Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why Can't I Be Happy?

"He seemed so happy."  

Why does suicide often leave people stumbling in disbelief? Incredulous, we say, "I didn't even know he was struggling." 
Depression takes it's victims to a dark hole and tells them to stay put: don't tell anyone, they won't understand. Don't get help; you can overcome this alone.  You are so insufficient and weak and what will people think of you if you claim you need help.  

And on and on the lies go...
Until the path forward seems blocked by an insurmountable brick wall.

Yesterday Robin Williams died of suspected suicide.  After decades of making people laugh, he couldn't quite figure out how to bring joy into his own spirit. Sadly, he isn't alone.  And sadly, many people don't perceive the ache beyond the jokes. " Los Angeles-based therapist Dr. Nancy Irwin concurred that humor can be used as a defense mechanism that comes into play when one is depressed."  Robin Williams wasn't the only comedian to struggle with depression: Owen Wilson, Chris Farley, and Jim Carey have been in similar boats, trying to row themselves to safer waters. 

Eric Folkerth said, Comedy and tragedy always exist as two sides of a coin. We laugh because we know how to cry; and vice versa.

James Masada founder of the iconic Sunset Strip club Laugh Factory – where Williams performed his earlier career--became so concerned about the mental health of comedians that in 2011 he launched a program that is still active today, in which two clinical psychologists are available at the club four nights per week for free walk-in psychotherapy sessions.

What would happen if more people took the time to help? To listen? To extend a compassionate ear and a helpful hand? 

Although the world doesn't have true answers to lasting joy, some times they do a better job of treating depression than the church does.  
Christians often get it wrong, labeling our emotional state as a "lack of faith" or "spiritual weakness" and the books don't always help. Titles such as Happiness is a Choice and Unstuck: Your Guide to a Seven-stage Journey Out of Depression. These types of books can conjure up feelings of guilt and insufficiency. They tell readers: you just aren't trying hard enough. 

Thankfully, the Christian community is making steps toward a more well-rounded understanding of the chemical imbalances that can lead to depression. If a person had a heart attack or a broken leg, we'd encourage them to go to the doctor, seek help and treatment.  So, why should mental illness be any different? 

As many know, I've struggled with depression and bouts of severe anxiety for over 15 years. When my situation continued to decline and the roller coaster dips became overwhelming, my mom encouraged me to get some tests run. Turns out that my depression is tied to my under-active thyroid.  And after four months of treatment, I'm starting to feel more balanced and normal. My thyroid is starting to work! 

 But for years, I wallowed in guilt and frustration: why can't I just be happy? My thyroid wasn't producing the hormone I needed for normal cell function, and on top of that, every post-delivery would leave the pendulum swinging even higher.  I was a topsy-turvy mess. 

My encouragement to you if you have dealt with depression or if you know someone that does:

*Don't isolate yourself. Talk to someone. If you don't think your family will understand, find someone who will. 

*Seek out a doctor, if you think there is something chemical or hormonal going on. Normally, I'd discourage Googling symptoms, but I had my suspicions about my thyroid. Hypothyroidism runs in my family, and I carried all the symptoms. 

*Post-partum depression is very real and very serious for many women.  If you've had a baby or you are married to someone who has, make sure you ask them how they are...really. Talk to your doctor about your feelings and thoughts. After the birth of our first, I had such severe anxiety, I could hardly make myself get in a vehicle. Panic attacks washed over me when I thought of someone carrying our daughter around. I was convinced something horrific was going to happen. It wasn't until a later pregnancy when I started taking high doses of vitamin-B and DHA and EPA (which are greatly depleted during pregnancy) that my thoughts leveled off and I could approach life with more logical reason. 

Bottom line: you don't have to be alone. And you don't have to fight alone. 

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