Disclaimer: This post was written entirely before the tragic news of Robin Williams’ suicide. I hope his death can serve as a reminder for those struggling with Bipolar Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder that their illness is very serious and potentially life-threatening especially if left untreated.
A client I spoke with only last week has been struggling with depression off and on for several years. She takes medication daily and attends weekly counseling. The depression waxes and wanes, and sometimes she barely notices it’s there. And yet sometimes it hits her quite suddenly, with all the force of a thunderstorm and the quietness of a whisper.
I mention this client because I think she speaks very profoundly about the terror of living with depression. No matter what she does, it is still there lurking in the shadows. She says it is like a cloud she can’t seem to find her way out of. She is doing everything right seemingly: getting exercise, seeing friends, going to counseling, and yet, the depression remains.
J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, famously struggled with depression in the early days of writing the series. In fact, it was her struggle with depression that inspired Rowling to create Dementors, the terrifying creatures that feed on human feeling. Of depression and Dementors, she says: “It’s so difficult to describe [depression] to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling—that really hollowed-out feeling. That’s what Dementors are.”
In the books, Rowling described the Dementors like this:
“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself — soul-less and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”
If this sounds familiar to any of you, please consider letting someone in on your struggle. Try therapy. Tell a trusted friend or family member about your thoughts. Depression loves to cause isolation and shame, ensnaring its victim in a fog. From the depths of this fog, it can seem like no one will understand or care. The bravest and best thing you can do to fight depression is to risk the vulnerability of asking for help.