Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fallen Stars

It is immensely tragic to watch such a bright star fall from the sky, to see his light die as it falls into a space unknown but for its darkness.  For my part, I was already breaking in my own misery yesterday long before the Robin Williams news broke.  Often when my depression is deep and parasitic, I am drawn back to humanity by tragedy.  It hits me so hard that I am able to rise for the suffering of others.  I'm great in a crisis.

The news of the death, of the suicide, of Robin Williams, a man who by all accounts was so generous with his kindness and his gift for joy and laughter, destroyed a part of me that still had hope.  As the world mourns a man that so many loved, I can't help but slip a little deeper into my own world, most recently defined only by pain and suffering, a separate hell I share with strangers who suffer from deep, soul-crushing depression.  I can't say whether anyone else feels heartsick as I do.  But as is often the case with depression, there is a darker, scarier emotion resting just below the surface emotions and often it is fear.

Robin Williams wasn't the poster child for depression or addiction or recovery.  In fact, his battles were mostly fought much more privately than we often see in celebrities.  So why the connection between his fall and my own fears?  To watch someone so extraordinary and beloved, with the resources and the wherewithal to seek help, still fall to depression, leaves me without hope for my own battle.  Will I fight and fight just to lose in the end too?

I've spent the last year learning about depression, from my experiences, from my therapists and doctors, and from other experts.  I was immersed in it in the hospital, that education.  Over time, I've taken in useful bits and pieces of information.  Unfortunately, when the conversation gets bigger, because of a high profile loss, you hear a lot more opinions with a lot less understanding.  A psychiatrist speaking about Williams' suicide actually said that depression is curable.  They say depression has a root cause, insinuating that the root cause isn't the disease itself but some controllable factor.  (Why You're Depressed & Not Getting Better)  They say that depression is just a series of bad habits that can be broken with the right routine.  ("Undoing Depression: What therapy doesn't teach you and medication can't give you")  And those are the opinions of just a handful of "experts."  Imagine all of the things ordinary people offer!

They say, "Well, what makes you feel good?  Do that," which translates to, "if you're unhappy, do something about it," which presumes that YOU have control over your emotions and this "disease."  They say, "What could you have to be depressed about?  You have a roof over your head, food to sustain you and people who love you."  They say "Suicide is a permanent solution to an impermanent problem."

That's just the thing, isn't it?  Did Mr. Williams take permanent action to resolve an impermanent problem?  I don't think so.  I don't think it was "not so bad."  I think that when you've sat there and surveyed your life, the damage your depression has caused, the people it has hurt and will continue to hurt, you can logically see why stopping it, ending it, is a valid solution.   I understand it.  I have lived it.  When I see my daughter struggle because she knows that her mama is sad but doesn't understand why, I am wracked with guilt and confusion.  Am I really doing her more good than harm still on this earth?  My children deserve far better than me.  And those are just the altruistic reasons.   What about those nights when you've lain awake for hours, contemplating how horrible everything feels or how nothing feels at all.  When you look back over the weeks and years of your life and you wonder if it will ever end.  Living with depression is no way to live.  When you've sought help and you still fight year after year, day to day, minute to minute, breath after breath.  Why?  What could possibly be the point in continuing this doomed journey?

I do see the other side, the loved ones that are left grieving, wondering why they weren't enough to keep him here.  We think we know better than you.  We think that your perception is wrong.  We KNOW that we are all the terrible things that our disease tells us we are.  We KNOW that you will be better off without us.  We even know that it will be painful for you, but then all of the suffering our existences have caused you will end.  You fantasize that the people you love will move on and find some happier life than the tumult you brought to them.

Without knowing him, without even knowing much about his history before his passing became news, I think I can understand Robin Williams and his choice.  I ache for his family as I ache for him.  I desperately hope he is at peace because sometimes it feels like the peace of the afterlife, or at least no longer living this life, is all one can cling to in the darkest moments.  What a heartbreaking loss to the world, to the private world of those of us who suffer similar afflictions, to those who knew and loved him, and to those who didn't and still do.

As an aside, let me say that I entertain no thoughts of suicide at this place in time.  This piece, my words, come from a place that I think of as understanding.  It comes from my own experience, my soul, and the beast that resides within me.  I want to also say that I harbor no delusions of grandeur here.  My opinion is no more valid that anyone else's.  It feels kindred, somehow, but I know that I cannot truly reflect on someone else's suffering.  I can only offer my own perspective, cast it into the growing pile of countless other unsolicited opinions and points of view.


  1. Thanks for the perspective Erika. Certainly made me look at things from a different angle, under a different light... which is always welcome.

  2. Dear Erika, what you said about the reasons depressed people commit suicide is so, so true. I hope there are better days ahead for you! *hugs* Olya