"Depressives can fake it better than Meg Ryan"
August 19, 2014 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Broadway's Patrick Page Shares His Personal Struggle with Depression The night I heard that Robin Williams died, I slept very little. And it wasn't just grief keeping me awake. It was fear. I know my depression is lurking just around the corner-waiting. As Harvey Fierstein says, "All it wants to do is get you alone in a room and kill you."
posted by ThePinkSuperhero (20 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Depressives can fake it better than Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally".

Ain't that the truth. And it's not because we want to make other people comfortable, it's because we don't want anyone else to pile on with bullshit platitudes and a complete lack of understanding how mental illness works.

I've made it a point since my own diagnosis to NOT fake it any more, to NOT hide my illness. I'm glad so many people are coming forward to talk about their own depression. Telling the stigma to fuck off could help people seek the treatment they need.
posted by MissySedai at 10:14 AM on August 19, 2014 [18 favorites]

Everyone has been talking about fighting the stigma of depression.

I want to see actual action: employers showing themselves willing and ready to employ people with depression. No more questions about breaks in your work history; it's none of the employer's business.
posted by jb at 10:23 AM on August 19, 2014 [13 favorites]

The letter he quotes is fantastic, very moving and written with such empathy. There have been quite a few genuinely good articles on depression over the post few days. Easy to see it as a bit ghoulish, perhaps, but on the whole probably a good thing. I'm trying to see it as a silver lining that, for a few days after Williams' death, my Facebook feed was ~85% helpful and positive articles on depression and getting help. This probably says more about my particular group of friends than it does about the world in general, but it's quite heartening.

This article, Thoughts on depression from an artistic mind, is by far the best of them for me; one of those that makes me think the author has had a good rummage around in my mind, and expressed his findings better than I could've.
posted by metaBugs at 10:52 AM on August 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


1. If someone says "I'm depressed because bad things are happening in my life" you can be pretty sure they are not depressed. Sadness is the natural response to bad circumstances. If they say "I'm depressed even though wonderful things are happening in my life" it may be a real case of depression. That is dangerous, stupid, privileged bullshit. Successful people get depressed. Unsuccessful people get depressed. Depression is a disease/illness not a magic thing that only happens to rich people or people whom good things are happening too. Disease can happen to anyone.

2. Anti-depressants are confusing, and take a long time but are totally worth it. I am glad he mentioned this. Too many depressed people I know try anti depressants and then quit because they don't work first or second time.

3. When I heard of Robin Williams death my reaction was sadness, but I know that would not have been my reaction when I was depressed. when I was depressed my reaction would have been envy. Depression messed me up such that I was jealous of people who committed sucide. At least they can do something properly, I used to lay in bed thinking. I am such a coward and fuckup I can't even kill myself. That is what depression does to your brain.

4. I want more depressed and formerly depressed people to come forward and share their story - but reaching out to depressed people is hard. You wouldn't tell someone who is suffering with cancer that they need to hold on and "get help" - you wonder why this person who has cancer gets asked to pull themselves together and "man up". Society needs to get better at recognising and supporting depressed people - not ask depressed people to take that additional burden on them when they are least equipped to deal with it.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 10:55 AM on August 19, 2014 [12 favorites]

How touching and brave to write this. He is a hell of a writer, too. That is an extraordinarily good description of depression and the way it directly links to suicide.

I second his and Cavett's suggestion that we find another word, because "depression" doesn't cut it to describe this soul and joy destroying disease.
posted by bearwife at 11:02 AM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah the whole "get help!" thing can easily become more of a judgement about the character of people coping with mental illness who are too sick to "get help", or increase their self care, or take themselves on walks, or cook for themselves, or manage a huge energy investment in self improvement. It is too often the people who are the most depleted and have the least energy are bombarded with the expectation of performing nearly superhuman feats of energy investments into "healing themselves" by increasing self care activities and maintaining a schedule that normal healthy people often can't keep up with. Then they are often additionally burdened by social shaming for "not caring about themselves" or "not wanting to heal".

