Yesterday, many of us woke up to the sad news of the death of Robin Williams, that wonderful actor who made us laugh and think alike, through the many characters that he has played across the years. It is made all the more sad because of the circumstances in which he died. He who made us laugh, struggled alone with his depression. Even when his eyes were twinkling with humour, you could almost see etched on his face somewhere, a streak of something sad. But we did not know the despair and pain that lay behind those twinkling eyes. Why is it that sometimes the funniest people are in fact the saddest at heart? As Jim Norton remarked in his tribute article to Robin Williams in the Time, it is probably because the deeper the pit of darkness, the more humour they need to dig themselves out of it. The exact same emotions evoked by the tragic clown in the old Hindi classic movie "mera naam joker".
Depression hits people more commonly than we think. And arguably, it is not only a sign of the times as we are often made to believe and as the evidence seems to support. Depression was a common occurrence in the past as it is now. Depression did not and does not affect one class of people more than another. Across history, across all cross sections of society, people have fallen prey to the clutches of depression. Van Gogh and Hemingway are names that immediately spring up from the past - brilliant men, who tragically succumbed to their depression. But then, many of the heroes from history, have had their own bouts with depression over and over again - Lincoln, Churchill, Martin Luther; all these great men have been impacted many times over by severe phases of depression - the only difference being that these men managed to drag themselves out from the pits of their depression. So, while it is common enough for all of us to fall into depression, we have examples from history that it certainly does not have to end as tragically as it did for Van Gogh or Hemingway or more recently for Robin Williams.
What really is depression? Is it sadness? Is it a feeling of loneliness? Is it being demoralized and discouraged? I know not for sure the answers to these questions - but I believe that it is much more than all these feelings. We can feel sad at something that happens to us; sometimes trivial things like our team losing a crucial match, or something graver like losing a job or even something as tragic as losing a loved one. But I have seen many people go through such losses and bounce back from those situations; obviously some situations take longer, and certain people may take longer than others. The death of a loved one may thrust us into a deep dark pit of loneliness and for a moment it may indeed seem like the end of the world. But I believe that the difference between being able to come out of that pit of despair or to go sinking deeper into it, is based on the answer to one simple question - do we have something to look forward to? In spite of what just hit us, is there something or someone that we can look forward to, that gives us the strength to slowly swallow the bitter pill of sorrow and come out ready to move on with our life. That something that all of us need in moments of sadness and despair, that something that allows us to come bouncing back - is what we refer to commonly as "hope".
I sincerely believe that it is the loss of hope that leads one to depression. Depression in its essence is hopelessness. When a person comes to a point in his life and says "I have no hope", that is when he slowly begins the slide down that slippery slope. Being hopeless is to not find reasons to do the things that we normally do. I have no reason to get up in the morning, no reason to meet my friends, no reason to go to school, no reason to go to my workplace - all because there is no hope.
If the above assertion is true, it follows that if we have a hope in something, then almost by definition, we can no longer be depressed. That sounds easy enough, right? Sure it does, but there is a small problem. Because here is what typically happens with our hope:
Even in the most ideal of worlds, we do not get what we hope for. The school/college that I wished to get into, the job that I wanted to land, the house that I wanted to buy, the boy or girl whom I hoped to marry, the child that we longed for; very often we do not get what we hope for.
But often we do get what we hoped for, but once we get it, we are disappointed. The college that I so wished to be in, does not seem much once I have gained admission; the job that I so desired and finally landed, does not seem that exciting anymore; the boy or girl whom I hoped to marry and finally did, falls hugely short of my expectations now. So even though I may have got what I hoped for, I end up disillusioned and disappointed.
And then so often, we do get what we hoped for and it seems to meet our expectations, but then we lose it. I find that I have been retrenched from the very job that I had hoped and prayed for and finally landed; one of my dear ones in my family is suddenly no longer around. The despair at losing something that we had sincerely hoped for and now had come to call our own, can be devastating.
And then there is the situation we described earlier. We come to a point in our lives where we have nothing left to hope for. Why go to work? Why go to college? I will never be able to get married. I will never get that job. We will never have the child that we so long for.
And this is where the vicious clutches of hopelessness can be so strangling. Slowly but surely, it suffocates us; it drains us; we lose the will to stand up and fight; we lose the will to live.
So the solution as far as I can see, and without sounding too simplistic, is to find something worthwhile to hope for. And as we just discussed, it will be for our own good that the thing we hope for and receive, does not disappear in a few days; or even that the thing we hope for and receive, does not disappoint us when we do receive it.
I urge you my dear friend, if you are struggling with hopelessness and are on the verge of despair and depression, look for something that holds out hope eternally. And I do hope that you find it - find something that can give you hope for ever; that which you can look forward to for ever.
As for me, I have found my hope - it is in God. It is not to say, I will not be shaken, nor is it to say that I will not be troubled; but by His grace, I am firmly confident that he will be my hope forever.