I am devastated about the loss of Robin Williams, as are the millions of his fans, and more so by the fact that he took his own life. Despite all of his money and all of his available resources, depression reached its bony fingers into his life (and dragged him to an untimely death as it certainly has for millions of others.) Drugs and alcohol are certainly a part of his story, but make no mistake…this is a story about the savage blow of depression. The pills and booze were only a symptom of this man’s sad demise. Depression was the death blow.
Anyone who has never suffered from the savage effects of deep depression will find it hard to comprehend his decision to take his own life. Depressed people don’t kill themselves out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life isn’t worth living. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. Depression is an invisible agony that for many reaches a certain unendurable level where life and death are near equal terrors and death becomes a lesser terror than living.
For those who decide to take their life, they spend their final days and hours in much the same way a trapped person eventually chooses to jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. For the depressive suicidal, it’s not the desire of death, it’s the terror of living. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.
In this same way, a person who doesn’t suffer the agony of depression will never be able to understand the torments and terrors suffered by those afflicted. Never. Just as depression is an invisible agony, so, too is the understanding of true depression invisible to those who do not suffer it.
We can, and should, have a conversation about depression, but unless you’ve ever stood on a ledge with flames coming closer and closer, you will never truly understand the agonizing decision to jump.
Rest in peace, Robin Williams..your Genie is out.
Like most people, I am caught in the web of learning to navigate the constantly changing twists and turns of today’s fluctuating societal ups and downs. It seems every day someone achieves their dreams while another is blown to bits by a terrorist’s bomb. I celebrate a birthday with friends at the same time a mother buries her child. This insidious balance of good and evil renders me near catatonic with a mixture of soaring joy and abysmal despair. It just doesn’t make sense, and I am completely lost in a world I no longer understand.
The shooting at Sandy Hook and the resulting flood of grief as Death descended on this sleepy community left me in tears and shaking with sorrow. No sooner had the bodies of these innocent children been pulled from their classrooms then I found myself out shopping for Christmas gifts in anticipation of a joyful family reunion. I watched the mix of loved ones waiting at the finish of the Boston Marathon, full of love and pride as their champions crossed the finish line, suddenly blended with the explosions of hate that laid low the lives of three people, one, a child who now joins the bitter fruit withering on the vine of life, not yet fully blossomed. I have found that I am incapable of processing this confusing blend of despair and bliss. My psyche is not wired to route the neurons of my emotions bouncing back and forth within my soul so randomly, and my mental landscape is muddled beyond words.
I am left feeling that I have personally failed in my journey upon this earth, this blue-green marble that spins wildly on a shaky spindle. I don’t know how to proceed. No sooner than I fall on my knees in prayer that word comes of another senseless act of violence. Is this how God answers desperate prayers for comfort and understanding? Am I a fool to think that a simple act of Divine intervention might be suggested amongst all this violent loss of life? So I stop praying. God must be a sadistic voyeur for the silence of His absence in all of this is deafening.
My life does not slow down, however, to properly mourn, for no sooner than my heart is laid low by the killing of a dozen Syrian children, then the phone rings and I’m invited to a party celebrating the engagement of my best friend. What cruel and atrocious mocking of life this all turns out to be. Where do I find understanding amidst the laughter and the tears? How do I proceed with any semblance of balance? I retreat into the only sanctuary where I find an ounce of control: my writing. But as the words pour out upon the page, my sadness and confusion only becomes more evident. I start to write of hope and love, and in moments my words become dark and sullen. I am the world I live in. And like that world, I am confounded in both mind and body. My pen stops and weeps uncontrollably. My writing is exhausted and no longer makes sense.
I am caught in a bubble devoid of clarity, floating mindlessly through each demanding day. I cry out, “Please, someone, pop the bubble!”; explain this senseless woven tapestry of life so that I can chart my course, so that I can find meaning in this tower of babel. To God and His perfect plan I say “Fuck You” – this pain is no longer bearable. I cannot trust the joys I know when lurking behind the next corner is just another tragedy waiting to crush my spirit once more. I need to get off this see-saw and find shelter.
I can no longer play His celestial game of ping-pong.