It’s been three years since this article was published in Esperanza Magazine for Anxiety and Depression. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share it again to give hope to those who are struggling for any reason at all.
Originally posted in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month on May 9, 2013 for Bring Change 2 Mind
In case you haven’t heard, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. While I’m a believer that we should be doing something all year long to raise awareness of mental health, illness, and treatment options, now is a great opportunity to use this month-long occasion to start a dialogue of your own. Even the briefest conversation can make a difference in someone’s perception of what mental health is all about.
I clearly remember the days when I did all I could to keep my depression and anxiety a secret. It was exhausting and only added to the heaviness to my painful symptoms instead of alleviating the stress of appearing to be “normal.” Normal, in my case, was lying about going to my primary care physician for a sore throat, when, in reality, I was going to my psychiatrist for a medication management session. Normal was taking an anti-anxiety pill before getting on a flight while telling my travel companion that it was a decongestant. Sadly, normal also meant trying to come up with a valid reason for my public crying outbursts, when inside, I didn’t know where on earth these spells were coming from.
We, as a society, have come a long way, in terms of eradicating the stigma surrounding mental illness – but we still have a very long way to go before it becomes an acceptable topic, just like a physical illness with visible symptoms is discussed openly and without prejudice. I speak from personal experience, as several times in my past whenever I even broached the subject of my depression and anxiety, I was told by others that it was all in my head and I should be thankful for what I have, (“because millions of people all over the world were suffering with real-life matters like starvation and homelessness).
Exactly one decade ago, I took a six-week leave of absence from my job. I had planned on resigning because the stress of constant traveling and absurd corporate pressure caught up with me. During my meeting with the head of Human Resources, I learned that since I had been at the company for several years, I didn’t need to resign, that with authentic documentation from my doctor I could take a paid leave for medical reasons – physical OR mental. This didn’t sit well with any of the higher-ups who counted on me to bring in revenue. They couldn’t SEE that I was falling to pieces on the inside and accused me of taking a vacation. Upon my return, a friend confided in me that while on leave, one of my colleagues, someone I mistakenly thought would have compassion for my situation, had berated me in front of my fellow co-workers, some of whom were not aware of why I was out of the office for so long. Shaking off the shame and hurt, I wondered that if I had taken the same six weeks off for maternity leave if I would have received the same type of reactions. I knew the answer.
It’s extremely liberating to be writing about mental illness, no longer having to make up excuses for who and what I am. Anyone who doesn’t want to be part of my life because I have an invisible illness which scares them, well, that’s their loss, not mine. There’s always going to be someone who thinks psychiatry is a made-up illness by the drug companies; or that depression is simply self-pity for those who seek attention and anxiety is a fear that’s easily overcome “if I just stopped worrying so much.”
We are the ones who are going to change the face of mental illness by talking about it. It takes courage, and not everyone is ready to speak up, and that’s understandable, it takes time and support from others.
What I’ve done is surround myself with people who bring out the best in me. We all have them, they are anyone who can make you smile and feel good inside. You never know when and where you will meet these people, so the key is to live your life and you’ll accumulate your own list of those with whom you connect – and they’re usually from places you’d least expect.
So, let May be the month you begin to talk, talk and talk some more, about mental health. It will get easier over time and I promise that you will be pleasantly surprised when you find out how many others are sailing in the same boat.
“Let me tell you what I hate,” said the mysterious fedora-wearing woman making a grand entrance into the closed-door business meeting, already 30 minutes in-progress. I happened to be speaking at the time, making a presentation to a potential new client, giving them every reason they should go with my company instead of the competition. Until that moment, all had been going well. Signs of closing this deal were coming together like stars spelling Y-E-S in the sky.
In business, few emotions compare to the exhilaration of closing a new deal. It’s not the financial reward, but the burst of confidence from validation that I’m actually good at something. That is, until a total stranger, whose name I never managed to get, can suck all the energy out of a room. Within seconds she had undermined months of planning this presentation. The meeting ended abruptly — my colleague and I were quickly escorted to the elevator bank, looking at each other in disbelief.
The Fedora Lady story is one that has stuck with me for two decades. It happened early in my career, and although it makes for humorous storytelling, it serves as a stark reminder that there will always be someone or something that can knock the wind of out my sales, er, sails.
