I learned of Representative Jamie Raskin’s son’s suicide, like everyone else, through the media on Monday evening.
From his parent’s fiercely loving tribute, published on Medium, it sounds like Tommy Bloom Raskin was an unusually accomplished and big-hearted young man. I’d like to take this moment to point out that many people who suffer from chronic depression manage to live outwardly successful lives, despite assumptions to the contrary. Speaking from experience, depression isn’t a disease that universally drives its victims into bed for extended periods or forces inpatient hospitalisations. For some it does. For many, it does not.
I’d have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting into Harvard Law School and was never a child who taught friends the names of the Supreme Court Justices like Mr Raskin, who did both.
I have, however, plugged along through a life clouded by depression that emerged around eighth grade. I’ve never lost functionality or needed hospitalisation. Right now I’m in graduate school at Hopkins and have always done pretty well in school, with the exception of becoming a high school dropout for a modelling career that took me abroad.
Anyone who has lived with me, been a close friend or therapist of mine, knows intimately how much I struggle with feelings of failure, self-loathing, and overall sadness.
Everyone else seems extremely surprised when I mention my history of depression. Like many of us, somewhere along the line, I became highly skilled at hiding my pain. At work, in college, and at cocktail parties (though if you looked closely, you might notice I was drinking a bit too much). But so was almost everyone else at those gatherings. And again, I could conceal an over-reliance on booze in social settings very competently. I don’t drink at all anymore, but from adolescence all the way to 35 I consumed a lot without passing out or experiencing loss of memory.
In mourning the loss of Mr Raskin, I’ve been thinking about how all this perseverance and concealment must take a tremendous toll on top of the damage already inflicted by the illness. If nothing else, it’s exhausting. Which is why I’ve been working so hard to fight stigmatisation for the last several years. I’ve ‘come out of the closet’ and encouraged others to publicly share their pain as well.
I know there’s a great big army of depressed people who go through life passing for ‘normal’. There’s no such thing as normal. We fight our battles heroically in doctor’s offices, out in the world and in the private moments when depression robs us of human connection and community.
At the end of their tribute, Mr Raskin’s parents made a very important point and I’m so glad they did. Describing their son’s wealth of resources, they wrote:
‘Despite very fine doctors and a loving family and friendship network of hundreds, who adored him beyond words and whom he adored too, the pain became overwhelming and unyielding and unbearable at last for our dear boy, this young man of surpassing promise to our broken world.’
There it is.
Next time you’re tempted to think of someone as ‘having it all’, please stop and consider that appearances are often deceiving and we won’t ever accomplish meaningful intimacy with one another if conversations about emotional suffering continue to be silenced by a society that prefers to pretend it does not exist.
Elsie Ramsey was born in California and moved all around the country growing up. She runs the website, What’s Your Story?