11 August 2014

Only a short time since the news hit that Robin Williams is dead, and quite likely by his own hand, and the shame-blame games have begun.

He committed the ultimate sin.



And that's utter bullshit. Suicide is not undertaken because someone is weak or selfish or flipping off God and "sinning." Suicide is the last hope far too many people have for ending pain.

Many, many years ago, a very gentle soul known online as Boston Bill, someone to whom I had spoken and had gotten good advice over the chronic physical pain that had consumed my life, became one of Jack Kevorkian's last patients. He made a conscious, deliberate decision to end his life because the only thing he could see ahead of him was unrelenting, unforgiving pain. Pain that narcotics couldn't even touch, even if his doctors would have given them to him.

He was not weak; he had endured more than most could ever fathom. He wasn't selfish; he spent hours upon hours helping others, even when he couldn't help himself. He didn't commit some grievous sin; God's a better man than you, you know. If anyone understood, He did.

The only thing to blame for Bill's choice was the overwhelming pain that had grabbed hold of him and refused to let go. He couldn't take it anymore, so he chose his own way out.

Many of you remember Hoss, that wonderful, spirited, incredible soul who spearheaded Oregon's Right to Die efforts and chose assisted suicide in the end. He knew when his time was done and he wanted to go out on his own terms. I still miss him. I will always miss him.

I have known far too many people, most of them online, a few in person, who saw no other way out. Unlike Bill and Hoss, who left for reasons that are easy to touch upon and understand, most of them suffered from depression. It varied in degrees from day to day or week to week, but the undercurrent was always there for them. It was always the shadow in the hallway, one that could jump out and strangle them at any time.

No one chooses to live that way. There's little to be gained in blaming someone for their depression and so much damage to be wrought.

Blaming someone for having depression is like blaming someone for having diabetes. Blaming someone for needing medication to control it is like blaming a diabetic for needing insulin. We don't choose the diseases that invade us, and no one should have to defend the medications that control them.

And yet, that's what happens.

The cold hard truth of it, too, is that even when you understand that on a very fundamental level, it doesn't mean you're going to be any good at dealing with someone who has depression. Chances are, you're not. It's not because you're thoughtless or dismissive; you just don't know the right things to do or say. Listening doesn't seem like enough, so you spout off these platitudes that you've heard online or on TV, not realizing that not only are you not helping, you're hurting.

Chances are, too, you don't realize that what you're seeing is depression. 

I learned a long, long time ago: I am not the person to whom someone struggling mentally or emotionally should turn. It's not because I don't care or want to brush it off, it's because I am not good in any situation in which I don't have the time to self-edit. I go quiet while I'm thinking; I'm panicking because I don't know if what tumbles out of my mouth will be the right thing or something monumentally stupid that will make things worse. Quiet is often interpreted as not caring. And that helps no one.

I suspect most people are a lot like me; they might want to have the coping mechanisms that a friend with depression needs, but want those tools does not equate having them.

Depression is a stone cold, black-hearted, mean little bitch.

If you suffer from depression, you already know that more friends than not are a lot like I am, and the things they say not only don't help, it often hurts. It doesn't help that you know it's not intentional; you're backed into a corner where nothing is really helping. Those shadows get darker, thicker, and it's just so hard to see anything where the light is, and it's so incredibly fatiguing to keep trying.

But I'm begging you: reach out.

Find those who DO know what to do, and who know the right words and the order in which they should tumble out of one's mouth.

It might not be a friend--it probably won't be a friend, because we're up so close that we can't see the bigger picture, not really-- but try to reach through that thick molasses of fog, the one that makes your arms feel like they weigh a ton and a half, and pick up the phone.

Check out the International Suicide Prevention Wiki. Bookmark it. And please don't be afraid to use it.

In the U.S., if you don't want to wade through the Wiki, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They also have a website.

Believe me, this world is so much better with you in it than not--more platitudes you don't need, I know--and there are people who have been trained, who know how to help you cope, and will never, not ever blame you. It's not your fault, no more than it's my fault for having a bad back or for having had that tumor.

Shit happens, and it feels like it splatters really good people the most; your friends might want to be the ones to clean you up and be some magical fairy like ray of sunshine in your life, but the reality is that they will unintentionally say some really stupid things. So please, reach out. Call one of those numbers.

I don't want you to die. I desperately, truly do not want you to die.

And if you're one of those people who think depression is weakness, selfishness, and something that a good attitude check will fix...fark you.

Depression is a disease. Blame doesn't help and can only make things worse.

So don't be a dick. Try being understanding and compassionate. It might not help, but it at least won't hurt.

...and I'm rambling because I honestly don't know how to end this, because all I really want is for the people I love, the people I care about, the people I know only peripherally, and the people I don't know at all to be okay.