That was twenty years ago when depression was kicking my ass, lying to me, telling me that I was bad, stupid, ugly, worthless, and put on this earth for the soul purpose of suffering. It seemed like my profession provided me with daily opportunities for rejection — reinforcing my self-depreciation. Any analyst would have a field day dissecting the reasons why I chose to earn a living that fed my disease, day after day. Maybe the highs of bringing in a new account outweighed the lows of being turned down. Lately I prefer to not look back and question my decisions. What’s done is done.
Depression is a hideous illness that revels in taking down its victims. Despite my success with battling negativity, I have a vulnerability to succumb to toxic people, leaving the window open for despair. Today, after years of CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) and the help of antidepressants, I have a clear understanding of my disorder and how it affects my brain. That does not mean that I’m immune to suffering from depressive episodes. It just makes the experiences a tad easier to deal with. I now know that they will eventually subside.
For my mental and physical well-being and self-preservation, it’s my responsibility to remain vigilant. I must keep harmful influences far away by setting firm boundaries. If Ms. Fedora barged in on me now, I’d laugh it off; my skin has grown thicker over time. Nevertheless, for my own protection, I need to pick and choose who and what is allowed near me, whenever possible. It means cutting out the crap that can make me sick. The same way someone with high cholesterol must modify their diet, I’m no longer willing to risk my health for the sake of pleasing others, burying my feelings, biting my tongue, and later turning that anger inwards, leaving me with residual pain and long-term collateral damage. If I don’t put myself first, who will?
As I go about life with this strategy for staying sane, there may be people who won’t understand. They might get angry and perhaps even cut ties with me – and as much as that stings, it’s still better than becoming ill from avoidable stress. Why shouldn’t I treat depression the same way I would manage any other chronic illness? I know my road won’t be easy, but it’s up to me to set limits. I don’t want to end up with a tumor because I was too anxious to speak up for myself and do what’s best for me. Those days are over.
All you need to do is watch the news for five minutes to see how little power we have over horrific events happening around the world. These are scary, gruesome, fear-inducing times we live in, keeping even the most chemically balanced people awake at night.
If I can do my part in controlling stress and depression triggers, keeping them at a distance, or out of my life completely, by drawing a solid line between what I deem to be benign and what will definitely jeopardize my health – I’m going to do just that. It’s called survival.
Where do I go from here?
I want to tell you everything. Without hesitation. Without judgment. Without conditions. To spill my words all over the table and onto the walls, in big, bold letters, so there’s no confusion. I’m afraid of what you’ll think, or do, or say. But if I’m to be true to myself, and continue to be the voice of many who also know the destructive powers of depression, I know that I’ll be safe no matter the consequences. In spite of what I’ve liberatingly revealed these past years, I remain standing — and with more than just a dash of dignity.
My absence from blogging over the summer was intentional. Raw fear held me back from sharing the nitty-gritty details of my life with depression. The uncertainties, the weirdness, the out-of-nowhere self-deprecating thoughts cause me to continually question my actions and behaviors. I habitually weigh the pros and cons of describing the not-so-pretty details. So while I do want to tell you everything, the first thing you need to know is that I am afraid. Terrified that when I pull back the curtain and reveal the next tier of how depression seeps into the crevices of my brain, it will scare you away, for good. That’s when I know that I’ve crossed that line — the invisible border that divides my literary comfort zone from The Twilight Zone where distorted reality reigns.
Living with Major Depression and Anxiety is menacing. Four years ago, aware of the risks, I publicly disclosed my diagnosis. Past reveals had garnered unexpected and hurtful reactions from life-long friends, colleagues and family members. They’d made me feel ashamed for having depression, “wasting my money on doctors and prescriptions, as it was all in my head and I should just think happy thoughts.” My unrealistic expectations of being understood and receiving compassion were rarely met. Yet, on the flipside, there were some people who I underestimated in their ability to be kind. I’ve accepted that an individual’s reactions are unpredictable whenever and wherever I talk about my depression and anxiety.
While everyone has something going on that they’re struggling with on some level, it’s obvious that some personal battles are met with nodding heads of “approval” and others are immediately judged negatively. I’ve learned that you just don’t know who will surprise you with a hug and an empathetic anecdote, and who will charge away in the opposite direction as if you’ve just sneezed on them during flu season.
I’m a staunch believer that the more you educate others on what it’s like to have a mental illness, the less terrifying it becomes for everyone. But I’m also making the assumption that there’s a genuine desire for more information. Is it enough to know that depression has the ability to trigger a complete lack of motivation, self-confidence, self-love, self-fulfillment, the desire to socialize, the quest for joy and, at its most severe, the loss of hope? Is that general information satisfactory, or is more needed?