Many people that desperately want to feel better, are simply to sick to do these things. That is the entire point of why they need help. Help going on walks, help doing positive activities, help cooking or being given prepaired healthy meals, help hearing what positive self talk sounds like. They need more supportive energy coming IN not more pressure to generate it from within when they are too depleted to do so and let's face it, most of us don't get as much benefit from self love as we do from others supporting us (with exceptions of some people). Try hugging yourself when you're lonely. Does it work as well as someone you love hugging you?

Also, while a lot of people talk about this responsibility for people to stay alive, not as many talk about the responsibility we have to make it bearable for people trying to stay alive. If you think these people suffering terrible agony owe you something, do you feel you owe them something? Suddenly when the entire magnitude of support services needed to keep people coping with this feeling comfortable and ok (including home care services, ongoing access to emotional support, financial support with housing stability, food, and access to participating in society in a meaningful way when depression interferes with work, or extensive work accommodations) suddenly don't want to be burdened with these tasks and think this should all fall on the person coping with the illness and, UNLIKE people who just don't want to deal with it so they walk away, the depressed/mentally ill person can't just walk away. When they aren't able to work, they have to lose their homes and cope with homelessness, when they can't afford to feed themselves they have to starve or stand in line with other broken (and often dangerous and unpleasant to be around people) and beg for food- if they are too sick to fill out and comply with forms and bureaucracy to get government aid, they suffer the consequences. And knowing that, they are the ones clinging to whatever job they can and trying to make it through the day, knowing their really isn't an emotional safety net, especially if they lose their job- there is just more and more pills, if even that, which work for some people but for others are just another thing that make life worse and that everyone around you is given license to force or shame mentally ill about taking. (And by the way, I am ecstatic for people they work for, I just find the understanding often doesn't go both ways). And too often, even those who reliably take them, are still suffering from a great deal of difficulty and need a lot more support than they are given because to often we socially, and in the mental health system, consider people taking meds treated and leave them alone with whatever additional burdens they still carry. I do however think they work very well for some people, and people would do well to give them a chance, and hearing more from people who have had positive results is a positive for people who may be avoiding trying them out out of fear they won't work or will suppress personality. Stories of people who they did not work for, or made this worse, are also perfectly valid.

I personally think we need more occupational therapy and home care services for those with invisible disabilities; as well an trainings to help friends and family members find ways that are safe for them to help be involved- and trainings for those coping to learn how to support others supporting them in whatever ways they are able.

While many are taking Robin Williams death to remind the mentally ill to take their medications, it has been reported that Robin Williams was " on medication for anxiety and depression.

I think people mistakenly think that taking mental illness seriously means more meds. We are already giving people more meds. What we need are a lot of other options and services that we are neglecting, as well as better education for both service providers and the public about the range of options available and how to ensure the level and type of extensive services that could available with proper funding are made available for people across economic situations. Robin Williams described a lonely childhood and acknowledging the fact that very real emotions may have contribute to his impairments and emotional burden is something he and all people suffering such pains deserve. Research has found that his experiences very well may have damaged his emotional and physical brain development and set the course of a lifetime of difficulty. Often we feel like it's important to prove that there is no such thing as very real emotionally crippling pain that make life unbearable and impair functioning, and yet the reality is there are many horrible things in the world that could do just that. And what's more with epigenetic effects being carried over generations (as well as parental impairments with functioning transmitting their difficulties through parenting method and energetic exposures) we may quite literally carry our parents and our childhood emotional burdens within us.
posted by xarnop at 11:36 AM on August 19, 2014 [13 favorites]

Depressives can fake it better than Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally".

