Goodreads interview with The Alchemist author Paulo Coelho about his latest novel Adultery. Asked why he chose this particular topic, he responded that he was planning to write about depression because so many of his social media followers dealt with it. But when he asked his followers to talk to him about their depression, he discovered that, for many, the depression was a consequence of betrayal.
And then news came that Robin Williams died. His battle with depression was well disguised by his infectious energy and the beauty of that Cheshire cat grin, but it was there. Hungry.
And while Williams' depression was mental illness – presumably the result of out-of-balance brain chemistry – depression triggered by a painful life event is as real, as devastating and as deserving of our compassion. For self and others.
As so many Facebook posts and Tweets are reminding us today, depression lies. Depression tells us we don't matter. But we do. Depression tells us things will never get better. But things do get better. Sometimes they get worse first...but every day we have proof that things get better. Illnesses are healed. Friends reach out. The clouds part and the sun shines down, literally. Things don't always get better as quickly as we'd like. And depression relies on us not having the patience to wait it out.
Depression insists that we're to blame for our problems. If we were smarter, if we were prettier, if we were thinner/kinder/more fun...then he wouldn't reject us. He wouldn't choose someone else over us.
That, too, is a lie. And a dangerous one.
But depression's biggest lie is that life isn't worth living.
I believed that. I believed it so much that I thought about ways to kill myself. After swimming my entire childhood in emotional neglect and shame, I thought I'd built my adult life on solid shore. So when that turned out to be an illusion, I wanted to give up. I didn't think I had the strength to get back up again. I told my therapist I was just too tired. Too tired of getting knocked down and picking myself up. Too tired of being hurt. Too tired to convince myself that life wasn't just a slog to the end.
She urged me to try anti-depressants. I resisted. My mother had spent decades on lithium and years trying to get off it. She had mixed her prescription meds with plenty of booze and gone, literally, crazy. I would visit her in the psych hospital, extend my hand and say, "I'm Elle. Your daughter." It hurt like hell that she remembered my brother but not me. More proof, I figured, that I didn't count for much.
So, given that the only other viable alternative for me seemed to be swerving my bike into the path of an oncoming truck (I figured it would be considered an accident and my kids would not suffer the stigma of a mother who killed herself, as my own had attempted more than once), I caved in to the meds.
Within a few days, the clouds seemed to lift slightly. Within a couple of weeks, I had the energy to put some effort into getting dressed.
And slowly, with therapy and time and those detested meds, the depression lifted. I also revisited those old childhood wounds, ripped open and bleeding from my husband's betrayal, and challenged many of my deeply entrenched beliefs. That I never quite measured up no matter how perfect my life appeared on the outside. That people only cared about me because they didn't know the "real" me. I can see now that I vastly overestimated my ability to fool people and vastly underestimated the love and compassion that exists in this world. People prefer the imperfect me to the "perfect" one, hands down.
But I'm also aware, as I write this, that I've relegated that dark chapter of depression to my "past" and that I wonder how effectively I respond to those of you who still are there.
I wonder if my rah-rah brand of betrayal support doesn't acknowledge enough just how debilitating depression can be.
If I've ever seemed dismissive of your pain, I'm sorry. It's not that I don't remember how horrible it was to feel nothing but blackness. It's that I now know it's possible to move forward from that.
But I want to take this opportunity to say that I'm aware that depression sucks the marrow from our bones. It turns us into shadows.
But the you – that beautiful, divine you that the world needs – is still there. And you need to fight like hell to find your way into the sunlight again. Maybe it's with the help of meds. Maybe it's with the help of a therapist or two or three. It takes a village, after all. Maybe it's with the support of a remorseful spouse or with the absence of one who never deserved you in the first place. Maybe it's posting like a madwoman on this site or any other that feeds your soul.
Let us be your army in this battle. Let us remind you as often as you need it that we have fought and, in so many cases, triumphed.
Depression is real, it's horrible, and it can absolutely be brought on the deep wound of betrayal.
But it doesn't have to be fatal.
Suicide hotlines -- international list
National Association of Mental Illness/Depression
Mind Your Mind/Canada
Separating or Divorcing, Part 3 (Part 2 is FULL)
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