Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Reasons Why "Reach Out" is Not As Easy As It Sounds

By now, everyone has heard of Robin Williams' passing. It's been sad news, heartbreaking for all of us. Robin Williams was a man who was universally loved. He made us feel like giggly third graders with his wild stream of consciousness and his obvious joy at making us laugh. He was our friend.

We felt free, happy, and without a thought to anything else when we watched Robin Williams. That he lived a lifetime with depression was no secret. Neither was his history with substance abuse. We knew that the combination of both in an addictive personality was a perpetual walk on a tightrope. But yet, when we learned that he had died, we clutched our chests.

Not our Robin Williams. Not Mrs. Doubtfire, Aladdin's Genie, O Captain My Captain!


Within minutes of learning that the cause of death was suspected suicide, there were social media postings questioning why depressed people don't reach out. Why didn't he reach out. Why don't people who are suicidal reach out? Just reach out.

Necessary advice, without a doubt. But there are reasons why reaching out is not just that. Talking to a friend, making a call for help. What stops people?

Much. Much stops people.

What could possibly stop someone from seeking help for something as important as life? How about-

fear of judgment
loss of face
lack of finances, resources, health care
loss of relationship
possible turning of information against you to take away your children or losing your job

A lot is at stake. And a lot of ability is presumed. With depression, you're not able to think straight. You're not who you are -- and what you are now is desperate, despondent, confused, and alone. Why not reach out? Because it's mental illness and mental illness is still not seen as body illness, not even in 2014.

Would a friend or someone you're dating drop you over high blood pressure? No. But if you lean in and trust them with something about you, like you're afraid you might act on a dark impulse? Would they hang around?

I remember a morning only a few years ago, when a friend was over. It was during a particularly bad cycle for me and putting on a happy face was depleting me. I couldn't keep on anymore, and so I confided in her about my depression. Her response? "Don't say that. You're not depressed -- you have a great sense of humor. No one's going to like you this way." Depression is messy, and it scares people.

Could you lose custody of your children over glaucoma? Probably not. But in a heated court battle, throw in words like "mental instability" and "suicidal ideation" or any information from medical mental health history, and you'd have a right to worry.

Can an employer fire you or replace you for knee surgery? Almost not. But how favorably will you be looked upon for future and increased responsibility and promotion if you've disclosed a mental health history? I'd put my money on Average Joe being the one to receive work accolades.

If people don't reach out it's because the information they're sharing with someone regarding their mental health can be used against them. Past spouses can bring up a depression history, a friend can turn others against you with whisperings on how you will drain energy from those around you, work may look past you as someone who is unable to handle job stress.

Reaching out takes confiding in a source. And often, that source is unpredictable in their guarding of your information and in their reaction to your news.

Those of us with depression history, in my case -- a lifelong history -- have been burned by the risk of reaching out. To be fair, I've also been fortunate, I have had a good therapist who helped me to see things differently and explained my work, which is that of daily vigilance and guarding my surroundings. But the times that I've been squashed by the reactions of others has made me wary of those I let into my life.

Because of time, quality therapy, and a newfound support system, I've become comfortable with my history. I no longer have the shame I had when I was a teenager and up through my 30s, when I'd look down at the ground when confessing my life with depression. Through therapy, I've learned what causes depression and I work hard, every day, to keep watch on who is in my world, and I take care with who enters my circle.

Why don't people just reach out?

Because of exhaustion.
Because of the feeling of drowning.
Because of the risk.
Because of the shame when you already feel less than others, it's the risk of losing so much, that makes many of us unable to gather the courage to connect outside of ourselves, and that right there, leads to even more isolation and eventual withdrawal.

To reach out is the scariest thing a person with depression will ever do, but it's the one thing we need  most to recover. Why don't people reach out? Because reaching out is hard.

If we reach out to you, it's with a desperate hope for your support. Please don't disappoint us.

"Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships, it cannot occur in isolation." ~ Judith Herman

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
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  1. heart breaking...i was floored when my friend texted and told me...i feel i grew up to robin...from mork to mrs doubtfire, to patch, to dead poets...and it can happen to anyone you know...admitting we need help is the huge hurdle of our pride....

  2. Yes, Brian. Pride. Such a big one.

  3. I did not want people to bother with me. Reaching out would have gone nowhere with me. I now know that when people express concern about me I know they care but my mind can't wrap around that sometimes.

  4. I'm sorry your friend gave that reaction. Sometimes only people who have been to hell and back can understand.

    For me it was pride, shame, embarrassment twenty years ago. Now its more fatigue than anything else. But I am one of the fortunate ones because my depression is handled with medicine.

  5. Thank you for this. I too have a life long history. The fear of judgement, the shame kept it inside for years. Finally via Postpartum Progress, I have felt safe to be honest about my issues. I know it makes some people uncomfortable, I wonder what they think after I tell them. And yet, I must. I must because ity is my truth and at almost 50, my truth has to guide me. I am selective and specific about my life now in a new and powerful way.

  6. Thank you for this post. It describes accurately what it's like and why "Just think happy thoughts," and "don't choose to be depressed" are not only ineffective, but dangerous.

    In my darkest moments, the isolation, fatigue, and self-hatred are so overwhelming, it feels like there really is no other choice but to self-harm or consider suicide. I've only been really aware of my depression for 20 years. Robin fought for probably most of his 63 years. When someone suffers from cancer year after year and finally declines treatment, we don't blame them. I'm sorry that Robin was too tired to fight anymore, but I admire what he did with his life, bringing joy and laughter to millions of other people, even when he couldn't do it for himself.

  7. I treasure every comment here today on this issue. Thank you. xo

  8. I can see why people don't reach out. Which is why I think it's important that the rest of us do. Asking someone if they're okay. Just checking in regularly on them. That is what I try to do, and I hope in my small way, I am helping. Much love to you, A.

  9. Beautifully put. I have loved ones in my life who struggle with depression, so I really appreciate what you've said here. Powerful post, my friend. And needed.

  10. omgosh, so great to read all of this. It was shocking to me doing reading here and there about this issue after Robin's sad sad death. The judgment and fear is frightening and enlightening at the same time yes? "Just reach out." Oh yeah, why didn't I think to do that. Sheesh! "Just snap out of it!" Oh thanks, that never occurred to me. Thank you dear woman for this.

  11. Hearing about Robin Williams was shocking and tough. Another brilliant mind forever silenced. The sense of humor that lifted so many of us up forever gone. Obviously, his many talents left gifts behind for us to enjoy to the end of time but it's not the same as having him alive among us. More people need ot listen to people who have contemplated suicide and been left behind by it. It's good to talk about it but better to listen. As you said, the depressed person won't reach out for many reasons so WE need to reach out to everyone we know all the time. Let's not allow anyone to ever feel that alone and hopeless. xoxo

  12. I'm so sorry someone told you that you weren't entitled to your feelings.

    I wish for every person on the planet at least two friends who listen compassionately and continue their empathy no matter what they hear.

    I wish for everyone who struggles the deep and abiding knowledge that they are worthy. And loved.

    I hear you. I acknowledge you. And I am still listening. xoxo

  13. Once again, I am so glad you are here sharing your messages. So much help for those who are considering reaching out, and so much for people who want to be useful when they try to help....ok, but I am stunned by your "friend's" reaction...xoxox



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