Being Brave (In A Cowardly World)


Selfish: having or showing concern for only yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people. 

Coward: 1.) someone who is too afraid to do what is right or expected 2.) someone who is not at all brave or courageous. 

Fox News analyst Shepard Smith was recently put under fire for insulting comments regarding the recent death of actor and comedian Robin Williams. The 63 years old man committed suicide on August 11, 2014. Smith referred to William’s death as “cowardly” in a recent news segment. 

One of the children he so loved, one of the children grieving tonight. Because their father killed himself in a fit of depression. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? You could love three little things so much, watch them grow, they’re in their mid-20s, and they’re inspiring you, and exciting you, and they fill you up with the kind of joy you could never have known. And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it.

Rightfully so, his comments were not well received. Criticism has come from people who know how it feels to live with severe Depression. Many have actually contemplated or attempted suicide. They know how it feels to reach that point where you feel like there is no hope. They are left with two choices. Do I end it all or do I face my fears and find the help I need? I live with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of the neurological disorder known as Autism. I still find it difficult to connect with people, even though I try so hard to do so. Whether I like it or not, I have to do it if I want to survive on my own. This condition has made me especially vulnerable to Depression and Social Anxiety. I am also a gay man. I love men! It has taken me a long time to find the confidence to say that. I am this complex person who nobody else will even care to understand or even get to know. (At least that is what I hear from the occasional troll who loves to comment on my blog.) The truth is, Depression is a very difficult topic for me to explain. It is mainly because the condition affects people in many ways. Australian writer and illustrator Matthew Johnstone described his journey towards overcoming Depression in his book “I Had a Black Dog (And his Name Was Depression.)” As the title suggests, the black dog was used as a metaphorical alternative to the word depression. 

I had a black dog and his name was Depression. Whenever the black dog made an appearance, I felt empty and life just seemed to slow down. He would surprise me with a visit for no reason or occasion. The black dog made me look and feel older than my years. When the rest of the world seemed to enjoy life, I could only see it through the black dog. Activities that used to bring me pleasure, suddenly ceased to. He liked to ruin my appetite. 

I have learned not to beat myself up and try to figure out the exact cause of my symptoms. Personally, I don’t care if it is directly because of my Asperger’s, obliviousness to my sexuality or just biology and genetics. I was shy, socially challenged and closeted kid who insisted he was “just going through a phase.” If I were to suddenly find out the cause of all my problems, I can guarantee that my symptoms would worsen. I would be this miserable, unhappy guy who constantly focused on everything that is wrong in my life. They could even push me to the breaking point. I know that I have to stop it from going there if I want to survive in this world. It’s very hard to do, but life is not always a walk in the park. 

He chewed up my memory and my ability to concentrate. Doing anything, or going anywhere with the black dog required superhuman strength. At social occasions, he would sniff out what confidence I had and chase it away. My biggest fear was being found out. I worried that people would judge me. Because of the shame and stigma of the black dog, I was constantly worried about being found out. So, I invested vast amounts of energy into covering him up. Keeping up and emotional lie, is exhausting. Black dog could make me think and say negative things. He could make me irritable and difficult to be around. He would take my love, and bury mine to the sea. He loved nothing more than to wake me up with highly repetitive and negative thinking. He also loved to remind me how exhausted I was going to be the next day.

Having a black dog in your life isn’t so much about being a bit down, sad or blue. At its worst, it’s about being devoid of feeling all together. As I got older, the black dog got bigger and he started hanging around all the time. I’d chase him off with whatever I thought might send him running, but more often than not, he’d come out on top. Going down became easier than getting up again. So, I became really good at self medication, which never really helped. Eventually, I felt totally isolated from everything and everyone. The black dog had finally succeeded in hijacking my life. When you lose all joy in life, you can begin to question what the point of it is. 

Thankfully, this was the time that I sought professional help. This was my first step towards recovery and a major turning point in my life. I learned that it doesn’t matter who you are, the black dog affects millions and millions of people. It is an equal opportunity mongrel. I also learned there is no silver bullet or magic pill. Medication may help some, but others need a difficult approach altogether. I also learned that being emotionally genuine and authentic towards those close to you can be an absolute game changer. Most importantly, I learned not to be afraid of the black dog and I taught him a few new tricks of my own. The more tired and stressed you are, the louder he barks. So, it’s important to learn how to quiet your mind. It’s been clinically proven that regular exercise can be as effective to treating mild to moderate depression as anti depressants. So, go for a walk or a run and leave the mutt behind.  Keep a mood journal! Getting your thoughts on paper can be cathartic and often insightful. Also, keep track of the things that you have to be grateful for.

The most important thing to remember is that no matter how bad it gets, if you take the right steps, if you talk to the right people, black dog days will pass! I wouldn’t say that I am grateful for the black dog, but he has been an incredible teacher. He forced me to reevaluate and simplify my life. I learned that rather than running away from my problems, it’s better to embrace them. The black dog will always be a part of my life, but he will never be the beast that he was! We have an understanding! I’ve learned through knowledge, patience, discipline and humor, the worst black dog can be made to heal. If you’re in difficulty, never be afraid to ask for help. There is absolutely no shame in doing so. The only shame is missing out on life!

Matthew Johnstone “I Had A Black Dog (And His Name Was Depression) 

If there is anything that Depression has taught me, it is that none of my differences entitle me to sympathy from other people. When I meet a new person, you will never hear me say anything like this. “Hi! I’m Derek! I’m gay, I have Asperger’s Syndrome and I’m Depressed! Woe is me!” The only way I will ever believe that someone genuinely respects me is if they chose to look beyond all of those things that make me appear “different” from the rest of society. I do not care if people know that I am gay. I have grown used to the fact that people are going to find out sooner or later. However, I have a very different expectation for disclosing my diagnosis. Should I ever tell any person I meet, they must not disclose it to anyone else without my explicit permission. I know that people can be very judgmental when they find out someone has an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. They believe the stereotypes portrayed in fictional television shows and by news media outlets. (For example: Dr. Virginia Dixon on Grey’s Anatomy and Dr. Temprence Brennan on Bones.) I wrote that heartfelt letter to Steve Grand because I was confident in the belief that he was actually willing to listen. I hate to be this way, but most people could care less. I am greatly improving in my ability to “hide” my symptoms at times and places when it is necessary to do so. I must admit, it can be very overwhelming! Society does not think “high functioning Autism” is a “legitimate disability.” Regardless, it is “legitimate” to me! 

There is one thing I have learned about the tragic death of Robin Williams. When the world overwhelms, frustrates and saddens me, there still is hope. I am not selfish. I am not a coward. I am just someone who needs help coping with the world. It took me a long time to realize that. I often wonder if Robin would still be here if someone would have told him those words. Even if it cannot bring him back, it can still help people who feel like they have lost hope. That is one of the many reasons why I write the way I do!