As my heart aches from the untimely death of Robin Williams, I decided I'd tell my own story about depression. I hope it will ignite a much-needed dialogue that may help to remove the ridiculous stigma attached to those afflicted with depression.
In times of great crises we all need to feel safe and loved, enabling us to reach out and openly communicate with others about our feelings. Then, perhaps, one bad moment in somebody's life will lead to a better moment, and then another one and another. One day at a time.
Here is my story.
A few years ago I had the misfortune of waking up in terrific pain, feeling as if a knife was stabbing me from the inside out. My back and abdomen battled against each other as I cried out in agony. I stupidly withstood it, knowing that my nephew's Bar Mitzvah, an important occasion in our family, was occurring that weekend. I have no idea how I got dressed, or put on my tight stockings and skirt. I could barely move, sit or bend. Yet somehow I made it through the ceremony and reception. The next morning I finally went to the emergency room, and after six long hours in the waiting room, I was misdiagnosed and then diagnosed with kidney stones. And gallstones.
To make a very long story short, it took weeks to have two surgeries, one lithotripsy, and weeks of recuperating at home.
But worse than the pain was the dark, black cloud that constantly loomed over me. It felt as if I was imprisoned in my own body, unable to be the person I once was. I couldn't get dressed, I couldn't eat, and I had no interest in anything but the dark cloud. I began losing weight, and sat in a chair all day and stared out the window.
I thought I was losing my mind.
The guilt of not being able to care for my son that summer ate away at my heart. He stayed with different family members, and my husband filled in whenever he wasn't working. My parents would visit and bring dinner, but I couldn't rally to sit at the table to join them. The lost look on their faces still haunts me. What was happening to their daughter? How could they help me?
The answer is they couldn't help me, because I had no idea what was happening.
Then one day I was told that my hormones were completely out of whack, and because my body had endured kidney and gallstones, terrible physical pain, and an exacerbation of my Multiple Sclerosis, something I'd never experienced before was happening: depression.
My loved ones convinced me that I was not meant to have depression long-term; they were sure of that. They assured me there was no shame in reaching out for help to take care of myself, and urged me to find a qualified therapist for some "talk therapy" combined with the right medications.
They were right.
It took awhile, but I finally found a therapist I was comfortable with, and through trial and error I found the right medication. Slowly I began to crawl away from the dark and back into the light. I climbed back into my old self, and eventually weaned off the medication.
I was able to take control of my life once more.
But my life was changed forever, because I had a very small glimpse of what it's like to live with depression. There are days of horrible, unreasonable thoughts, and times when you believe your life is not worth it. The world has a dark filter on it, and everything seems difficult.
It's pure hell.
Listening to reporters talk about Robin Williams for the last few days, asking ridiculous questions such as why didn't he just snap out of it, is why we need more education and awareness about depression in our country. If you've never walked in the shoes of depression you have no idea what it feels like. Robin Williams had severe depression, and only his family and close friends know what he endured. Who are we to guess?
I wish he had found the right combination of therapy and medication, but for now let's stop the guessing and allow his family to have the privacy they deserve to grieve in peace.
I pray that Robin has finally found peace. He was pure heaven to us on earth. I hope that now he is having fun making Jonathan Winters, Johnny Carson and God laugh, and that our talented and big-hearted Genie is laughing along with them. He certainly deserves it.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Read more of Cathy's work on her blog, An Empowered Spirit
Follow Cathy Chester on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@CathyChes