Here is the last TV interview of Robert Enke, goalkeeper of the German soccer national team, given two days before he killed himself on November 10, 2009. He was in the middle of a devastating bout of depression.
posted by tecg at 11:54 AM on August 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Robin Williams seems to have been a particular case where the usual advice probably was not going to apply in the usual ways. Parkinson's in particular has an impact on brain chemistry in such a way that even if his medications had been doing great before, that would have broken an otherwise working cocktail, and what he was looking at was a lot more of the same. I'm not saying that what he did was a good thing, but for ordinary people, medications are not the only answer, but they are really important and a lot of us who depend on psychiatric medication do need people around us being supportive and encouraging of said medication.

But of all of this, the one thing I often think is that I wish all those people saying, "if you have depression, get help" would be willing to go over to a depressed friend's house and do the dishes once in awhile. Even if they themselves are also depressed. I routinely take out a friend's trash even when I'm being lazy about my own. Little things can make such a huge difference in how overwhelming the world feels. Telling me to "get help" means so little. I already have medication, medication helps but it isn't always enough. I already have a Tumblr dashboard full of affirmations. What I could use are people in my life who'd show up with a hot meal now and then at some point prior to a funeral. I wish everybody who insisted on sending casseroles to the families of a deceased person would do the same now and then to a person with depression they know. I wish everybody who suggested taking a walk would go on a walk with their friends. I'm fortunate in having enough cash right now to have switched to using a laundry service when things are bad, and it has been life-altering.

I try to be open and honest about what I'm going through because it seems to help people sometimes, but I'm haunted by how many times my own therapists have told me that they're surprised I feel so poorly when I'm still smiling so much. It's like, no, this is just habit, my face just does this now, it has nothing to do with how I feel.
posted by Sequence at 11:58 AM on August 19, 2014 [20 favorites]

That was a nice essay. Thanks for posting it. I said in one of the post-Robin Williams threads that I hoped his death would start a conversation about depression, and I think it has, and I'm grateful for that. My own family is of the grin-and-bear-it philosophy, and I think they think that "depression" is a made up thing -- a thing you tell people when you want sympathy for selfish reasons, or want people to feel sorry for you, or whatever. That makes it doubly hard to live with, because, for me anyway, part of dealing with depression is blaming myself for not being stronger, or not being able to feel things the right way -- the way normal people feel things.

That's why the conversation is necessary. It's necessary because people who don't suffer from depression need to realize that yes, a lot of us actually do. And those of us who do suffer from depression need this kind of public conversation to take place so that we're reminded that other people feel this way too, that it's not just me, and it's not just that I'm bad at life.

Anyway, I've had a really rough few months, and the universe seems to keep piling it on, but having this song on a permanent loop in my head helps somewhat. I offer it to the rest of you! (Warning: F-word.)
posted by mudpuppie at 11:58 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Diseases are a source of shame and reach the public consciousness in two or more phases typically, the first is wow, that happed to them and I like them, the second is that can happen to me. Breast cancer was Suzanne Somers [old man here] first and then quite a few after. AIDS was Ryan White and then Magic Johnson.

Depression lands more though in the public understanding lately. Hopefully this will be the pivot as above.

My song for fun.

Each disease is a bit spectacular and I have no idea why depression persists. It would seem to be something that doesn't help itself. Maybe it's like a sort of appendix.
posted by vapidave at 12:28 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sort of reminds me of how a colleague helped me develop a critical coping tool at one point. I was talking about my malaise and despondence in my unemployment after finishing law school, and he told me a wonderful compliment: "It is said that a library burns every time that a man dies. In your instance that would be fantastic library."

I've studied the Art of Memory and mnemonics to a degree, and so I've developed a bit of a memory palace. Initially it was just an academic thing, but I've begun to use it to help myself. Whenever I feel the world turning bleak and colorless, I just go to my archives- the rows of ships, the cities and the kings and the monsters- and I give myself some time to just revel in it, exult in the beauty of the information.