I can choose to tread within the safe perimeters of a swimming pool, go on telling you what you’ve heard before, or I can take a leap into unknown waters — letting you peek into the porthole of my brain, with greater intensity and granular depictions. My throat tightens at the thought of going to that place with you. For once I take the plunge, I’m not so sure it’s possible that I can go back to the safe place I’ve created for myself. It’s petrifying to imagine that there won’t be anyone waiting for me if I panic. My concern is that I will I be left stranded, alone, cold and shivering as a punishment for peeling off another layer, and once again putting my dignity on the line.
I want to tell you everything. It would be magical to possess a secret ingredient to wipe away the stigma of mental illness, but some human beings will never get it. They say they do, but they do not. Certainly I can’t blame them. I’m envious of people who have gone through life without knowing deep depression or crippling anxiety. But if I’m to be disparaged and rejected because of my honesty and openness about my illness, it’s time to take further action, because I deserve better. And so do you.
While one circle in my life gets smaller, there’s another that keeps growing wider. As daunting as it is to remain honest and direct, to stop now would be a disservice to thousands of remarkable people I’ve met along the way – including those who currently live with and manage a mental illness and their family and friends who continue on their journey towards knowledge and understanding.
Depression used to keep me down and I hated myself for being a quitter. I believed I was incapable of seeing things through. My MO was to give up on everything I tried to accomplish. Now’s there’s a new opportunity for me to push through another blockade of fear, defy the wicked lies of depression, stand up to the immobilizing impact of anxiety and, at the same time, tell you all about it.
I come from a family of talkers. At home, in public, it doesn’t make a difference. My relatives love, love, love to talk and have absolutely no problem striking up conversations with total strangers – any place, any time – waiting on line at the supermarket, or with the couple at the next table at a café. Even at social events where they know no one, they’ll go right up and introduce themselves. As the shy one, I’ve always been envious of their ability to chitchat with others, like it’s no big deal. For most of my life, I’ve had social anxiety combined with self-doubt, imagining myself invisible or wishing to go unnoticed, just so I wouldn’t have to talk.
As I got older, I found that my timid nature was holding me back from making new friends and finding a job. I hid my shyness well, but, because I didn’t talk about my self-doubts and depressive thoughts to anyone, keeping up the façade of a confident person led to intense anxiety. It seemed easier to camouflage myself as a “normal” person, rather than to reveal the scary thoughts of dying that plagued my brain – constantly. The few times I let it slip that I had been putting up with suicidal thoughts since adolescence didn’t go very well. I was immediately accused of making it up for shock value. Other times, depending on the crowd, just saying the word suicide became an instant repellent. I was dumbstruck that with three syllables I could clear a room. For close to 30 years I lived this way, unaware that I had a form of mental illness.
I started speaking openly about depression and anxiety the moment I realized that sharing my experiences would help others in the same boat. It was important to me that they know that they’re not alone. If I had someone that talked to me when I was a youngster about his or her own encounters with despair, suicidal ideation and worthlessness, I believe I wouldn’t have white-knuckled my way through life, anticipating a tragedy every moment. I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself if I’d known I was dealing with a real illness, not something I conjured up.
My depression and anxiety started when I was 12 years old. I talk about my journey with the crippling symptoms of these illnesses in the hopes of reaching the frightened and confused girls and boys who don’t comprehend what’s happening to them. I want to encourage them to get help, now, at this critical stage in development. While there is no shame in asking for help at any age, we can’t continue to let the culture of stigma and cruel judgments from others stand in the way of becoming our best selves and learning to enjoy life.
Once I began public speaking and writing about living with mental illness, people from all pockets of my life began to open up to me about their grapples with similar disorders. It’s incredible to witness the moment when someone who’d been struggling in silence, suddenly not feel so isolated and hopeless.
What I’ve learned is that while most people are secretly getting professional help, there are some who still refuse. Stigma is usually the main reason why they remain silent – the terror of having their family or peers see them as weak or cowardly keep them trapped. However, they’re also terrified of facing their own feelings in therapy.
I talk about living with mental illness and the consequences of not getting help. Yes, it’s scary to peel away the outer shell that the world sees and dig through the layers of buried pain. I get it. I was there, too, and it nearly killed me.
