The power and pain of depression

Others are starting to talk about their own struggles

Yme Woensdregt

“Where does depression hurt? Everywhere. Who does depression hurt? Everyone.”

We’ve all seen the ads on television. Those words are true. The truth of those words have hit home again with the suicide of Robin Williams.

Others are starting to talk about their own struggles with depression, including Olympic athlete Clara Hughes, who has done much to raise funds for this disease.

I have also been victimized by this disease. In late 2000, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. As a priest, I felt like I had to keep it private. I couldn’t let others know of my struggles. After all, my role was to be a helper, not to be someone who needed help.

But I finally reached the point where I no longer had a choice. I couldn’t hold it together, and my world came crashing down. I was ready to say goodbye to it all. Literally. I had made a suicide plan, and was so very close to carrying it out.

It was only by sheer grace that someone found me in time and called the police who took me to the Mental Health Ward of the hospital in Regina, where I was involuntarily committed. For 72 hours, I was watched. All I had was some loose fitting hospital pajamas and booties. I couldn’t go anywhere without permission, and I was not able to do anything without being watched.

Part of the problem for me was the stigma that is still such a powerful force in our society. It’s ok to admit that you’ve got a broken leg, and to get it looked after and to wear a cast. But it seems to be less ok to admit that your thoughts and your emotions are spiralling out of control. So you hide it. You try to deal with it all on your own—which is exactly the worst thing to do when you’re depressed.

But when I could no longer avoid admitting that I needed help, the first thing I experienced was a profound sense of relief. I wasn’t alone anymore. I didn’t have to worry about keeping up appearances. My dark secret was out.

Guess what? The world didn’t end. In some real sense, a new world was born. People sat with me in the darkness of my depression, and told me that I was loved and that I had value as a human being.

As time went on, I began to get the help I needed from some caring, compassionate and tough psychiatric nurses, as well as family and friends. It was clear that I needed help. Once I had admitted in that moment of desperation that I couldn’t do it by myself, the healing began.

None of this was easy. It’s pretty scary to admit our need and to become vulnerable. But I also know that’s when my life began again. And to be completely honest, I still don’t have it all together. And that’s ok.

In his novel, “The Emperor of Ocean Park”, Stephen Carter writes, “I am depressed. And I almost like it. Depression is seductive: it offends and teases, frightens you and draws you in, tempting you with its promise of sweet oblivion, then overwhelming you with a nearly sexual power, squirming past your defenses, dissolving your will, invading the tired spirit so utterly that it becomes difficult to recall that you ever lived without it … or to imagine that you might live that way again. With all the guile of Satan himself, depression persuades you that its invasion was all your own idea, that you wanted it all along. It fogs the part of the brain that reasons, that knows right and wrong. It captures you with its warm, guilty, hateful pleasures, and, worst of all, it becomes familiar. All at once, you find yourself in thrall to the very thing that most terrifies you. Your work slides, your friendships slide, your marriage slides, but you scarcely notice: to be depressed is to be half in love with disaster.”

It is a frighteningly accurate description of what I felt as I slid towards the abyss. I suspect many people who struggle with depression might recognize themselves in it as well.

I often think that comics use laughter as a tool to beat the monsters of their world down to size. I heard an interview following Robin Williams’ suicide in which someone said, “Comedy is an alchemy … it takes pain and turns it into laughter. In a world like this filled with so much horror, why wouldn’t you use all the tools at your disposal — love certainly, and hope and trust, but also laughter.”

Rest in peace, Robin Williams. Thank you for the gift of laughter you gave to so many people. Now you are beyond the reach of the demons who bedeviled you.

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook