Two Cents

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

Whitney Houston, we have a problem

I can’t really say I was a fan, per say.  I’ve never bought one of her albums or really gotten into her songs, though I know many of them.  In fact, “I Have Nothing” has been an earworm in my head since I heard of her death.  I did appreciate, however, the beauty and strength of her voice, and know that many people in her life loved her very much and are devastated by the loss.

That being said, troubled people die prematurely all the time, most of them without the talent, success, and money that celebrities enjoy.  I know, I’ve said before that what is viewed from the outside is merely superficial, and we can’t really know what’s going on in someone’s life to understand their suffering.  I only refer to these things because the average citizen doesn’t always have the means to seek treatment for their ailments.  And non-celebrities don’t get eulogized on national television when they succumb to their demons.

It can be argued that Whitney Houston’s death affects a larger group of people because her music affected a larger group of people.  But, come on, folks, she wasn’t working on the cure for cancer or anything.  The truth is, in our celebrity-obsessed culture, we weep at the premature death of a singer, but don’t even notice when hard-working, well-meaning doctors, scientists, nurses, engineers, teachers, etc. pass away.

Sadly, what needs to happen will never happen.  As a society, we need to ask ourselves why there are SO MANY people who are so unhappy they seek chemical relief.  Not just singers and actors, but cops and garbage men, crossing guards and dentists.  Only about 5% of alcoholics and drug addicts live on skid row.  95% have homes, careers, families.  I know when *I* quit drinking, I found it cathartic to tell people I was an alcoholic, for I had lived with a great deal of shame at the double life I was living.  I was living a lie, so telling people the truth about me was therapeutic, yet I’d often be told by the person I confided in, “Alcoholic?  You?  You’re not an alcoholic!” I didn’t fit the image of a homeless drunk drinking whiskey out of a paper bag, so I couldn’t possibly have a problem.

Too many people are expending too much energy trying to convince everyone they are okay.  The pressure gets to you.  And we as a society, though we can be sympathetic, love to see people fail, especially those as public as Whitney Houston.  We LOVE to feed on the corpse of a dying person/career, then we LOVE to “forgive” the person who claws their way back.  Everyone watched Robert Downey Jr. torpedo his career, go in and out of rehab, and jail, and we ate it up.  As an addict myself, I know the fact that he’s been sober for something like 10 years, well, I cheer that, certainly, and it makes me appreciate his talent all the more.  I’m rooting for him.  When Charlie Sheen went off the rails, people couldn’t turn away from the car crash.  People made jokes about it, yet what we were watching was a mental breakdown.  The man was showing signs of being very, very sick.

We don’t connect with each other.  We don’t show love for each other.  We instead compete with each other, try to best each other.  We like to watch other people fail or act crazy, because it makes us feel better about ourselves.  How else does one explain the success of reality television?  Think anyone would watch any of the Housewives, or Jersey Shore, or The Bad Girls’ Club if healthy, loving, supportive people were on them?  If there were no back-stabbing, narcissistic, addictive behavior to feel superior to?

So I’ll take a cue from Ghandi.  I’ll try to be the change I want to see in the world.  To those who have commented on my posts, either in person or on this blog, I thank you for finding my words valuable enough to reach out to me.  I thank you for listening when I needed to give voice to my pain. It’s truly been helpful to me to be able to share these thoughts and feelings with an ever-widening audience.  I still have to work on being open and loving *in person*, but, baby steps.

Whitney Houston died far too young.  I feel such pity for her daughter, and hope she makes it through this difficult time.  But there are so many people who struggle with many of the same issues.  We rely on chemicals to make us feel good about ourselves and try to convince others we’re okay when we could expend that energy making ourselves stronger.

We don’t love each other enough, and we don’t truly love ourselves enough. And that’s the biggest tragedy.

My view of depression

From allpsych.com (found by searching for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)), the symptoms for dysthmic depression are described as:

“Depressed mood for most of the day, for more days than not, and ongoing for at least two years. During this time, there must be two or more of the following symptoms: under– or over eating, sleep difficulties, fatigue, low self-esteem, difficulty with concentration or decision making, and feelings of hopelessness. There can also not be a diagnosis of Major Depression for the first two years of the disorder, and has never been a manic or hypo-manic episode.”

Okay, so that’s been me for about 20 years.  I’ve gone through patches of “clarity”, which is usually when I’d go off my meds, thinking, “I’m fine, don’t need ’em”.  Then, boom goes the dynamite, I’m back in the hole.  Every once in a while, my brain has changed things up by offering up Major Depression, evidenced by:

  • depressed mood (such as feelings of sadness or emptiness)
  • reduced interest in activities that used to be enjoyed, sleep disturbances (either not being able to sleep well or sleeping to much)
  • loss of energy or a significant reduction in energy level
  • difficulty concentrating, holding a conversation, paying attention, or making decisions that used to be made fairly easily
  • suicidal thoughts or intentions.

Just to be clear, that SUCKS.  And it’s not something one can “snap out of”.  I’ve come to describe depression as this, to those who’ve never been cursed with it.  It’s like being stuck at the bottom of a 20 foot hole.  It’s pitch black, and I can’t climb out.  I may very well have a loved one, maybe more than one, standing on the edge of the hole, looking down at me (usually literally and figuratively), telling me, “What do you have to be depressed about?  It’s a beautiful day!  You have all this wonderful food and sweet music to listen to, and people who love you!”  Um, down a mine shaft, here.  Can’t see the sun, hear the music, or taste the food.  “Well, you know, there’s lot’s of people suffering like you.  You’re not alone”.  Yeah, I’M DOWN AN EFFING HOLE.  I CAN’T SEE THOSE PEOPLE OR HELP THEM IN ANY WAY.

But I haven’t become bitter.  No, not at all.  Actually, in recent days, perhaps better described as recent hours, I’ve had a realization.  See, this last weekend, I had the deepest, darkest depression I’ve had since my boyfriend blew his brains out 16 years ago. I was so close to the edge, the wind coulda knocked me over it.  What was probably most frightening to me is that I’ve been taking my meds for years now, with no real gaps.  They just stopped working.  In my effort to connect to something, anything, I found the memoirs of William Styron.  It’s called “Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness”.  So I bought it on my Kindle and read it.  I found myself highlighting many passages, and sharing them with my husband.  And after reading it, I realized, that I had been guilty of the same denial and condescension I’ve become accustomed to from friends and family.  I’ve been feeling guilty for years, feeling like such a burden on family and friends because I was “moody”.  Well, to hell with that.  I have a disease.  A disease with the capacity to be just as deadly as cancer.  Yes, those who die from depression die by their own hand, but they’re still dead, right?  I quote William Stryon:

…the pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne.  The prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the nature of this pain.  Through the healing process of time – and through medical intervention or hospitalization in many cases, most people survive depression, which may be its only blessing; but to the tragic legion who are compelled to destroy themselves there should be no more reproof attached than to the victims of terminal cancer.

So, who are some of these “moody” people, these sufferers of depression who succumbed?  A brief, brief list:

  • Vincent van Gogh
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Jack London
  • Ernest Hemmingway
  • Abbie Hoffman
  • Kurt Cobain
  • Spalding Gray
  • Michael Hutchence
  • Richard Jeni
  • Alexander McQueen
  • Freddie Prinze
  • Hunter S. Thompson

Wimps, right?  Hardly.  And having spent more than a few moments in that blackest of moments, the moment when absolutely nothing matters to you, not your job, your money, your house, even your husband or your child, I can tell you, I’m grateful I survived them.  Here’s hoping I continue to survive, and maybe someday, live.  Here’s hoping I stay out of the hole.