Depression makes life unreliable. What makes it so frightening is the unknown length of time it will last. It has the power to destroy days, weeks, and sometimes decades. I had convinced myself that the ugliness in my brain would stay forever, but now I know that my thought process was flawed. I talk about depression to show that with proper help, profound sadness and emptiness can dissipate. I want people to know that it’s okay to not be okay. Get help, talk to a therapist, psychiatrist, social worker. Devise a plan for yourself so that when you do get hit with depression, you’ve already created a strategy that will save your life.
My team of professionals has taught me how to effectively communicate what I need from my loved ones when I’m dealing with a bout of depression or anxiety. My family has become a critical part of my support network. While they still adore talking, they’ve also become experts at listening.
I talk about mental illness because it paves the road towards mental health.
I was not born depressed. I have proof. The images of me in old photo albums show a normal, happy child. A wide grin appears on my face as I’m being passed around from my mom, to her mom, to my dad’s mom, to aunts, uncles, cousins, and close family friends. My smiles were real. I can tell. The yellowed tape that still barely adheres the pictures to the cardboard pages is a stark contrast to my bright, alert eyes and pearly-white smile. “Let’s see some teeth!” my dad, an orthodontist, used to say as he focused his camera lens and clicked away. It’s ironic that so many years later I’d be using these images as concrete evidence that I didn’t come into this world with anything close to the chronic depression I developed in adolescence.
By the time I turned 12, everything around me appeared to be distorted. The ease and fluidity of my childhood seeped out of me like air from a balloon. The daily short walks to and from school with my friends became a hike up Everest. I began having trouble concentrating on my homework and started not caring about my grades. Somewhere between leaving my house in the morning until the time I crawled into bed at night, I faded into the background and became a reluctant observer of life, not a participant. I showed up to wherever I was supposed to be, but I wasn’t there.
An aura of sadness surrounded me at all times. I saw tragedy in strangers’ expressions – the teenage check-out girl in the supermarket, the middle-aged waitress in the diner, the greasy guy at the gas station – normal everyday people suddenly seemed like tragic figures who lived a life of desolation, just like me.
Gradually I felt completely invisible, but I didn’t think anyone around me realized it. That’s when the thoughts of making myself vanish permanently began to permeate my mind. Nothing about disappearing from the physical world seemed abnormal to my young, developing brain, and I kept that notion tucked away as an escape plan if “it” ever got to be too much to handle.
Depression is different for everyone. It can come and go quickly, or it can stay a while. When I’m in a bad way, it’s as if my mind is polluted with thick black fog. I frequently fantasize about drilling a tiny hole in the top of my skull and letting the smog spew out like a geyser, releasing all the toxic chemicals from my brain. When my depression is at a high point, I live most days with a sense of impending doom, a belief that life is going to come crashing down around me at any moment. Not believing that I deserve to be loved for any length of time – being “found out” that I’m really not worth much, and worst of all, becoming a burden to the people I love the most.
When I decided to speak openly about my illness, my disease, my disorder, there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. “But you HAVE so much, how can you be depressed?” is one question I’m asked frequently. It’s true – I have my own place to live, a close family and good friends, an interesting career, an education, excellent health care, an affectionate dog, and a touch of creativity. I also happen to have Major Depression. There’s nothing to sugarcoat – it totally sucks. Even with the greatest doctors and highly effective medications, there are days, sometimes weeks, in which I cannot find the speck of hope I so desperately need to see past my dark state of mind.
I made a promise to my family that I would never die by suicide. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think about it. I do. The ugly disease of depression keeps that f-ing idea alive and it scares the hell out of me.
Suicide does not make sense. It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. When I heard the news a few days ago that Robin Williams died, from the exact same disease I have, I was struck with profound sadness, grief, disbelief, anguish, horror . . . I’m struggling to attach words to the emotions that have only become more acute as the hours go by.
I’m never comfortable writing about other people, especially someone I’ve never met. I did not know Mr. Williams. The closest I ever got to him in person was sitting in the audience at Radio City during one of his famous Comic Relief shows. It’s not my place to publicly speculate on what was happening to Mr. Williams in his final hours. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. All I can do is imagine the immense amount of pain he was in – the unthinkable hopelessness and despair.
Out of fear of ever going to that awful place, that filthy sub-basement without light, where I fail to see any aspect of my existence ever getting any better, I’ve devised a new plan of action with only one possible outcome – LIFE. I would advise anyone who lives with Major Depression and Anxiety to do the same for themselves. Everyone’s course of action will be different, however the result will be the same. We can’t allow stigma or shame to get in the way of staying alive. Make the call.
