The death of Robin Williams this week has stimulated a lot of buzz about depression and mental illness in general. Many ask "How could he do that? Why? What was going on in his mind?" Truth is, no one can really tell who has a mental illness, or why they decide that death is better than the pain they feel.
I've dealt with many people who have varying levels of depression - in my office, in my personal life, and at times, personally. I really don't even like the word depression, because I have learned that it is a combination of factors that interact and can take on a life of their own.
Compare depression to the structure of a house:
- The cement foundation = genetics. Some are predisposed to the genetics of emotional instability.
- The truss (main support beam) is equivalent to negative beliefs, which supports the rest of the structure.
- The floors are akin to negative feelings, which may be wobbly or uneven.
- The walls are like the negative actions, which is what we see, cover up, and observe most readily.
Once this structure has been created, an internal cycle emerges. This cycle can range in intensity, which, when severe enough, can cause negative thoughts and feelings to feel like a black hole. This is when reality becomes vague - to the point that the depressed person loses touch with him/herself and what is truth. I've had clients tell me that they get into an emotional fog and lose memory, and become desperate to make the pain stop. Some people act out their pain (self-injury, gambling, drinking, e.g.) others act inwards, towards themselves. Suicide is an act which involves both.
The negative cycle in depression is a part of why people develop eating disorders. They have the underlying structure and cycle that results in bingeing, purging, restricting or any combination thereof. I want to educate others about the "why" of eating disorders, and believe that the words of a recent 16 year-old client beautifully illustrate her experience of how her depression and Binge Eating connect:
After my friend read my private journal, which had my most private thoughts in it, she told my school counselor, who then told my parents. She also told some of my friends, which caused me to feel really uncomfortable, because I wanted to be "off the radar." I felt that I was treated like I was retarded, that everyone was walking on eggshells around me. I pretended that I was happy, and hid behind my smile and "party" behavior. I began to drink excessively to cope with the lies, pain, and depression. I ate in order to smother the tears that tried to come out - and to help myself feel my body again. I really don't remember much about my life during that time because was in a mental and emotional fog. My life became a blur - I don't recall situations that my friends would talk to me about. I felt disconnected from myself and my life - like I wasn't in my body, but I was watching me from above. When I found out that it wasn't normal, that's when I became more angry, scared, hurt, and felt like it [my pain] was bubbling out all over the place. That's when I decided to come and see you.
Fortunately, she is now well on her way to recovery. She has learned to use her voice and communicate the unspeakable pain she's kept inside. She continues to develop new beliefs about who she is, versus believing that she is unlovable or unimportant. She is learning how to manage her racing thoughts and overwhelming feelings. She is growing by leaning into her pain.
If you are an "Average" Robin Williams, and have been stuffing, avoiding, or acting out your pain in destructive ways, please seek a professional that you trust. Talk to them like you've never talked before. Find your voice. Take your medication, if it's warranted. Keep trying.
You CAN restructure and redecorate that house without tearing it down.