I suppose my comment is that Mr. Page is on track. Some of the best cognitive coping mechanisms for tackling depression can be found by looking through the prism of your profession or your Art. But also be prepared to acknowledge that depression can be larger than you are, and that there is nothing shameful in turning for medication and help.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 1:23 PM on August 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

Problem I have with "coming forward" is that it's exhausting. I also don't want to be treated differently. A lot of my depression comes from an unmanaged chronic pain condition.1 Problem here is they feed on each other. So if my depression is worse, so is my pain. Obviously if my pain is bad so is my depression. Sometimes these thing cycle around so viciously I can't tell which is exacerbating the other.

So for me to say, "My pain levels are high today," means I then have to explain my whole personal narrative to those who don't know I have this. Or if I say this to those who do know well I then have to insist I still want to engage in that day's activities, and then all day long it's someone either asking how I am doing or someone asking if maybe we should knock off early.

To avoid these types of confrontations I am going to do whatever was planned regardless how I feel. This is also called living a life. If I stayed in every time one or the other was getting to me I would never leave. Shutting down only makes things worse in the long run, so I have a suck/suck situation.

Williams's death particularly fucked with me. I think, "If someone with success, fame, wealth, talent, intelligence, wit and charm, can't make it, what chance do us schlubs have?" Part of me thinks he's an asshole, but a greater part knows he didn't owe it to others to continue on once he'd decided living was intolerable for him.

I can manage the depression through medication, but I generally don't (it gets worse in Winter, so sometimes I do then). I've tried most medications and they either inhibit my creativity, my cognition, or my sex drive. I've not found one that doesn't attack at least one of these. So I soldier on.

1. All treatments for my chronic pain either didn't work or have worse side-effects.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:33 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a person with depression, I have only told a close few (and of course Metafilter :)) what it's like and how bad it can be. I've been struggling with it since I was a kid. Lots of people would say I'm nuts for saying that but I can tell you first hand, that I was suicidal in grammar school. It didn't help I had a dysfunctional/mentally abusive home and then going to school with utter shitheads but still.

For 42 years, I've heard people say that depressed people are:

Debbie Downers, buzzkills, boo friggen hoo, should man up, what do they have to be depressed about? Drama Queens, usually sparks an eye roll, something to laugh about, and they need to fight it.

I've experienced all of the above but the one that has stuck out the most was I went to school with this ex-friend of mine. We were friends back in kindergarten. I don't even know what happened but her and her mother got really bitchy with me and started to hate me (I was a kid!) and then this mental bullying crap stated wtih her for EIGHT YEARS in grammar school. She got a lot of the other kids on the bandwagon to outcast me. Being shy and having a shitty home life and then going to school with these a-holes sure didn't do a lot for my outlook on life. So by the time I went on the 8th grade field trip, I tried committing suicide by drinking Visine. Ok I know, totaly, totally stupid and weak but still. If an 8th grader makes an attempt, there should be concern. The concern came from 1 of the kids who was part of the bullying crowd and they backed off, but that was about it. None of the teachers, etc. No one was concerned and again, pushed it off at me being drama.

Well I went to high school and 98% of those people were out of my life and I was grateful....that is until I saw Jenny and Debbie. Jenny was the ex-childhood friend. And she thought it was her right and duty to go to the people I was getting friendly with and tell them how weird and who knows what else.

So I'm in the lunch cafeteria and this girl I was becoming friends with came up to me out of the blue and asked "Jenny said you tried killing yourself with Visine in 8th grade. Is that true?"

Now her tone wasn't accusatory nor laughing at me. I got more shock than anything else.

And my answer was the typical answer people who are depressed give to those who they don't know. The answer was "pffft oh she's making things up."

So yea, a lot of us can fake it, put on a smile, put on the best show. We can also deny any attempts or rumors, even to friends and family but especially those who don't know us--employers, bullies, strangers....but it's there. It will always be there. We're just figuring out how to get through a day where you won't notice or ask questions. But honestly, we wish that there were more genuine questions that carry no judgement or reprocutions. Or in my case, no Jennys to carry on the stigma.