If you have ever smiled before, there is no reason to believe that you won’t smile again. That’s what Robin Williams did for all of us. He made us smile. That will be his legacy.
I’ve got to make this quick. My time online has been reduced to about 30 minutes per day. That doesn’t leave much for a scroll on Facebook, reading and responding to emails, online grocery shopping, and the one thing I miss the most – writing/blogging. If not for my iPhone and iPad mini, I’d be completely out of touch with the cyber world. I was not expecting to suffer so greatly from FOMO – the fear of missing out on who my friends were in past lives (Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde), which city they’re supposed to be living in, which flower they were meant to be. It’s one thing to choose to take a break from the online world, but being forced to choose how to spend half an hour a day (before Percoset kicks in) has forced a new way of prioritizing the best use of 1,800 seconds. Today I decided to post on my Chat Lounge, and I’m not even going to spell check or proofread for grammar fuckups. Yeah, I just cursed, BFD.
I’m really just dropping in to say ‘ello to my pals, let everyone know that I miss them and that I can’t wait to have my surgery and get back to normal (my normal, not society’s definition) and reconnect and catch up on the fun stuff I feel so left out of – like the notes to yourselves about never leaving the house without checking that your socks match, and to always be kind to strangers, as we’re all struggling with our demons and that your cats love you even though they don’t show it. I knew I was going through cyber withdrawal when I nearly had a panic attack on siblings day – luckily I made it just in time to post a profile pic of my sister and me but not without breaking into a sweat, searching for the “right” photo where we both look decent and uploading it (and cropping the thumbnail so we both have even space in the shot) – it was a marathon I tell you.
So while I have at best ten minutes to go on my laptop before my arms start to feel like they’re being pulled off, I still need to sort through about 100 resumes for a job I posted last week, order pet food for Anya, pay bills, and see if anyone’s cousin had a baby, if a friend of a friend I’ve never met in person is able to get WiFi (Yay!) during their holiday on an exotic island in the middle of who-knows/cares-where, and which teams are playing and which of those teams suck ass or don’t deserve to be on the field and who on FB is sitting on field level and must take a photo from every angle and post it like right now, like immediately, to show that they have THE BEST seats and how close they are to the players – so close that they can see the pores in their skin even under their helmets or hats. Personally, I am sad that this is Jeter’s last season with the Yankees. He’s turning 40 – and now I feel old, so I better NOT look at Facebook because I’ll feel even older, fatter and more loserish than I did 20 minutes ago – because EVERYONE on earth is living a healthier, more fun, more interesting, more fulfilled, more cultured and definitely tanner life than I’ll ever have.
Anya told me to bark hello to all of you and seriously hopes that I post a photo of her soon because she’s afraid you’ll all forget how cute she is. What’s that, Anya? You want your pic on Instagram too? I better go then, looks like those resumes will have to wait until tomorrow.
When I focus on how much time I’ve lost to suffering with depression and anxiety throughout my life, I get angry and profoundly sad. From there I switch to feeling grateful that I’m doing better, but no matter what, I always come to the same conclusion: ruminating over the past is detrimental to my wellbeing. It does not help me in any way. Yet, I still do it, especially at times when I’m not feeling well physically, like now.
I’d always planned on making up for all the great adventures, big and small, that I missed out on because I was too depressed to face the world for so long. Therefore, it’s extremely frustrating that now, when I’m feeling pretty good mentally, I’m stuck at home, grappling with close to unbearable pain in my neck and right arm. The discomfort has become so severe lately that I’m unable to sleep – not a good thing for me, since insomnia is one of my main triggers for depression.
Until now, I’ve been successful at not letting “it” get to me. But after another sleepless night, filled with invisible knives stabbing and twisting inside of me, I’m feeling vulnerably wide open to an uninvited bout of depression. It’s times like these that all of the tools I’ve collected and worked so hard to use properly become useless against the mighty powers of the body and mind.
I don’t want to look at any time in my past or present as being lost or wasted due to depression or a physical ailment. In addition, the future is not my enemy, negative projections are.
One lesson I’ve learned is that perspective can turn negative experiences into positive ones, most of the time. From that standpoint, I’ll consider this day as one not lost to pain and anxiety, but as an opportunity to share my struggles with the hopes of helping others to heal.
