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“How Thick the Fog Is. I can’t See the Road.” July 18, 2010

Posted by Dindy in health, Mental illness, Personal.
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It is so difficult to know what to say about the apparent murder-suicide of the mayor of Coppell, Texas, Jayne Peters, and her nineteen-year-old daughter, Corinne. Indications are that Mayor Peters may have been suffering from depression, and from some of the things I have read, it seems that her daughter may also have been a victim of the disease. In one suicide note, Peters wrote:

“My sweet, sweet Corinne had grown completely inconsolable,” one note reportedly read. “She had learned to hide her feelings from her friends. But the two of us were lost, alone and afraid. Corinne just kept on asking, ‘Why won’t God let me die?’ We hadn’t slept at all and neither one of us could stop crying when we were together.” ~ AOL News

Some talk show callers in the Dallas/ Fort Worth metroplex have been less than charitable when talking about Jayne Peters, saying that she is a murderess who deserves no sympathy. To me this is an indicator of how little people understand depression. I am only able to speculate– I did not know Jayne Peters or her daughter personally. All I know is what I have read in the news reports. Her husband died of cancer in 2008. Her home had been scheduled for foreclosure and there was a lien against it for neighborhood association dues, and Peters was about to be the subject of a probe by city officials in Coppell over the use of her city issued credit card.

Overwhelmed with the pain of depression and the financial and legal difficulties besetting her, she might not have seen any other way out. Many people can understand that, but they can’t understand why she also felt it necessary to kill her adult daughter. I don’t know either, but if her daughter also had chronic depression, Peters may not have wanted to leave her behind to face the world after her death. She may have thought that Corinne would not be able to cope with the mess her mother left behind. She may have thought, in a way that could only make sense to a mind that wasn’t working properly, that killing her daughter was an act of love, that it was the best way to help Corinne.

I have written before about my struggles with depression, and as someone who has spent time in the misty fog of the mind, I can understand what Peters may have been going through. I am fortunate that I have a husband who is attuned to my moods, who can tell when I need outside help and can make sure I get it. It does not appear as though Peters had anybody. If her daughter was also clinically depressed, then instead of being able to support each other, they might have fed off each other’s depression until they could not see a way out.

Playwright Eugene O’Neill suffered from depression. In Long Day’s Journey into Night, he shows the seductive power of the disease:

“It wasn’t the fog I minded, Cathleen. I really love fog. It hides you from the world and the world from you. You feel that everything has changed, and nothing is what it seemed to be. No one can find or touch you any more. It’s the foghorn I hate. It won’t let you alone. It keeps reminding you, and warning you, and calling you back.”~ Page 100-101, Act 3

That’s the thing about depression that people who have never experienced it do not understand. When you are deep in the well of depression, you no longer want to come out. It’s safe there– no one can hurt you, no one can make you do anything. You ride on the bed of sleepy fog, oblivious to everything around you. The people who try to cheer you up, who try to force you to be a part of the world, who try to snap you out of it, are like a foghorn that keeps you from the bliss of sleep.

The news reports have contained quotes from friends and neighbors of the family. Corinne’s friends describe her as a fun-loving person with a great sense of humor, and Peters’ colleagues are wracked with guilt, wondering if they missed a sign. Chronic depression is an invisible illness. It is not possible to tell if people have it by looking at them. I have managed to hide my illness for years from friends, co-workers, and even members of my own family. There’s still such a stigma attached to mental illness, that I am reluctant to let people know about the times I spend in a black fugue. Instead I’ll just respond to their questions of where I’ve been with, “I haven’t been feeling well.” It’s true enough, but that implies a physical illness of the body instead of a mental illness of the brain, and I don’t disabuse them of that notion. I sometimes feel guilty about it because I realize that as long as people continue to hide their mental illnesses, society will continue to stigmatize them. Nevertheless, it is all I can do to deal with my illness, without having to be the standard bearer for the condition as well.

I’m fortunate that I have never been suicidal during one of my depressive episodes– but during the last episode, I came pretty close. I thought often that if I were dead, the pain would go away and I wouldn’t have to live with it anymore. There was a heaviness in my brain, a physical pain, and as I moved through the day, I felt as though I were mired in treacle. Many times I just wanted to let myself sink slowly under, let the depression overtake me. After a while you get tired of fighting with your own mind.

Fortunately my husband made sure I got help, and I’m on a new medication which has helped tremendously. If you suffer from depression, you MUST get help. I would strongly suggest you go to a psychiatrist who understands the medical condition and knows about the different drugs available to find the one that works best for you. Medical doctors tend to prescribe the latest drugs they are given by the drug salespeople and they don’t understand how important it is to match the medication with the person.

If you suffer from depression, please understand that there is an actual neurological reason for your condition. It is not all in your head and it will not just go away. Letting a smile be your umbrella will not take care of it for you.

If someone you know or love suffers from depression, do not tell them to shake it off. Do not tell them to get a hold of themselves or to think happy thoughts or to try thinking about others. Do not tell them that it is all in their head. Tell them to seek help. Badger them until they call and make an appointment with a psychiatrist. Sit beside them and dial the phone if you have to. You may be their only lifeline.

For Jayne Peters and her beautiful daughter, I am sorry that the fog overtook you. My hope is that others will learn from your deaths and will reach out to seek help. And my hope is that those talk show callers who would withhold their sympathy from you will never find out for themselves what the black fog of the mind is like.

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