God I hate Jenny.
posted by stormpooper at 2:15 PM on August 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

People in my family--near and far on the tree--have depression (or it's the other way around), and I didn't know for yearsandyears because you never met so many exceptional actors in all your born days. I'm talking about the whole spectrum--medicated and unmedicated, diagnosed (officially, because y'know that is the only time when it's real and it counts) and undiagnosed, muddling through and institutionalized; you name it.

Hearing it from an actor helps, especially with alternate ways to describe it. Because the feeling, like a foreign language, is incomprehensible to so many who don't speak it, and try though they might, they just can't wrap themselves around the pronunciation, grammar, and metaphors.
posted by datawrangler at 3:03 PM on August 19, 2014

A thing I always say about people with mental disorders: we're good actors. We have to be. We wouldn't be able to survive, otherwise. Mostly we want it to be ignored. We don't want our stupid shithead disease to define us.

I came to a realization when I heard the news about Robin Williams: the thing that killed him is trying to kill me. It will keep trying every single god damn day of my life. It'll only stop being a battle if I die of something else. It was staggering, to think of that way, but somehow it made me feel better too. I don't know how. I can't explain it.

I am not brave enough to flat-out say that to people I really know, but that's how I see it. I worry that they'll start to worry when they don't need to. I worry that they'll think it's morbid and depressing - well fucking yes it is, it's a thing called depression, with suicide as a common end result. That's just, you know, reality. Them's the facts. It's a nasty thing to live with, and a hard thing to fight. I try. Some days go better than others.
posted by cmyk at 9:35 PM on August 19, 2014

Some days I felt if I told anyone how I truly felt about MDD, I'd end up scaring them for no reason. Well, not for me, but I've had former friends look at me as if Depression was contagious and they could be next.

I mean, I'd get well-wishes and advice to seek therapy but there's always the distancing effect going on in the background. I guess, it's a little better than people who outright denying mental illnesses exist in the first place.

OK, I know the general population is not familiar with it but it's a little disappointing to see your friends passively avoiding you just because.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 4:58 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Appreciations kanata for ranting. Your straight-from-the-heart rant has impacted me more than all the well thought-out edited pieces I've read this week.

I hear you and I resonate.

And here's one of those well thought-out pieces by a wise and gentle man, Gabor Mate.
posted by drinkmaildave at 10:09 AM on August 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Asking someone with depression to navigate the bureaucratic nightmare that are most health care systems to access "help" is like asking someone with a broken leg to climb several flights of stairs into the fracture clinic.

We don't make someone whose legs aren't working climb to get help - why do we make people whose brains aren't fully functioning complete complex mental tasks to access help?
posted by jb at 7:31 PM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

My one tip if you are depressed or think you might be depressed is to roll the dice and see what your doctor or if you have already spoken to your doctor - the person beyond them is like. He/she might be a total waste of time and you might end up back where you where. But sometimes, not every time but sometimes you may find someone who gets it and they will deal with give you the compassion you need. But those doors seem so closed I know, still, take the chance - its not like other people in our lives are offering those chances to us right?
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 2:18 PM on August 23, 2014

Asking someone with depression to navigate the bureaucratic nightmare that are most health care systems to access "help" is like asking someone with a broken leg to climb several flights of stairs into the fracture clinic.

We don't make someone whose legs aren't working climb to get help - why do we make people whose brains aren't fully functioning complete complex mental tasks to access help?

I have been off my meds for a while and am realizing I need to get back on them. ("Just not wanting to kill yourself is not a good enough way to go through life, sweetie," my husband told me.) But the prospect of navigating my HMO's system, especially since my previous doctor retired and I need to either get up enough energy to spend time on their website scanning the bios and trying to figure out who seems like a good choice (plus wondering how the hell I know who'd be a good choice) or just taking whoever they randomly assign me to when I call… and then I came across this article in the East Bay Express about how messed-up Kaiser's psych services are at present…

Haven't been able to make myself pick up the phone yet. Sigh.
posted by Lexica at 2:19 PM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

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