I picture a tiny hole drilled into my head, two inches or so above my right ear, piercing through my skull, forming a perfectly sized aperture to implant a spout, much like the ones used in Vermont Maple trees to collect sap for making syrup. Once inserted and locked in place, I open the spigot and feel the satisfying release of sticky sludge running through the grooves of my brain, seeping out from the hole in my head, landing in a tin bucket resting at my feet.
If only a procedure like this one really existed – a cleansing of the brain, where all of the cerebral sewage would be emptied out, washed away like grime from a clogged kitchen sink, perhaps my life with depression would be a heck of a lot easier. When a bout of depression marches in without warning, whacky ideas for unconventional remedies automatically start to formulate in my head. None of these quirky inventions make medical sense, but that’s what my desperate mind does to survive. We all know there’s no instant cure for depression, however it’s remarkable how wild my imagination can run when I know I’m in for a long battle.
There was a point several years ago when I lost all hope of ever getting better. It was a depression so fierce that it clouded my every thought and action. My meds stopped working, therapy wasn’t helping and I was convinced that I’d be trapped in the claws of despair for eternity. I started to obsessively research ways of getting a blood transfusion. I envisioned that the substance running through my veins was not blood, but a thick, poisonous liquid. I thought if I could rid my body of this venomous fluid and start fresh with blood from a non-depressed person, there might be a chance that I’d be cured. When I presented this ingenious idea to my doctor, he cut me off at “transfu…”
Okay, no transfusion – my medieval remedy proved to be a very frustrating setback. Determined to survive, I became adamant about finding a place, not a psychiatric hospital, nor a rehab center, but a welcoming resort, a Club Med(ication) where individuals with depression can go for a month or two, to get away from it all. I imagined a Fantasy Island for all the morose and melancholic people just like me, desperate to regain their lives back, to find a twinkle of hope. Sadly, after too many late-night Internet searches for Prozac Paradise or Zoloft Zen, I couldn’t find one place that allowed dogs.
I once read that each person who lives with Major Depression has his or her own brand. I gave that some thought and wondered if anyone else with a form of mental illness ever daydreams about abnormal ways to get rid of their symptoms like I do. It’s embarrassing to admit, but through the years, I’ve devised dozens of imaginary products – one of them is Drano for the brain, or Braino. It’s an antidepressant that you drink while hanging upside down. The super strength liquid goes straight to your head instead of your stomach, leaving your brain crystal clean with a sparkly shine. Why do you think Mr. Clean is always smiling?
Sometimes the only way for me to make it through a rough patch is to laugh, even at my own expense. When I’m in a bad way, having a sense of humor seems impossible. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I become withdrawn, inclined to cancel plans, close the door on life and only resurface when I’m ready. Apparently having deranged thoughts and concepts are part of what makes my particular brand of depression a tad peculiar. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a survival instinct. It may be warped, but it certainly keeps me amused.
My Sunday morning writing ritual came to a sudden halt when I heard the shocking news of the untimely death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Although I did not know him personally, I became besieged with disbelief, sadness and dismay, causing me to stop penning my weekly blog and shut down my computer. At the time, the cause of death was unknown, however it was reported that he was found with a needle in his arm.
This tragedy is another harsh reminder that drug addiction and mental illness do not discriminate. Fame and fortune do not protect the human brain from disease. Telling someone with an addiction to “just stop using” is on par with advising a person in the throes of severe depression to “think happy thoughts” – no matter their status in life. Addiction and mental illness are equal opportunists, and anyone who has one or the other, or both, will tell you that every day is a battle against their respective afflictions.
In the days to come, we’ll learn more details surrounding Hoffman’s passing and his personal struggles. Yet whatever information arises, it won’t take away the fact that he is gone. Some will say that he will live on forever through his work, and of course there is truth in that. I don’t know if my reaction to his death is extreme, or why I’m identifying so closely with a person’s fatality – especially a man I’ve never even met. Maybe it’s because Hoffman and I were born in the same year and it’s forcing me to face my own mortality. It’s too soon to tell, my emotions are still raw.
Not surprising, the initial reactions on Twitter to Hoffman’s sudden and final departure from this world were mostly focused on his great achievements as an actor and the devastating loss for his family. In my opinion, Jim Carrey, who supposedly had depression as a child, said it best: Dear Philip, a beautiful, beautiful soul. For the most sensitive among us the noise can be too much. Bless your heart.
We are all fighting something, and when the noise in our head gets too loud, there’s no shame in reaching out for some help to turn down the volume, just a notch, if even for one moment.