I was going to start this post by saying, “look, I’m nobody, but here’s my thoughts on the suicide of Robin Williams”, but then the overwhelming thought of “BULLSHIT” crept into my brain, and I stopped myself.
No one is “nobody”.
Everyone is important to someone, even if that someone is just your dog. Even someone living alone, without family, is important. When my father-in-law, whom I’d never met due to his estrangement from my husband, died, my husband collapsed into a puddle of tears. By all accounts my father-in-law was no good…a self-absorbed hustler and thief who spent more time as a “guest of the state” than he spent with his son, but he was the only father my husband had, and when he died in his late fifties due to Parkinson’s Disease, it left a hole in my husband, a hole that he hoped his father would someday at least try to fill in. That chance is lost now.
But you know what? The fact that “no one is nobody” doesn’t mean jack crap to someone in the throes of depression. Not, “I’m sad” depression, but hard core, clinical depression.
The amount of money you have doesn’t matter.
The fact that you’re married to someone who loves you doesn’t matter.
The fact that you have children who adore you doesn’t matter.
The fact that you can make everyone laugh doesn’t matter.
The fact that you have an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Golden Globe award doesn’t matter.
The fact that you are beloved throughout the world doesn’t matter.
Your “spirituality” or religion doesn’t matter. I am a Jehovah’s Witness. I firmly believe in a supreme being. I believe he didn’t intend for us to live this way, and has plans for our future. I believe the meek shall inherit the earth and reside forever upon it. And I believe he sent his son to earth to die for us. For ALL of us. Except for me, because my depression tells me I’m crap and don’t deserve any good thing. JWs suffer from depression, as do agnostics, atheists, buddhists, you name it.
When you don’t suffer from depression, it’s amazing how easily life can pass you by. You wake up in the morning and go about your day without much thought. You have things to do and people to see, and even if you’re not laughing non-stop throughout the day, there’s still an element of enjoyment to your life. You enjoy your job, or hanging out with your co-workers, or you’re taking a really interesting class, or you are looking forward to a dinner date, or what your spouse is cooking on the stove, or maybe it’s just your weekend plans that have you excited.
And then there’s clinical depression. Nothing you think of doesn’t cause you pain. You can’t concentrate. It feels like there’s a concrete blanket on your brain, blocking out any good or even interesting thing. Because your own thoughts cause you so much pain, you don’t want to think anymore. So you sleep. And sleep. And sleep. Or, if you find yourself unable to sleep, you are desperate for something to entertain you. Except, nothing you once found amusing or entertaining holds any appeal to you. If you have to interact with other people, who often find yourself having to pretend to feel okay because most people have no patience for depression.
“What do you have to be depressed about?”
“But you have so much!?”
“Don’t you know there’s so many other people in the world that have it worse than you?”.
Thank you, assholes. Not only am I taking up space, but I can see from your words that apparently I’m selfish and self-absorbed to boot. Thanks for that.
So, in the hopes of avoiding such UTTERLY UNHELPFUL comments, you try to put on a brave face, which is exhausting. Or, you avoid people all together. You retract, you hide, you avoid phone calls.
There is no talking yourself out of it. There is no pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Your brain is awash in a toxic chemical bath that allows you no relief, save medication, which, like any medicine, takes time to work. And you can become tolerant of it. And sometimes you need more than one type, or a higher dosage.
Often people will self-medicate. “I feel like crap all the time, except when I’m drinking/smoking pot/taking oxycontin/ [insert drug of choice], so I’ll just keep ingesting that”. This, sadly, just makes things worse down the road, but when you’re desperate to feel good….hell, when you’re desperate to just not feel bad…then you’ll go for the quick high/buzz and consequences be damned.
If you’re successful at some part of your life, be it actor, comedian, insurance broker, whatever, you find yourself desperately afraid that people will “find out” that you’re a fraud, because that’s what you think you are. How could you not? You’re crap, remember? So if any of your efforts meet with success, it’s just a matter of time before people find out you’ve conned them.
After a while, you might start to believe that those you love would be better off without you. You start to daydream about ways to die. Perhaps they aren’t straight up suicidal thoughts at first. More like, “I wouldn’t mind being dead” thoughts. You fantasize about dying in a car crash, or that cold you have turning into double pneumonia.
And there may come a day, a moment, when you die for real. I’ve written before about my own suicide attempt 19 years ago. For me to reach that moment when I swallowed the bottle of pills, every person I cared about, every thing I ever looked forward to, every thing I ever liked about myself, had to die. It all went away, in my mind. There was nothing but darkness, nothing but pain, and I couldn’t take it another moment. Obviously, I can’t ask Josh, or Margie, or Robin Williams if they felt that same darkness, but I assume they had.
And let’s not forget, this is a disease. If you have a tumor on your liver, you listen to what the doctor tells you, weigh the treatment options, and choose to have the tumor removed, or to shrink it with medication. When the disease is in your brain, it effects HOW you think (poor concentration) and WHAT you think (“I’m crap, I’m crap, I’m crap”). Depression lies, all day long. Rational thinking is out the window.
It’s impossible for someone who’s never been there to conceive of just how badly someone has to feel to end their own life. It’s just not natural. Whether you believe we evolved from other species or were created by a supreme being, we must concede that all normal, healthy people have a survival instinct. We have adrenalin that gives us the strength to get out of harms way, we have the reflexes that cause us to jump back when burned, or when we’re walking on the sidewalk and hear car tires screech nearby. But in that final moment of life, in the moment it took Josh to put the shotgun barrel in his mouth and pull the trigger, or for Margie or Robin to slip their head in the noose and take that last step to oblivion, that instinct to survive is gone. All you see is a way to end your pain. You don’t see the pain you’ll leave behind. The broken-hearted loved ones who are left asking, “why?”
It took me years to accept the fact that in the final moment of Josh’s life, he didn’t love me. He didn’t love anyone. Rather than take that as a failure on my part, I’ve come to recognize just how much he hurt, and that is what makes me cry for him, for Margie, and for Robin Williams.
I can’t think of a time in my life when Robin Williams wasn’t someone I knew of. He made me laugh countless times, and blew me away with his dramatic roles. His humor, depth, and range touched and impressed me, and I will be forever saddened that he was so broken.
We have to change the way we talk about these things. Dr. Drew makes a good point in this piece…
Williams had a brain disease. It wasn’t a demon or a devil. In fact, I strongly object to people referring to those with psychiatric illnesses as “struggling with inner demons.” That only promotes a primitive and stigmatizing sense of these conditions. We don’t say someone is struggling with an inner demon when they have a tumor somewhere — although there was a time when we did! And we have not relinquished these backwards notions when we refer to disorders of the brain.
I’m no professional, but I can say this; Most people don’t commit suicide in the company of others. If you know someone who is struggling, no matter how much they try to push you away, don’t let them. Stick with them. Be a pain in the ass. If you are angry with them for being depressed, use it, not to make them feel guilty, but as a reminder that you really care about them and want your friend/loved one back, so by god you’re going to stick with them until they are through this. Friends and family get mad at each other. DON’T WALK AWAY.
To quote Stephen Fry, who has famously struggled with depression for years…
“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.
Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”
And, lastly, I’ll let Dr. Drew speak a bit more.
|Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255
|National Suicide Prevention Lifeline