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Here, Check Out My Snot

I'm not ashamed of being depressed; it's just weird to talk about. But the conversation needs to happen.

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Please don't hug me.

Unless quite drunk, I'm just not a hugger.

After Robin Williams' apparent suicide Monday, Twitter was full of people saying things like, "If you know someone who's depressed, hug them! Love them! Don't let this happen to them!"

But like practically any topic, depression and suicide is something that takes more than 140 characters or a hug to fix.

I have an incredibly loving family, many fabulous friends and a job that's a dream come true. I could have 100 hugs a day if I wanted them.

None of that stops me from being depressed.

I'll preface this by saying that I usually don't go around telling people I'm depressed. This wasn't my first choice when I recently decided that I should be writing columns. I did figure that mental health would be a topic—but not for a long while. Maybe someday, when my depression is a funny story from my past, the time before I figured out why it was happening and how to end it.

But that implies that there's some kind of logic to depression. And there's not.

Why waste the words, then? Because more than one person died this week because of a mental illness. In fact, in Utah, more than one person dies as a result of suicide every day.

Despite those statistics, there are still plenty of people—nice people, kind people—who can't accept that depression exists. It's a choice, or a silly misunderstanding of basic human emotion—you're just sad! Everyone gets sad! Just make the choice to get out of bed, to be happy instead.

If only it were that simple. They are right about one thing, though, when they say, "It's all in your head!" It is. So is everything—love, joy, how we see the color blue.

We understand those experiences—or we pretend to, at least. I'll be honest and say that I don't understand cancer—not its biology and not what it's like to have it. But I know it's serious, partly because people I know and love have gone through it. Humans are jerks like that—we often need to walk up and peer closely at the carnage before we can begin to grasp the severity, the realness, of what's happening.

If you've never experienced depression and neither has anyone close to you, you may just be lucky (in this respect, at least). But try looking a little closer at the people you know. I don't have a special depressed-person badge that I wear, and even when I'm in the deepest throes of it, I laugh and smile and try not to let my symptoms get all over other people—just as I cover my mouth when I cough and attempt to blow my nose unobtrusively. I'm not necessarily ashamed of being depressed—it's just weird to talk about. It's personal, and not all that pretty. It'd be like bringing my used tissues to a party so everyone can examine my snot.

And that's basically what I'm doing now, even though I'm scared to death about my co-workers and casual friends reading this column. Still (and I won't extend the snot metaphor further; you're welcome) it helps to have the conversation.

A girl in my neighborhood growing up had depression and was open about it—a rare thing in very normal, very Mormon Layton. It would be overstating it to call her a friend, because she was a grade ahead of me and popular and pretty and fun and I was none of those things. But it was her openness and kindness during late-night sleepover conversations that made shallow junior-high-era Rachel Hanson realize that even cool, funny people can be depressed, that I wasn't cursed with these feelings because I wasn't pretty or had some abhorrent flaw in my character. And now, 14 years after she helped me find the courage to tell my mom that I needed to see a doctor, her occasional Facebook posts about depression help still-shallow Rachel Piper feel a little less alone.

A conversation with a dear friend just a year or so ago is what finally persuaded me go see a doctor and get back on my medication, which I'd been trying to live successfully without for 10 years—and failing, despite many, many hugs and an endless supply of love and support.

The pills I take aren't magic. But, in conjunction with running, and getting sleep, and talking to people—all things that would be harder and less effective without the medication—they help with the symptoms and make me see that my life isn't completely meaningless.

Most of the time, at least. Sometimes, despite all the love and opportunities in my life, I wake up in the morning with the words "I hate myself" whipping through my brain in an endless refrain. Sometimes I still want to hurt myself. And sometimes, I miss feeling depressed. Being depressed is like being wrapped in a protective blanket that buffers me from other humans and their feelings, and keeps me in a place that's deeper and more meaningful.

But that's stupid. I know it's a good thing that the moments of "wishing that nothing loved me so I wouldn't feel obligated to keep existing" (a feeling Allie Brosh described so well in her book Hyperbole & a Half) are fewer when I'm taking my pills. I found what (mostly) works for me, and not everyone does. Although I'll never be done with depression, I am one of the lucky ones.

There's no single weapon—positive thinking, faith, shock treatment, yoga, medication, hugs—that can vanquish depression on its own. And the 1,089 words in this column aren't going to go any further to "cure" suicide than the 140 characters in a sad tweet about Robin Williams. But if this wordy conversation does anything, I hope that it will make depression seem less baffling, less foreign and strange.

I don't need your pity; I don't want a hug. (No, really, don't hug me.) But depression needs to be acknowledged—and respected, because it's a powerful, tricky opponent that's bigger than us all. Still, our individual battles against it are worth fighting. I know that, because I'm here, writing this column, and today, I feel happy about that.

Visit NAMIUt.org for mental-health resources. Call the University Neuropsychiatric Institute crisis line (801-587-3000) for emotional support and referrals. If you're contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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