Acknowledge your vulnerabilities. Educate yourself. Get help. Get help. Get help. Find something that gives you reprieve that doesn't cause more damage. Physical activity, writing, meditation and medication work for me. For those who care, don't blame yourself if you can't save that person. Sometimes the disease wins.

RIP, Mr. Williams.
Photo by Laura Bear