How to Help
By this time, you’ve read a lot about the life and death of Robin Williams. You may even be sick of hearing about it. Like all shocking news, we gobble up all the information we can, from the news reports to celebrity tweets to our friends’ responses on Facebook, as soon as it happens. After awhile, though, we become bored, and some other event will become our next trending topic.
But I’m going to stay on this topic. I’m not hopping on any bandwagon to talk about the evils of depression and suicide because Mr. Williams made it news. This is my wagon, and there’s a lot of people who need to get the fuck off.
By the way, this post may piss some people off. This is my opinion and experience, which I’m free to share in this great land of ours. You do not have to agree. You are free to argue with me. Yay for freedom!
First, I am terribly sad about the loss of Robin Williams. Obviously, I didn’t know him personally, but he’s always been a part of my life. From Mork and Mindy to Dead Poet’s Society and Good Will Hunting, he has been on my television screen and at my local movie theater for as long as I remember. He was a talented man, whether it was making us laugh or creeping me out. (One Hour Photo, anyone?) Outside of his career, he showed tremendous heart as a human being. May that be said of all of us.
When I read about his death and all the subsequent articles, updates and responses from the famous and familiar, I cried. It wasn’t all because of the loss. A lot of it was out of anger and the sheer audacity of people to become pundits on a topic they know nothing about.
You are not alone, so many said. Here’s the number of a suicide hotline, people posted. We need to talk more openly about depression, the public cried. There needs to be better and more mental health services, others wrote. (And please do not even get me started on Shepard Smith calling Mr. Williams a coward for committing suicide. Seriously.)
How many of the people who posted these things have actually truly lived with depression? Having a friend or family member who suffers from depression or has committed suicide is not the same thing as living it. You are only getting a glimpse at the madness if you are not inside the storm. And for those who do know what they are talking about, I’d be surprised if they were saying these very cliche things. And if they are? Well, their experience is very different from mine, and I’m happy they found relief in places I did not.
If you have not figured it out or read my blog (last year’s posts in particular), I suffer from depression. I have for a few years, and I currently take a boatload of pills every day and see a therapist weekly to manage it. I’m actually doing pretty darn well right now, but it’s never easy. Some days are just bad. The day Mr. Williams died, I was, in fact, in bed as a result of my ongoing battle with the big D. So, while I cannot possibly represent everyone suffering from depression, I have a wee bit of experience with how it feels. I also have some experience with suicide as I’ve actually attempted it. You know, like a few months ago.
So let me share with you my thoughts, if I may.
When you are in the throes of depression, you are absolutely alone. No one, not even another suffering from depression, can know exactly what you feel. The general sense is you are drowning in a sea of darkness with no hope of salvation. Sure, you may have friends and family who care and are there for you. But they can’t be there with you. Depression is an illness, like cancer for example. You can be there for a cancer patient, but you cannot fight the disease for them. People with depression have to do the best we can and by holding on to whatever makes us want to hold on to an existence that is exhausting and often times miserable.
The day I tried to hurt myself, I knew who my lifelines were. But I turned off my phone. There are so many reasons why I did that. People will tell you things will get better. They’ll say that your life matters, that people will miss you. Hell, you may even get a guilt trip. But when you only want relief, any relief, from the overwhelming pain and hopelessness, none of that means shit. And it shouldn’t. No one can tell you things will get better because they don’t know. Yes, people would miss me, but I know life will go on.
The worst part of hearing all these things is that it feels as though someone else is trying to take control of your life, your body. Depression already makes you feel out of control, and here is this one thing you can do to take control of your life. You can choose to live or die. So why the hell would you call someone to help you decide the one thing you have control over? That’s why I turned off my phone. I needed to take control and make my own decision. I chose to live for many reasons I’ll keep to myself. I also chose to immediately take a sleeping pill to knock myself out so I could open my eyes on a brand new day. The one I was in was swallowing me whole.
I tell you this not to justify suicide, but only to say I understand it in the face of crippling depression. I also understand it as a friend. Someone I love contemplates it every day and has even figured out how he/she would do it. I don’t say things will get better because I cannot guarantee that. What I do is say I love you and want you in my life. I don’t tell him/her to not do it. It’s not my choice. Maybe that’s wrong. I don’t know. All I know to do is be kind, be there and pray that he/she will find something to hold on to.
As for more mental health services, I could not agree more. It is vastly underfunded and not easily available. I’m lucky in the fact that I have really great insurance and a fantastic doctor who cares about me. But it’s not as easy as getting a doctor and meds. There’s no magic pill. There’s a lot of pills alright, but you have to find the right one or combo of pills. Sometimes you find it quickly. Sometimes you lose 10 weeks of your life trying to get stabilized (see my posts from last spring). Sometimes you don’t find anything that works. That’s the hardest of all; to try when you want to give up and still get no relief.
Finally, yes, we should be more open about depression. I cannot tell you how many people have reached out to me to share their own stories but choose not to publicize it. I can’t say that I blame them. It’s not easy to open up in a world that judges you for your material possessions much less your level of “crazy.” And depression as a topic is, well, depressing. Who wants to talk about your pit of despair when we would rather think happy thoughts and look at cute baby animal videos on YouTube?
(By the way, I’m getting close to punching anyone who says you are as happy as you will yourself to be. Really? Tell that to the chemical imbalance in my brain. At least I can blame my brain for your broken nose.)
I know people mean well. They feel sad and want to help. I really do not want to take that away from them. If I may, I’d like to redirect it to something more simple.
Practice kindness without judgement or a heavy hand.
That’s it. Be kind. Be available. Don’t pretend to know what it’s like, but listen to what you’re being told. Don’t try to fix things. You can’t. But you can be someone’s lifeline, even if it’s for a single moment, by being kind.