The factory is silent. Its assembly line stands motionless. Somewhere off in the darkness, a buzzer sounds. One by one, lights begin to flicker and illuminate on long-unmanned diagnostic panels, giving a sense of enormity and complexity and scale to the machinery. The low hum of power supplies warming up comes next, followed by the higher and louder whine of turbines and electric motors. A whistle sounds, and one by one, employees begin to file in and take their places at the controls. Purposed for a single task, whose time has now come, the factory slowly comes to life...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On moms and depression

The news yesterday of Robin Williams's suicide hit me kind of hard. My exact words on Facebook were, "If a brilliant comedian, a man renowned for his generosity and kindness of spirit, loved by millions he's never met, with the support of the world and time and money behind him, succumbs to his internal torture, his own relentless demons, what hope have we mere mortals?"

Depression doesn't discriminate, doesn't care for status or money or fame, age or sex.

My primary thought for today is the expression that "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."

I know it sounds trite now, but the first time I heard it, it was a revelation.

I've been battling depressive episodes for most of my adult life. I have a wonderful life, and I know I'm not just sad or depressed because things go wrong sometimes. I am unwell. And once I realized that depression is a debilitating illness, a chemical imbalance, no different than arthritis or cancer or diabetes, I understood that I needed to treat it that way too. I went off medication for a long time even, using alternatives like relaxation and cognitive training instead. But then a huge postpartum episode pushed me to seek help again when I realized it felt insurmountable, and I moved back to medication. A few years later I'm still struggling. But I am a work in progress.

As I've reminded my husband several times today, my children need me, and a sad mommy is better than no mommy. Even in my darkest hours I remember this. But today's sadness isn't the usual. It's a grieving rather than depression. It's a function of an actual sad event, and I am conscious of it.

I make no secrets of my struggle because I'm pretty much the worst at asking for help from anyone for anything; ask my family. I've realized that if I just put it out there, it makes it easier for others to jump in and help. So many of us don't want to be seen as "weak", or as a burden. We don't want to worry others with what we consider to be our own insignificance. And unfortunately it's that same feeling that helps drive suicide. Suicide is not selfish. It is born out of the inability to see that, especially to those who love you, you will never be a burden. It's a last desperate attempt to normalize the world for yourself and for those you care about. You lack the ability to see the utter chaos and devastation that follows. All you see is the permanent solution. And your life is the only thing in the way. It's the blindness of mental illness.

The sad truth is that the state of mental health in our country is a twofold problem. First, somehow, ridiculously enough, there is still a very obvious stigma attached to mental illnesses and addiction. For example, people are afraid of medication. It's not the best solution in all cases, it's not for everyone, but it's a tool. It can help. It's nothing to fear. People are afraid of people taking medication. I've always said it's the people NOT taking their medication that you have to worry about...

People also don't know how to talk about depression or other mental illness. If they are the sufferer, they fear ridicule or rejection. It's an uncomfortable subject because at our core as humans, we want to be happy. It's just as uncomfortable as talking about death or money or politics because it causes us to come into conflict with our happy equilibrium. So people avoid it. But as social creatures, we need to talk about it. We need to learn how to at least open the conversations with one another. The more we speak, the more we see we are the same.

The second problem I will illustrate through an example. So I said I'm taking medication, but I need an adjustment. My primary care physician isn't comfortable changing it because he says, "I'm just guessing. I don't like that approach. You should really see psych." So he gave me a referral to a psychiatrist (MD) to be evaluated and properly prescribed.

I saw my primary on June 6th. It took a MONTH for the referred psych office to even call me to discuss my case, then an additional two weeks to call me just to schedule an appointment. Then they told me, "The earliest appointment we have is late September." I will be waiting almost four months, more than a month from today, even, until I can see someone covered by my insurance who can prescribe medication.(I convinced my primary to let me try something else in the mean time, which has helped, btw.)

If that isn't a screwed up system, I don't know what is.

We therefore need one another. It isn't about me and I and myself, it is about we, and we are all we have. Let's have the conversations. Let's talk about what bothers us. Misery loves company, if nothing else.

Someday I will need to guide my children. I will need to let them know when they succumb to their crazy teenage hormones, I will always listen. It may seem that your problems are insurmountable. That this is the worst day ever, and that this is the worst thing that ever happened to you, and that (s)he broke your heart, and no one will ever love you. But I will try my hardest to listen without judging. I will try to listen without belittling your feelings and perspective. I will respect your emotions and not necessarily try to solve your problems, but just be a good listener. And if you ask my advice I will give it. You are not alone, and just because you can't see the answer doesn't mean there isn't one. We will find it together.

I offer the same to my loved ones. I cannot cure you. I am not a professional. I probably can't even cheer you up. But I can hold your hand. And I can listen. The first step in overcoming any problem is recognizing the problem, and clearly defining it. If you can say, in some way, "I'm hurting, and I need help," you have taken the hardest step. Go one step further and get it. Help is out there. You are never, ever alone. There is no problem for which we cannot find a solution together.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is there for you if you are hurting, or if you know someone who is. If you need help right away they can advise you, even if you have concerns about someone on social media. They have online chat if you are in crisis right now. It is free and confidential.

From their website:
If you feel you are in a crisis, whether or not you are thinking about killing yourself, please call the Lifeline. People have called us for help with substance abuse, economic worries, relationship and family problems, sexual orientation, illness, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and even loneliness.

 Get help now: or call 1-800-273-8255, any time, 24/7.

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