Wednesday

Musing about Robin Williams, depression and suicide

In the course of cleaning through things, digitally and otherwise, I've been sorting through papers and came across this piece I wrote months ago shortly after Robin Williams committed suicide. I was a big fan of Williams. His comedy was great. His movies were admittedly uneven (like anyone who makes movies) and his most recent TV show, The Crazy Ones, wasn't a great show, but I watched it and I think it could have been better. Sadly it never got the chance.

It's not an optimistic essay. Sorry about that.



So Robin Williams killed himself.

When depressed people commit suicide, it tends to to have an impact. For those of us who deal with depression, we know a little of what he was going through. Often we've had those thoughts. Some people have even attempted suicide. But it hits close to the bone.

There are a few problems with how people have talked about his death. One is that people should get help. Well, Williams was getting help. He had gotten help. He had fought with this for decades, for his entire life, and he still couldn't get through it. He was 63 years old and he had been self-medicating and he went to rehab and he had family and friends and he was getting help. This idea that he was selfish and if only he could have gotten help, he would be alive, but that's just not true sadly.

Two is this idea that he's free. There's the obnoxious image on social media of the Genie and Aladdin from the animated movie where Aladdin tells the genie he's free now. The idea presumably being that now Williams is free from the pain and torment he went through in life. I fucking hate that sentiment.

Of course I find some people who talk about suicide to be agonizingly self-aggrandizing and obnoxious and painful to listen to. Not the medical professionals who do deal with patients, who see these symptoms, treat individuals and live with their illness. I think we don't appreciate that. How for many of the doctors who treat such conditions, they choose to live with this in a way that we don't - in a way that very people would. I'm talking about people who don't have medical training, who often don't have experience with depression and pain, but who feel the need to hector and lecture about how suicide is always wrong and I suppose it's no coincidence that many of these people are so narcissistic that they've had little self-doubt in their lives and tend not to be nice about their other opinions either. They may think they're important and doing good by taking such a hard line but the truth is they're just being un-empathetic.

Let me put it this way, if I tell you that I feel worthless and am in pain and thinking about suicide, should your response be, your thoughts and feelings are stupid and wrong? Then to badger and lecture me without an understanding of or concern for how I feel? Moreover so many of these people are selfish and casually cruel.

Depression is a strange thing because it attacks your very sense of sense. It does so in ways that you might not even think about because for some of they're such a common part of life. I'm not going to claim that my experience with depression is universal. In truth I have no idea just how universal my experience is.

It begins by telling you that you're a failure. That all you've done is fail and when you haven't actually failed, it's been because of dumb luck or something else that prevented you from being revealed a the complete worthless failure you are. You are one move from being revealed for what you really are. You know what you are, though. These are not thoughts that appear out of nowhere, they are thoughts that we've all had, the kinds of thoughts

Then it goes further and informs views of not just you but others. There's a reason you're alone. You have friends and acquaintances, sure, but only because they don't know you. The real you. If they did, they wouldn't want anything to do with you. Hell, some of them don't even bother to get back to you. They have a sense of what you are and what you're really like. That's why you're single. You sound fine on paper but once they get to know you, they run away.

These thoughts grow slowly and the chilling thing that depression offers you (or at least me) is something like satori. Or at least what i imagine satori to be like. For those who don't know, satori in Zen Buddhism is the experience of seeing one's true essence. The idea that you are seeing yourself clearly. Depression is dangerous and scary because these thoughts are not foreign to you. They are a part of you.

2.

I'd like to write something positive and hopeful and encouraging about depression. I can't.

I'm mildly successful in terms of work - which is to say that people tell me i have a cool job. I'm a joke financially. I've tried to sell out and get a boring office job with a steady paycheck and the possibility of not having to worry constantly about money, but no one's ever been interested in hiring me.

I'm alone. I often think - as most people who are single and over thirty do - that I'll be alone forever. It wouldn't surprise me if I never had a serious relationship - I've gotten this far without one. I haven't had a birthday party since elementary school. I stopped having them because I didn't think anyone would show up. I still don't think anyone would show up if I threw a party.

One thing that makes suicide relatively rare is the fact that it's so hard to pull off. I've often wished for a switch or level where I could just end it, shut down my heart and painlessly stop. Just stop. I suppose that makes a certain sense. I'm not a violent person. But stopping...that sounds like relief.

I'm writing this because I know that I have all the signs of depression. Some people would be troubled by all this. The truth is though that this part of my daily life. I live with these thoughts on an almost daily basis. I'm constantly unsatisfied with every piece of work I do. It's what keeps me trying new things. I'm constantly worried and frustrated. I'm alone - and I probably always will be.

In her magnificent book "Stay," Jennifer Michael Hecht writes about "hope for our future selves" and I understand that. I believe in that. But I also remember what it was like to be depressed. I remember what it was like to not feel as though I had a future self - there was only the present. The present was painful and the pain would never end.

I'm writing this to say that I have all these thoughts, but I'm staying. I'm not going anywhere. I don't know for how long. I'm going to try to stay for as long as I can. But if there comes a point where I can't stay anymore...please try to understand.


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