You’ve got to keep your dignity intact

I used to see a therapist — each week for a few months. Over the course of our sessions, we agreed I most likely suffer from something called Cyclothymia. The purpose of the meetings wasn’t a diagnosis, but it was a good way to summarize what I was dealing with.

If depression is a freight train from out of nowhere, that visits occasionally to level you for days or weeks at a time, cyclothymia is The Little Engine That Says You Can’t. Not powerful, but persistent.

When I read that Robin Williams had committed suicide, I got it. Instantly. I’m not saying he had cyclothymia — his history shows it was much more severe than that — but dealing with mental illness personally was why I wasn’t surprised that someone who was so funny, who made so many others laugh, could be so depressed.

Just because someone is funny, doesn’t mean they’re happy. The opposite of depressed isn’t happy. The opposite of depressed is not depressed. Even words like fulfilled or complete are more accurate antonyms than happy. Funny depressed people don’t try to make others laugh in order to cheer themselves up; they want others to laugh so they can escape being depressed — sometimes just for that moment. For the depressed person, that may be the only time they get to smile.

I know it’s been referenced enough in the past few days, but this “joke” told in (but not invented for) the 2009 film Watchmen is sharply accurate:

Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life is harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. The great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor, I am Pagliacci.” Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.

I don’t bring all this up for sympathy. As Rainbow Randolph said, you’ve got to keep your dignity intact. But I do bring it all up for awareness. Depression — from melancholy to crippling — is among us, even in the last places we’d think. There are lots of resources out there for those who suffer and for friends of those who suffer, so I won’t repeat them here; but be aware of the people around you.

Things aren’t always as they seem.

For instance, that old woman may actually be your ex-husband pretending to be a nanny so he can stay close to his kids.