While working on an entirely different post for this week, I was hit by the impact of Robin Williams’ death. I’m sure his death has deeply affected many in our CreakyJoints community—not just because we lost a great artist who inspired us to keep fighting each day and made our painful moments a little bit lighter, but because he was suffering in silence, like so many of us.
While I was encouraged—and appreciated—that many in my Facebook and Twitter communities expressed their compassion and concern about people suffering with depression, I was incredibly frustrated by the many comments that depressed people “just need to ask for help.” I appreciate the effort to understand depression and anxiety and to recognize these conditions. But the assumption is that Robin Williams, a man who was very honest about his inner demons, didn’t ask for help. Maybe he did.
Depression often goes hand in hand with arthritis—whether it is a co-morbidity, a symptom of living with chronic illness, or actually caused by your disease. I’m sure many of you relate to what Robin Williams was battling each day. While we can never assume to know the pressures one feels in their own life, our community understands depression and anxiety and the pain and paralysis it brings.
I know depression and anxiety—and it’s difficult to share. When I’m not depressed, I’m anxious. And when I’m in an extreme state of depression, it is extremely difficult to ask for help.
What does asking for help look like? It could be asking a friend to lunch, to broach the topic of your depression over good food you don’t have to cook yourself. It could be sending a text to a friend or family member just to say hello. It could be inviting someone over, in the hopes it will prompt more conversation and connection to lift you and help you fight through that day. It could be dropping off the grid, when you are normally active and involved in the life of your friends and family. I have done all these things—only to be met with rejection. How many of you relate? I’m afraid our healthy friends expect us to raise a red flag, turn on the fire alarm, and jump up and down to grab their attention. Our pleas for help are often silent and missed—the days without showers, while you are holed up in your home, watching hours of TV. Or perhaps they are masked by incredible success at your job, a busy schedule with children and the fake smile you have mastered. Living in a world that is more accommodating, kind and helpful to those of us with diseases requires more energy from the healthy population than I think they are ready to give right now.
I hope this changes in the future, but my hope for you, right now, is to find just one person who will hear your pleas for help. Focus on finding just one. I am lucky to live with an amazing boyfriend who has endured 13 years of my mental and physical struggles—and he gets it. He understands that I would love nothing more than to kick the ass of depression, anxiety, arthritis and my other illnesses. He knows I would never choose to live this way and I do whatever I can to fight them. He knows that sometimes the internal fight is not enough. Sometimes medications aren’t enough. Sometimes the disease starts to win and because I have lupus, depression can be a sign that my disease is advancing. He knows that I love having fun, seeing my friends, singing, playing piano and guitar, and being outdoors—and when those things aren’t happening, something is wrong. That doesn’t mean it’s easy for him and it doesn’t mean I’m helpless. But he is my one person who hears my pleas for help in all their various forms—and he can, in turn, reach out to family and friends for more help.
And so that is what I wish for you—to find your one person in your circle who will look for the signals that you need more help than you are getting. Give them this article. Explain to them that sometimes when you are at your worst, you won’t even recognize that you need help. And I hope that by knowing someone is in your corner, your internal pain will ease up just a bit.