Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Death of Robin Williams and Depression

Two days ago we lost the greatest comedian and one of the greatest people I believe I will see in this lifetime. I saw the news on yahoo, right there on the front page, and before I saw the cause of his death at all, I was heartsick. Then I read that it was probably suicide and that he probably killed himself because of depression and my heart sank. My first thought was that it seemed a cruel joke that someone who brought joy to so many lives could not find a shred of happiness left to hold onto at the end. But I know the drill. Because I, like millions of others scattered throughout this amazing planet of ours, suffer from depression. For me it is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, probably inherited from my amazing grandmother. Along with her attitude and her soft heart where anything soft and cuddly is concerned, I also inherited her despair and her occasional feelings of hopelessness, the ability to be there for everyone but myself, and, thankfully, her ability to hang on despite that. So while Robin's death and the cause and the fact that it occurred by his own hand is still a terrible tragedy to me and I still wish he had reached out to someone, anyone, that night instead of taking his own life, I know why he didn't. I know he felt that despair, that hopelessness, and the isolation that comes with it, as if there isn't a single soul in the entire world who could possibly understand why you are sitting there thinking of taking your own life when it appears to them that nothing is wrong. The truth about depression is that nothing has to be wrong the way everyone else defines it. Hell, the day need only end in Y to have you there, sitting on the floor, thinking about how much better everyone would be if you were gone...
I debated on whether to write about this. I thought that perhaps it would be best if I just focused on all the laughs and the work and the way that he touched so many lives. But everyone else seems to be discussing it. And I do try to keep it real on this blog. So it seems like the ultimate act of my pride to refuse to talk about it. The fact is, in addition to feeling completely isolated when the worst of the depression comes, I do not talk about how I feel as a rule because of my pride. I've told myself all my life that strength is keeping your mouth shut about your problems and dealing with them yourself, be they physical or mental. So when I have a bad day...a really bad day...I smile and I say I am fine and I wait until I am alone to cry and then I go back out to those who love me and I continue to smile, continue to say I'm fine, until I am fine again. I also crack jokes, sometimes about the most inappropriate things, terrible things that have happened in my life. Why? Because if you can't laugh about it how the hell will you get through it, right? 
A lot of Robin's stand-up comedy was full of jokes like that, jokes about his divorces and his alcoholism and other fucked up things that happened throughout his life. I have no doubt that there were probably times when jokes like that saved him from hurting himself in the past. His work may have saved his life many times before because I know that no one thinks of suicide once, does it, and has done with it. Suicide is something that sticks in your mind, you hold the image tight, you know how you would do it and where you could do it so you won't be an imposition to your family, you think about what it might feel like to have the life slipping from you....but I, personally, never think about what it would feel like to stand on the other side and realize I had just fucked up in a BIG way. Then again, I never intend to do it. But I do think about it. On the worst of the days with Crohn's, when the worst of the pain is slamming through my body and I am telling myself I cannot take one more fucking moment of it, I close my eyes and....
"It was in the bathroom, with the kitchen knife, and the moron with the slit wrists in the tub did it...." Like some incredibly morbid game of Clue.
I nearly tried it once. I was eleven years old. It was about three years before I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression, and it was one of the worst times of my life. I had this piece of glass and I still carry the scar on my arm where I tried it out to see if it was sharp enough to cut through the vein in my wrist. It wasn't. So I got up to search for something sharper, found a knife, and sat on the edge of my twin bed to finish the job. That's when my baby sister, two years old at the time, walked in with her eyes wide asking me why I was bleeding from the shallow cut I made moments before. That snapped me back into reality. Realizing this precious baby could have come in on her sister bleeding to death made me realize I was being a damned fool....and that afternoon made me believe I had lost my fucking mind.
It took me two years to recover from that bought of depression, mostly because I was too young to tell myself that everything, no matter how hopeless it seems, is temporary. One day you look back on the worst times of your life, those times that seemed like they would destroy you, and as long as you don't kill yourself you will have the chance to smile and tell yourself, "Look. I made it. I got through it." My life mottos became 'This too shall pass' and 'Keep on keeping on'. I still chant them in my head over and over like a mantra on the bad days. And that whole 'everything is temporary' thing worked well for about a decade. Until Crohn's and its buddy epilepsy joined the Rheumatoid Arthritis and the uterine/ovarian problems I have that may make it impossible for me to ever have a child....All of these painful, so degenerative, and so very very permanent. Nothing isolates more than the pit of depression and nothing shoves you in that pit more than physical pain 24/7 and the total loss of your quality of life in your 20's. So again, I had to find something to tell myself to keep me from getting the kitchen knives out to test which one might cut through vein. I had to fight even harder with music and meditation and anything I could tell myself to make me go on another day against the depression. And I am still fighting. All the fucking time. But you know what? I'm still here. I have every odd stacked against me but I am still here. Not because I'm stronger or wiser or better, somehow, than Robin Williams and the millions more who have taken their lives, but simply because I have to see what is around every single corner. I am the person who will finish a book that sucks half-way through it because I have to know how it ends. That is why I am still alive. Seems pretty silly, huh? But it's true. I'll be damned if I kill myself the day before my life would have changed drastically for the best and any day could be that day soooo.....
I keep seeing comments from people pleading with those who suffer from depression to talk about it. Maybe some will. Look. It worked on me. But if you are close to someone with depression, I am pleading with you to see the differences in them when the despair comes. Notice the differences in when they are actually fine and when they lie to you saying they are fine. Because when your friend or your loved one is at his/her worst, she/he is feeling like there is no one on earth that will understand, no one else that ever felt this way, and no way to explain it. And when he/she is truly suicidal? You won't know until it's too late. It isn't easy to try to explain to a "normal" person that you woke up feeling like you would be better off dead and, what's more, that everyone else would be better off too because the typical response for that is "Why? What's wrong?" and we have no answer for that. So don't wait for someone you love to tell you that he or she is depressed or suicidal. Don't wait for answers we don't have. Notice the changes and just be there. Show the people you love that no matter what the depression is saying, it will get better, at least for a little while. It's always darkest before the dawn. And it is possible to make it through the night.
As for Robin Williams, I hope he is feeling peace today. I hope the memory of that beautiful man who tried so hard to make the world happy lasts forever. And I hope that if he taught the world nothing else, he taught us all how to laugh through the pain until the dawn comes again. He will be so missed...


  1. Hi Keair,

    I was also one that felt a huge sense of sadness and loss at hearing of Robin Williams passing and his suffering from depression. As a child of the 90's he brought so much laughter to me and happiness during my own sad times; it's hard to think that he was in such a dark place that it was too much for him to bear any longer. I'm sorry that you, too, have suffered with depression during your life and faced moments that blinded you to what you were doing to escape the mental anguish. At least you snapped back into reality at the right time.

    Lots of strength to you, sister.


    1. Thank you. :) Yes, as I sit here in a good place for the moment and I look around at all the good things I would have missed if I had given up at any point, it's hard not to consider the good things that Robin and millions like him who could no longer see the light for the darkness may have also missed. Suicide is a heartbreaking end.

  2. Hi, Keair! Long time no see! I just discovered that, although this blog is on my blogroll, I haven't been notified about your new posts for several months! Catching up now...

    Missed you.

    This was a great post, by the way. You never disappoint.

    1. Thank you. I nearly chickened out of writing it. It's probably the most honest thing I've ever written in my life outside of the entries in my personal journal. I am glad you liked it. I missed you too. :)