Depression is similar. It's an illness in the brain. The National Institute of Mental Health says that depression causes visibly evident changes in the brain, including the areas governing "...thinking, mood, appetite, sleep, and behavior".
Just think about that for a minute. That means that depression is a real illness, which creates changes in the brain over an extraordinary span of functions. Those activities include almost everything that makes us human...everything that makes life worth living.
And so, a sick brain, a brain that is depressed, can't just think of something happier. A depressed brain can't remember better times, or hope for a brighter future. Those processes are not available.
A depressed brain remembers every failure, and counts it out loud. That brain believes its owner to be worthless, and says so. Repeatedly.
There is no way to hope your way out of depression. Depression eats hope--just swallows it whole.
It is not possible to postive-think your way out of the pit of despair that depression drops you into. No matter what kind of spiritual practice you have; or what tools you have created, or what network you have put into place, depression can trump it.
Depression is sort of like the silkscreens that Hollywood once used on its cameras. Once those covers were used to obscure the camera's vision, the viewer's choices were diminished. In Hollywood, that meant that viewers could not see the actors' wrinkles. But for someone who is depressed, that means it is no longer possible to find meaning in relationships, or to find joy through work, hobbies or other activities.
An interesting fact about the human brain: once our brains learn how to force neurons down a pathway, they keep sending neurons in that direction. (Gee, thanks, neurophysiology.) That is: Once our brains learn how to do something new, they keep doing it. Even when the new action is clearly destructive, like migraines or seizure activity.
Or depression. Even that is cyclical. Our brains just keep sending us into the darkness...even though we might not find our way back.
I am sorry that any of us ever has to struggle with depression. But I am grateful that we have this moment to gaze at its face, and recognize the damage that it causes. Inside depression's grasp, it is a challenge to remember that there is anything other than this neverending moment of suffering and sorrow. This is why, sometimes, those who suffer get lost in the dark.
We have a lot of work to do in order to create a more supportive culture around depression. I hear the term being used frequently, in order to describe a temporary, or transient, sadness. Let's just stop doing that, okay? Depression is to sadness what a regular steak is to those table-covering steaks they had to eat in certain '80s movies in order to win a free meal for their entire families.
A sick brain makes everything more challenging, at the same time that any action seems pointless. If we could treat one another with more kindness and compassion, that would go a long way towards creating the groundwork for more connections. We need to connect with each other. It makes a difference. When we connect with each other, we feel less alone.
Kindness and compassion are free...although it would be useful to offer some resources that could help people stay alive, even though their brains are trying actively to kill them.
If you are struggling: there is help. You can visit www.suicide.org in order to learn about resources for suicide prevention, or suicide survivor support groups. This next bit is lifted from their website. If you need someone to talk to: Call 911 right now, or call any of the following 24-hour hotlines:
Pro Bono Counseling Project
Visit their website here.
If you are not struggling: know that many hotlines would welcome your help as a volunteer, or need financial or other support.
And we can always be more kind to one another. Even if we can't spend time with each other, we can pray, or light a candle...but time together is best.
I am lucky to have enjoyed the work of Robin Williams for the greater portion of my life. I am sorry that we have lost him. But, like the body of his work, his passing here has opened possibilities for discussion about new and different ideas. His sensitivity and suffering have reminded us, in all our busy-ness, of our humanity.
A portion of our work here is to recognize that we are always whole. The brokenness is an illusion. When it comes upon us, we can recognize that our suffering is real, and reach out to each other.
Let's stay close to each other. Call out for help if you need to. No matter how dark the circumstances, please remember: your life matters. We need every star to keep the night sky bright.
*Sorry if that Beaches thing was a spoiler. It did come out in 1988. You had time, you know.