Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Let's Work Together to End the Stigma. #RobinWilliams

The news about Robin Williams' suicide hit me in the same way it hit most everyone - like a veritable ton of bricks. I had a physical response to hearing he had died, and another one when I found out how. Just ugh. 

Part of the reason that this human outcome feels particularly icky is that like 43.6 million United States citizens over the age of 18, I have generalized anxiety and depression. So I can quite literally put myself in a small section of the shoes Mr. Williams wore in his life, because I know how completely shitty and powerless depression makes you feel. 

Depression lies. It preys on your brain and your chemistry, and does its' damn best to keep you isolated. As Harvey Fierstein, Robin's on-screen brother in "Mrs. Doubtfire" tweeted Monday evening: 

  • "Please, people, do not fuck with depression. It's merciless. All it wants is to get you in a room alone and kill you. Take care of yourself."

There is a history of mental illness in my family tree on both sides, so in my mind, it's just chemistry. Like 80% of the population that have symptoms of clinical depression but do not receive any sort of treatment, I spent a lot of years trying to manage it myself and/or thinking it was something I could overcome, if I just tried hard enough. Allow me to say, neither approach worked well because neither belief is accurate.

I finally decided that asking for help was better than living with this shitty chemistry, and sought assistance from a counselor, who wisely also prescribed medication. The combination of the talk therapy and medications has helped immeasurably over the last 20+ years. 

Another crucial step for me - and please realize I am speaking only from my lived experience - was taking responsibility for myself, and my actions, and creating an atmosphere of personal accountability. 

This means not blaming my family for passing along poopy genes, or blaming anyone for anything I believe and/or feel they did to me. Where I am at any given moment is where I am - I can only move forward from, using the best resources I have available to me, and with the knowledge that to get farther in life, I need to remain open to asking for help. 

I also choose to live with an Attitude of Gratitude. 86.2% of the time this attitude is front and center in my life, but that also means that 13.8% of the time it is not front and center. During these times, I have many tools in my toolbox to get back to Gratitude. 

My current Top 7 things to do when I am feeling super icky:
- I talk with close friends and/or Spouse about how I'm feeling. I am so incredibly lucky to have the depth and breadth of people around me who truly love me, and I think of these folks as my soul peeps. Is it fun to be vulnerable? Hell no. But at the end of being vulnerable, with the right people, it is so goddamn freeing. Weight is not just figuratively, but literally, lifted from my brain. 
- I go to the gym. Not a humble brag, I swear. Ask any professional in any realm of health and they will agree with me 150% that exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. As much as I hate to sweat, I really also totally love it because I feel like such a badass when I've sweated my way through a workout. 
- I dance it out. I am blessed with a preponderance of silliness. I will dance in my car, in my cubicle at work, in the hallways, in the grocery aisles - basically anywhere the mood strikes. I don't really care if I'm seen, and especially love it when my silliness makes someone smile. I'm not doing it to get a smile, but it's a great return on my silliness.
- I allow myself a set amount of time for complete wallowing. Depending on my mood, it might be 10 minutes, it might be 10 hours, it might be a whole damn day. But then, I make myself snap out of it. I think about my Spouse and how much my poopy mood bothers him. I talk to my soul peeps, and just in being able to list the people that I consider to be a soul peep, I feel better. 
- Reminding myself that while I can't control my chemistry, I can control my response to it. It's a lot easier to just say "Fuck it - I feel crappy, I'm going to be in a crappy mood". But it's not fun, for me or those around me. I hate feeling crabby, even more than everyone hates being around a crabby Jen. I would rather feel anything but crabby/icky/depressed/at my wits' end. And you know what, I CAN choose to be something else. I can slap a dorky grin on my face, and 9 times out of 10, it actually becomes a genuine expression of feeling. I can fake it until I make it. I don't have the power to override the chemistry of depression, but I do have the power to override how I feel. 
- I take a nap. Like a cranky toddler, sometimes the best thing that works is a nap. Plain and simple. Just don't stay isolated long. I give myself a time limit, either by setting an alarm or better still, asking Spouse to wake me up and MAKE ME GET UP. Then get out of the house and do something. Even if it's wandering around a store. 
- I keep a written list and one in my phone of what has worked to make me feel better, and refer to it for when I'm in a mood where I think nothing will work. It takes the mental effort of trying to think of something to help. 

If you would like my expanded list, email me at anamcara1004 (at) and I will gladly send it to you, with the hope that something resonates for you as well. 

My biggest hope from this lived experience is that we can stop talking in hushed tones about depression and mental illness. 

I'm not ashamed that I have depression. I don't think it's awesome or anything, but it does define me. It plays a part into the person that I am. It has helped foster an empathy for others that I suspect I would not have without depression, and has helped me to recognize the behavior in those around me, such that I can intervene and make myself available for them. 

It also means I need to be hyper-aware of what I am feeling, what I'm allowing my inner dialogue to try and get me to believe. 

Some days I have to look in the mirror and say out loud to myself, "Jennifer, you are one awesome woman. You are not these lies.". Some times these words make me cry because I am faking it to make it, but some days I pump my fist, throw a kiss at myself, and sashay the hell outta that room. #BecauseBitchPlease

If you are feeling down, you need a pep talk. Listen to Kid President. He may be a young man, but he is super awesome, and he knows you are too. 

If you feel like you want to end your life, please, please, please, please, please - call someone. Someone you know, or if you cannot do that, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Please. 
We can't change the outcome from Robin Williams' story. Unfortunately. 
But each of us holds the power to change the outcomes of our stories. 
Even if you don't feel that way right now, I promise you that you do. 

I believe in myself, I believe in you, and 
I believe we can learn something greater from the loss of 
this wonderful, funny, sensitive, generous, caring man 
who was an artist, father, husband, friend, mentor, and comic genius. 

Be kind to yourself, and be braver than the fear. Please.

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