Tuesday, August 12, 2014

funny girl.

This picture was taken in 2011, a few weeks before my 31st birthday and two weeks after I was diagnosed with depression.  That's a shower cap on my head and I was surrounded by my friends and colleagues while out for a drink after work.

"Look at me," it screams, "I'm the funny girl!" 

I often was the funny girl.

I was also severely depressed. 

I wrote about my diagnosis for CNN.com - about being the life of the party, the girl who tries new things, a Wal-Mart hula-hooper.  I denied that I could be a depressed person - because I didn't identify with what I thought a depressed person looks like.  In light of Robin Williams' death, the article was resurrected last night.  While I'm a little embarrassed at the attention the old article is getting, so many of the points I made back then still apply now.   

The irony (that's irony, right?)  that someone who brought us so many laughs was himself so depressed is a concept with which I am all too familiar.  

Like so many other diseases, mental illness does not discriminate - it affects people young and old, black and white, rich and poor - even the people who make us laugh the hardest and most often.  Sometimes, it's the funniest people who are in fact the saddest, as Jim Norton points out in this poignant Time article.

"The funniest people I know always seem to be the ones surrounded by darkness. And that’s probably why they’re the funniest. The deeper the pit, the more humor you need to dig yourself out of it."

I'll reserve words like "devastated" and "heartbroken" for my family and friends - people I actually know and love and don't just watch in movies, but I feel so profoundly sad that mental illness has claimed another - and this time someone as spectacular as Robin Williams.

He will live forever through the iconic roles that he played - as the genie in Aladdin, as Mrs. Doubtfire and Peter Pan, as Doctor Sayer in Awakenings and Professor Sean McGuire in Good Will Hunting.

May he finally rest in peace.

If you are depressed or have had thoughts of suicide, please seek help. Here are a few resources: 

You are not alone It does get better.    

And like Professor Sayer said, "You'll have bad times, but they'll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren't paying attention to."


  1. Thank you for sharing these truthful words, old friend. Love you!

    1. Ruth - THANK YOU for taking the time to read and comment and support me. I'm so grateful. All the best to you! xoxo

  2. I'm awfully late to comment, but oh, Steph, we need to talk. You and I need to talk, for sure, but WE, we as a world, need to talk more about mental illness. Your column and this post are so honest and so awesome. Your paragraph about reserving "heartbroken and devastated" for those you actually know strikes a chord that has been buzzing in me since the news of Robin Williams' death. To be sure, he often moved me with his whirlwind comedy and emotive portrayals, but his was the fourth, FOURTH suicide this year that has struck deeper than an everyday headline. And the other three were much closer. I don't remember ever meeting Leeann Hecht, but she went to my high school and our college, and many of my close friends were close friends of hers. My former co-worker Jacque Parker-Ngo was always quick with a joke and never without a smile. My pledge brother Stuart Sims was whipsmart, an adoring father of two beautiful girls, and an admittedly flawed human, ever striving for righteousness. They each died of depression this year. I don't look at it as they "gave up" or they "chose to die." They died of a fatal disease. Just like cancer or even pneumonia, if left untreated. After Stuart's death, I vowed to be more vocal and completely transparent about my own struggle with depression. You are doing a better job than I, but I am working on it. After graduation, I bounced between a few therapists and doctors, none of whom I trusted, and I soon abandoned the pills they prescribed, because of the side effects. I was not ready to accept that I was depressed and that I needed help. It got bad enough last year that I tried again, and luckily I found a doctor I trusted, who helped me through trial and error to find the right combination of meds, and the right dosages, that worked for me. I feel strongly that there is no silver bullet that works for everyone, but I have discovered the truth of my psychiatrist's words: "There is relief out there, and no one has to live like that." Like you, well-intentioned loved ones, including my mom, advised to simply do the things I enjoyed and that happiness is a "choice." It is impossible for someone who has never experienced true depression to understand that this is exactly the wrong advice. If the spiral has taken you deep enough, you simply cannot get out on your own. It is like someone who has never been to war advising a combat veteran to just "think away" his PTSD. He will look at you like you just told him, "Just think the sky is red, and if it doesn't turn red, you aren't thinking hard enough." No one tells a cancer patient to simply think his tumor away. I am so glad I found what I needed. I likely will take those two pills every morning for the rest of my life. Gladly. I am so glad you are taking yours head on, as well. I love and miss you, Steph. You certainly are not alone. Oh, and GO DAWGS!

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