Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams, Suicide, Depression, and Migraines

Yesterday, we lost an amazing actor and comedian and, by all accounts, a wonderful man. He had an often fatal disease called depression. And one of the worst complications of depression is suicide.

I have depression. Thank God, I’ve never been suicidal. I can’t attribute that to anything I’ve done. It is purely that the course of my illness has never been that severe. But, I’ve had days where it took every bit of energy to get out of bed. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have darkness so bad that you are willing to end your life.

One of the worst things about depression is how it takes over my life when it flares up. Everything becomes about how bad I feel. Instead of thinking about how great it would be to take a walk with a friend, my brain tells me how tired and miserable I am and how a walk would be a terrible idea. Every fun thing in the world seems like more work than it’s worth.

People sometimes say that suicide is selfish, that a person who commits suicide is thinking only of themselves. Well, they are. But, that’s the illness. A person with depression can’t imagine that anyone else would want them around anymore. When I’m down in the black hole of depression, I don’t feel loved and wanted, no matter what people say. Depression is more than sadness. The illness consumes me. And I’ve never even been sick enough to consider suicide. It must be a million times worse for someone who will take their own life.

Migraines and chronic pain are the same way. I don’t want to be a hermit when I have a migraine, but I am. Pain takes over every part of my being. And it’s usually accompanied by nausea, sound sensitivity, and other symptoms. Even when it’s just head pain, it still takes over my consciousness and doesn’t allow me to function. That’s part of how pain works. When the body works properly, pain is supposed to tell you that something is wrong so you can fix it. In chronic pain, the signals are not working correctly, so you get all discombobulated. Pain demands to be heard. All. The. Time.

Some Christians are hesitant to use medications for depression because they think depression is just a bad bout of sadness or it is purely “spiritual”. Sometimes, sadness is normal and just needs some time, particularly if it is a normal grief reaction after a death or significant social or emotional change.

But, true depression is a physical illness caused by messed up neurotransmitters in certain parts of the brain. Sometimes, depression is part of other illnesses, like bipolar illness or schizophrenia. In any case, medical intervention is necessary. In mild cases, counseling alone may be effective, but in more serious cases, medications along with counseling and lifestyle changes will be needed.

But, is God really OK with us using medications to treat mood disorders? I sure hope God’s OK with me using medications to treat my headaches! And my mood disorder (depression) goes right along with the headaches. In fact depression is a “tag-along” illness with many diseases, including migraine, fibromyalgia, and even things like after open heart surgery. God gave us the ability to diagnose and treat lots of illnesses, including illnesses of the brain. I assume he wants us to use these abilities!

Where does God fit into the depression thing, though? I believe God does want us to feel better. I’m sure that he sometimes supernaturally heals people, but most of the time, he works through the laws of nature. We get better through medications and counseling. Depression is treated by medical professionals like diabetes or hypertension.

In my walk with Jesus, I know that my depression affects my spiritual life, just like it affects the rest of my life. When I’m really depressed it’s hard to pray. But, it’s also hard to talk to my husband and kids. I have found, though, that there are certain passages of the Bible that are particularly helpful for me to read and meditate on when my mood is low. My prayer and meditation time are very important to me as part of my depression treatment. Worshiping Jesus is part of my life. I know that he wants me to be emotionally healthy, so I try to keep to practices that I know are good for me.

And, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t tell you that if you are depressed, you don’t have to live this way! Get help! Tell a friend, call a help line, go to an Emergency Department! Suicide is not the answer, but neither is feeling rotten all the time. Medications can really help you feel much better and live a better life. And check out your local church. Jesus wants to help you, too.

What are your thoughts?


R.I.P.. Robin Williams

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