Last month we were shocked – flattened – to discover our beloved Robin Williams had taken his own life.
I blogged about it the day I found out….and I’m still very sad. I miss him.
Knowing more about the possible “whys” – he had been diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s Disease; he may have been struggling with bipolar illness as well as depression; he found aging to be a ponderous and difficult process – makes his choice perhaps less mystifying.
But it doesn’t make it one bit easier to accept.
I will admit sometimes I feel like I should have been asked. “Is it okay with you if I just go now?” I would have answered him: “No. No, it is not okay with me. No one else makes me laugh quite like you. I feel like you know me – even though I know you don’t. Please stay. Promise me you will.”
Watching someone we love lose their battle with depression kindles a bit of that same capitulation in each of us.
I am definitely no exception.
In times like these, I can’t help but remember my first big suicide scare. It was in college. One night the bottom just dropped out of me. I ended up in a local ER. The nurse diagnosed me with a “runaway eating disorder” and recommended counseling.
That night was the first time I’d ever considered there was an “it” ruining my life – that it wasn’t just me screwing things up all by myself.
I felt hopeful, but also very scared. Suicide seemed, well, easier, and certainly quicker, than fixing what was wrong with me.
In fact, the “terrible twins” of cyclical anxiety and depression have stalked me nearly all my life, but I was in my early 30’s (and newly in strong recovery from the eating disorder) before I had enough energy to notice.
Many, many times in the in-between years, I continued to toy with vague notions of suicide. Usually these were couched in the form of remote philosophical queries: “I wonder – just hypothetically speaking of course – if I drove off this cliff, how long would it take before anyone noticed?”
As a traveling marketer living out of state and away from her family and friends at that time, I had many weeks and months on the road to ponder all possible answers.
Later on, as the anxious and depressive cycles widened and deepened, thoughts of suicide became more functional. Recognizing my addictive personality by this point, I was terrified to take drugs (prescription or otherwise), and yet I couldn’t make heads or tails of how to end the unbearable cycling any other way, other than the obvious.
After a long course of neurotherapy treatment, I began to experience some relief from the anxiety.
Then all of a sudden the depression worsened again. Neurotherapy didn’t help this time.
Finally, through a truly strange series of twists and turns, I began to take anti-depressants at last. This was three years ago.
Honestly, in the last three years I have become a completely different person thanks to medication. The depression eased. The anxiety eased. Life smoothed out – and not just for me. It has become smoother for everyone who loves me as well.
Perhaps most tellingly, over these past few years I have finally stopped thinking of suicide as my top secret last resort in-the-pocket back-up plan.
I won’t say it is gone for good – I would never be so bold. And in truth, the thoughts still flash briefly through my mind every so often….but these musings are like twinkling fireflies compared with a lifetime’s worth of nonstop fireworks finales.
Also, today’s fireflies are mostly triggered by feelings of shame rather than hopelessness – sudden sharp reminders that suicide has many potential triggers in its deadly toolkit.
As some of you may know, I’ve been on stage most of my life. Certainly I’ve never been in the kind of limelight mega-stars like Robin have to endure, but I do know how disquieting it can feel to deliver a “performance” that clearly moves and uplifts others….only to step down off the stage and right back into your own deeply dark personal waiting tunnel.
Time magazine recently ran a feature on Williams, and in one article, fellow entertainer (and depression sufferer) Dick Cavett shares a memory of his days with Robin. He writes:
You yourself may have thought, “How could he [Williams] do this to his wife and kids?” Easy. Because what’s been called the worst agony devised for man doesn’t allow you to feel any emotion for kids, spouse, lover, parents….even your beloved dog. And least of all for yourself.
I know Robin knew this. His death recalled a moment with him years ago in a small club. He came off after lifting a cheering audience to its feet. “Isn’t it funny how I can bring great happiness to all these people,” he said. “But not to myself.”
Robin may have had many reasons to stay….and as many reasons to go.
But what is clear is – even in his passing, he remained humbly human, stubbornly unglamorous, approachable, relatable, vulnerable, caring, to his core.
In this, he leaves us with an unlikely and sorely needed gift – HOPE.
Today’s Takeaway: Robin’s wife, Susan Schneider, released a short family statement about her husband’s passing. She writes, “It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid.” I, for one, take her wishes to heart – believing they are also Robin’s own.