08/15/2014 11:36 am ET Updated Oct 14, 2014

Shining a Light on Our Dark Secret

On my 11 hour drive home from vacation yesterday, I listened to about three hours of analysis, commentary, and dialogue on the horrors currently occurring in Iraq. I'm sure there was more discussion, but three hours was about all I could handle. Then I got home and opened Facebook and saw that nearly all the posts were about the death of Robin Williams. Although I had just heard about unbelievable sadness and tragedy, the news of his death made me cry. The atrocities overseas are horrific and disturbing, and they are something to which I cannot relate. Robin Williams death, however, is totally relateable. It has touched us all because it is personal. He unwittingly has shined a light inside that dark place inside of us, a place we want to keep buried and hidden and something we don't talk about. And we are all aching because of it.

I knew Robin Williams suffered from both addiction and depression. I just didn't know how bad it was. What makes this extra sad and scary for me is that I've been there, and, by the grace of God, have come back. His falling into that chasm and not being able to get back brings that reality right back into my face. This is not something to dismiss or ignore. This is very real and potentially very deadly.

Some of you reading this may be surprised to hear that I suffer from bouts of depression, as I am such a positive, glass-half-full person. I am both. A therapist once told me that I probably had a low level of depression much of my life, but I also have the personality to fight through it. That fighting nature,coupled with the people pleasing, makes it both a blessing and a curse. I will work very hard to make sure no one knows I am suffering. It is exhausting work. It has also prevented me from seeking help, when it would have benefited me greatly to do so. I probably wouldn't be here today, though, if I didn't have that fighting spirit that wants to find a light out of the darkness.

In my book, Soul in Control: Reflections of a Reformed Superwoman, I have a story about a medically induced depression, caused by accidental over-medication. That was one of my scarier depressions, as my usual logic and optimism vanished. If it hadn't been for loving people around me who encouraged me to see the doctor, who knows what may have happened. I was certainly running out of good reasons to hang around, and living in my head was becoming an increasingly bad neighborhood in which to spend time. Gratefully, coming off the medication set me back firmly in reality, where I could find the gratitude in life which had somehow eluded me in my compromised state.

If you find yourself feeling down, or blue, or heading into a dark place, don't wait to take action. And don't think you can do this all by yourself. There is no shame in reaching out. People genuinely care and will be there for you. Here are some other ideas that may be of assistance:

  1. Don't isolate. Get out of your house and out of your head. Every ounce of your being will want to curl up under the covers and stay there, but that is the worst place for you. If you need some time alone, take it. But give yourself a limit. I once found myself unable to get out of bed for two days after a particularly hard breakup. But I made myself get up and shower and get dressed and go to work on the third day, something that probably saved me from dropping in a deeper, darker place.
  2. Talk to someone. Go to family or friends, or if you feel too much shame, go to a neutral third party. See a professional. There are resources full of caring people who want to help you.
  3. Stay sober. As much as it seems like a good idea at the time to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, numbing the pain does not make it go away. In fact, mind-altering substances can adversely affect your normal filters that would prevent you from doing harm to yourself.
  4. Meditate and/or pray. As hard as it may be to get quiet, looking for help outside of yourself does help.
  5. Exercise. Moving your body can get those endorphins going again. Yoga may help. Get your heart rate up and your mood will follow.
  6. Be gentle on yourself. This is not an easy time and give yourself the time to heal. Eat well, get enough (but not too much!) sleep, exercise, spend time with loved ones and pets, be of service to others. You are worth it!

Robin Williams gave the world much laughter and beautiful, heartfelt performances. Hopefully his final act gives us all a chance to start an open dialogue and allow our healing to begin. RIP, wise clown.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.