It’s been a hell of a week. Since I last wrote some big stuff has happened in my world and in the world at large. One of the biggest…on August 11th, Robin Williams committed suicide after years of struggling with depression and various addictions. Then several days ago, an announcement came out that he had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease..
For some, this new information made Robin’s death by suicide more palatable perhaps – probably because he wasn’t “just” depressed. Others seem to feel like he should have put up a bigger fight against this disease (I mean, look at Michael J. Fox, right?), as if life-long depression and addiction isn’t a big enough fight itself.
Thankfully too, there have been a lot of articles trying to either focus on the great accomplishments of Robin’s life as well as who he was as a person and artist. Also, his death has brought a lot of much needed attention to the fact that many people – even successful, attractive, talented and funny people – suffer with serious and long-term depression.
Despite being a writer, it’s taken me a week to really be able to commit any of my own thoughts about Robin’s death to paper. I was just a little too numb with shock. My thoughts too raw. The images in my head too clear and too personal.
I didn’t know Robin Williams, nor had I even seen him in person. The closest I came to that was about fourteen years ago, when I met his brother, Todd, very briefly. He was the owner of Toad Hollow Winery and hosted a wine dinner I attended. In looking up the name of the vineyard online, I found out Todd passed away about seven years ago and that perhaps (according to an incredibly reputable gossip website) Robin – who was very close to his brother – was still grieving over the loss. Well, duh.
But even though I didn’t have a direct connection to one of America’s biggest and best-loved comedic and dramatic legends, I feel incredibly “close” to Robin now that he’s gone and his struggles are being shared out in the open. Why and how? Because I know oh too well what depression is like and how hard it can be for others to believe that an extroverted, outgoing entertainer/successful career driven person could have any reason to be depressed. I’ve suffered with grief and loss continuously since I was ten years old when I lost my dad to lung cancer (and divorce before that.) By the time I was sixteen, my grandfather and grandmother that raised me had also died. And when I was twenty, I lost my mother to suicide.
Since then, I’ve also struggled with my own depression and occasional thoughts of ending it all, but never to the point of seriously trying to take my life. (I don’t really count that night when I was fourteen and planned to do myself in by taking two aspirin an hour until the end finally came.)
But I do know what it is like to ache so badly that I wished I could die and that I had the courage – or the weakness – to do it. Though it has been many years since I’ve felt that way, I remember what it’s like to look at a gun on the coffee table and entertain the thought of shooting myself. I remember fantasizing about crashing my car into a cement bridge support as I sped down the highway. I’m not proud to say it but it’s true.
Luckily for me, each time these kinds of thoughts came around I had the presence of mind to get help, to talk to a friend, to move away from the gun or simply to call my doctor and tell them about what I thought were bad side effects from medication I was taking.
I’ve also prayed, cried, meditated, drank, worked out, sang, written poetry, called friends, slept, gone shopping, eaten ice cream and done countless other things to try and take the edge off the pain. I’ve built businesses, taken on too many projects, ignored my friends, become a work-a-holic and gotten burned out as a result. Sometimes despite all my efforts, I’ve still felt depressed, defeated, inferior, not good enough and unworthy.
Yet time and time again, I’ve reached deep down inside myself to find a kernel of hope and optimism; looked around me for new and unique ways to re-inspire or reinvent myself; and have kept going. Along the way, I’ve tried to help, support and inspire others who were feeling the same kinds of pain I’ve had. (Why do you think I’m writing this?) It’s funny in a way that many of those same people can’t imagine I’ve ever had problems like theirs or don’t think I could know what they’re going through because all they see is the strong, confident, successful, and sometimes funny person that is trying to brighten their day.
Losing Robin – someone who was personally unknown to me but yet still an incredibly familiar person and ongoing presence in my life – to suicide, once again stirred up all the old pain of loss and of grappling with the whys and “what ifs” that come when someone takes their own life. It also brought me back face to face with my own struggles and the challenge to yet again “keep going” in spite of them. I know I’m not alone in this and I hope that – if anything – his death will teach all of us to acknowledge the personal challenges, like depression, we all face as serious and real. I hope it will also bring out a stronger effort of compassion and care from and for all so none of us ever feel that alone.
Thank you, Robin, for all you brought to our lives in your work, life and even your death.