Robin Williams’ battle with depression was not news to those of us who are fans. Although mind boggling to some, most brilliant minds carry the traits of both extremes — exuberance and despair — Williams was no different. The criticism on his suicide has, however, left me saddened. How can we judge? We never know what goes on inside another human’s mind or heart, yet we are so quick to jump to conclusions.
This morning, Robin Williams’ widow released the news that he was in his early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Later at the hair salon, I heard a woman comment, “Oh, that makes sense, then.” I was infuriated. Was she saying it is OK to take your life because you have a physical disability but not because of a major depression? I really held myself back from yelling that at her.
This is personal to me. Like Williams, I struggle with depression, too.
Having a spinal cord injury is not easy. It is not easy having to learn to do basic things at the age of 30. It is difficult to accept the changes that come with not walkingand lugging a wheelchair around everywhere. It is depressing to lose control of bladder and bowel and it is embarrassing to discover new erotic zones on a body that has a mind of its own. It is frustrating not being able to pick up my young daughter when she falls on the floor or to go in the ocean with her for the first time. Some days it is difficult to shrug off the unwelcome stares and whispers. Yet, for me it was much harder accepting that I was depressed. It seemed a personal defeat because I thought it meant the SCI had won, that SCI had succeeded in bringing me down. It took me eight years to commit to treatment and accept that I could not just try harder to be happier and more positive on my own.
As wheelchair users, we all have some notoriety in our hometowns, which is both a blessing and a curse. I’m not a celebrity, but my accident brought a lot of skeletons out of my closet. Waking up from my coma no longer feeling like superwoman — impenetrable, indestructible and independent — was my kryptonite. It affected my psyche so deeply that I almost drowned in an abyss of desperation and agony every time I tried to tackle my feelings by myself. So many tears. So many confused, lonely, anguished, tired tears ran down my face before one word manifested out of the deep, dark crevices of my broken heart. I was depressed and it took more courage to admit it and seek help than to get back in the pool for the first time. It took more will and self-talk to go see a professional than it did for me to decide to adopt my daughter post SCI.
Everyone around me saw my depression. I wore the symptoms stamped on my chest — a large scarlet D. Having a disability makes my depression more understandable to others than if I were nondisabled. But why is this so? Depression, like physical disability, is an equal opportunity illness. It takes no prisoners. It consumes you, and the roller coaster battle is excruciating. The stigma must end.
I am open about my depression, my visits with my therapist and dealing with PTSD. I can see the changes in my own life after I sought help. I don’t know if I will ever be cured, but I am learning ways to manage and cope. Most importantly, I have learned that I don’t have to deal with it alone. I deal with it the way I deal with my SCI, I ask for help when help is needed. No more shame in my game.
If you are thinking of harming yourself, please reach out to the National Suicide Hotline. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.