I’m a big Robin Williams fan. I always have been. I loved him in Mork & Mindy, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Night at the Museum. He brought joy to my life with his quips. I’m so, so sad that he’s gone and honestly, he’s the first celebrity in my lifetime that I’ve cared is gone. I never follow this type of thing on the news media. However, with him and the cause of his death, I’m reading and watching and both encouraged and disheartened by what I’ve seen and heard.

For those of us that understand that depression really IS a disease, we get it. We’re either someone who has the disease or close to someone with the disease. We know the daily struggle of depression. I have never seen such a public outpouring of support over the tragedy of losing someone to this terrible disease as I have with Robin Williams. As much as the understanding and support has been pouring in, ignorant comments and a lack of understanding has also surfaced. This reminds me yet again just how far we have yet to go in the understanding of mental illnesses. I read on one person’s Facebook that we shouldn’t make comments like, “‘I hope you find peace’ or ‘he’s in a better place’ because what type of message does that send out to those who are currently depressed? It’s like a green light to kill yourself.” That is such an ignorant statement. Those who are or have been depressed know what it’s like to struggle day in and day out with the very task of living. There is rarely any peace for those who suffer from depression. And so yes, when someone with the disease succumbs to death, we do hope they find something better than what they had.

Although the public refers to a mental illness as a “disease”, I don’t think most people get it. The majority of the population thinks that because you can throw medication at this “disease” that might blunt some of the effects it causes, everything should be good, right? Instead, those with depression are left struggling with a disease that they can’t talk honestly or openly about. They have to hide their true nature because it isn’t socially acceptable to talk about your daily struggle with how much you hate yourself, your life, and want to die. I know this need to hide the particulars of the disease well. While I was going through my divorce at 23, I was severely depressed and contemplated ending my life daily. I was so tired of everything. Each day was an unimaginable struggle of self-hatred and despair. Even though I was a college student who was flying through my program with tremendous success; I had a beautiful little boy who I adored above anything; and parents who loved and supported me, it wasn’t enough. I was overwhelmed by my personal failures. I sought out help and I can remember my doctor asking me if I thought about suicide. I carefully navigated my way through that minefield knowing I’d not only get my child taken away by my crazy ex, I’d also get committed if I answered honestly – “no, of course not doctor,” and continued to bury how bad I was hurting and how I was barely existing. Luckily, I survived that round.

Like any insidious disease, the depression came back. This time, it came shortly after having my third baby, nearly ten years after the first round. Little B was born early, colicky, and it was a hard adjustment for everyone. I didn’t sleep for days on end trying to care for him. I remember talking to my male OB/GYN who stated to me, “if you’d just take some of the pressure out of your life, I’m sure you’d be fine. Maybe quit your job. Don’t juggle so many different things.” Right. Like that was an option… and a realistic cure to depression. Luckily I ended up with a good primary care doc who got me on meds ASAP and I got the treatment I needed. But the whole experience was a good reminder for how little our society has progressed in the thought processes of those who have never experienced a mental illness. Ignorance and lack of understanding still reigns supreme.

Can you imagine telling people with terminal cancer to just ignore it? And to me, that’s what chronic depression is. It’s cancer, and it’s one that no doctor can tell you whether or not will be terminal. You can fight it, you can try to live, but there’s no guarantee that it will ever be better. Or, if you do manage to rid yourself of depression, will it come back? And when someone dies from cancer, we certainly don’t condemn them because of the fact that they finally lost the fight. In fact, we view their struggle to live as a heroic battle and those that fight the fight and die become immortalized in our eyes because they tried so hard. For those with depression, though, once they succumb and lose the fight, they are disparaged and condemned for their “choice”.

I hope something good comes from the death of such a talented man. I hope there is greater understanding achieved for those who struggle with and fight against mental illnesses. They, we, certainly don’t “choose” to have such a nasty disease and it’s about time people begin to understand that.