Bookmark those sites.

Call if you need to.

It's okay to call.


Anonymous said...

unless you have been to the depths of hell that is depression you have no idea what it is like. I have been in a deep dark place and considered leaving this life and the pain of living. I thank god that I am still here, I thank the friend that was there for me to help me through, my friend who was battling cancer and fighting to live took time to help me and give me reason to fight. A friend who just before passing said to me, you know Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I love my friend and always will, but i understand what Robin Williams did and that in that moment of his despair he felt he needed to be free. RIP Robin Williams and I hope you found your peace.

Angel, Kirby and Max said...

Some people that are being treated for depression may not show it to the public. I have never been so low that I was looking for a way out, but my friends are surprised when I say I take antidepressants! I have a public face and my alone face. I think Robin would understand this better than most.

We need to remember the joy that he brought and pray for comfort and understanding for his family.

Motor Home Cats said...

Thank you for this. I am very fortunate that I have never suffered from depression, but it is in my family. My mom suffered for years, and my SIL is recovering from it. Sometimes the only thing you can do it just sit with the person, and let them know that you are there to listen, or just be with them. A year and a half ago, when my SIL was so bad, I spent almost a week with her, just being there. Making sure she ate, and sat with her when she couldn't sleep. She still has bouts of depression, but the medication and counseling she is receiving are helping.

I think we so often forget that sometimes people make others laugh so we don't notice they are crying inside.


Gemini and Ichiro said...

And for those who are friends of the depressed, if people threaten suicide, take them seriously. I worked on a Crisis Line for awhile. There are times when the ONLY thing standing between someone taking their life is the fact that someone else got there first and took them to the hospital. Sometimes that's all the break that's needed. Sometimes it's the three day involuntary commit. But the fact is it wasn't some AHA moment or an "I love you" moment, it was a someone physically stopping them (either by being there and just being in the way or physically taking the means away from them) that made the difference.

I read a comment today about the selfishness of suicide and I nearly unfriended the person it made me so angry.

(in)Sain Adventures said...

I also embody the 'public' vs 'private' persona, most who meet me wouldn't know that I'm on multiple meds. Not gonna sucks some days (especially when your pilot hubs is deployed and there are multiple helo crashes) with 2 under age 5. I just have to take it day by day, sometimes hour by hour....and glass to glass.

(in)Sain Adventures said...

Well crap, used the wrong log in. Previous comment was from the lone Star Purrs (meeko and kiara) momma

Nurse Kathy said...

When someone tells you they are feeling depressed or anxious or sad it is appropriate to ask them if they are contemplating suicide and if they have a plan. Surprising but most of the time they will tell you. Wonderful opportunity to get them some help before it becomes a crisis with a trip to the ER.
If you have family who suffer from any mental illness contact for help. Their Family to Family program is great training for family members of persons with mental illness. My husband's family has some severe mental illness issues. He is surviving still, some of the family have not.

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time I sat alone, crying, wishing I could just cease to exist. I thought of all the ways I could end my existance. I got lucky that I still had one tiny thread of strength to pull myself up. I never reached out because the reason I didn't want to be here was because I felt like a burden to the people around me. If anyone out there feels the same way, YOU ARE NEVER A BURDEN. No matter how looks, there is always someone who cares. Even an anonymous stranger on a hotline. Reach out. Call.

Fr. Tom Fishworthy said...

Because this has happened so much in recent years, it has prompted me to research not only the depression, but also the means people have chosen to end it. What people don't realize is that in asphyxiation, whatever intention you have to do this to yourself, it is irrevocable. You cannot, it is impossible the last minute to say, "Oh my God, what am I doing?" According to one pathologist, once the process starts, there is no going back. Those who have had this course interrupted are left with severe brain damage.

This is such a well-written, heartfelt post and I hope it is heeded by those who find depression so much a part of their lives. Thank you, Karen..

Robin Williams was an extremely introspective man who was in touch with his feelings and his reactions to the world around him. Depression is brought on by a sense of being de-valued, no one cares, no one thinks you're worth a damn, but that ultimately stronger connection with someone who says the right things can strengthen and overcome such feelings.

Reaching out is a start.

Kitty said...

I think you put it so eloquently. As someone who has lived with MDD for 17 years, I know what a dark place this can be. I just wish people were more open minded about mental illness. I got into a major disagreement with a "friend" on Facebook over this very issue. He believed Williams was "selfish" and a "coward" and justified his position because he had a BA in psychology. Geeze. Didn't he learn anything when he was getting his degree? There is too much ignorance about depression out there. Thank you Karen for your well-written and honest post.

Anonymous said...

it breaks my heart that with all of his resources, with all of the love and good will towards him, there was not the right help for him.

Unknown said...

If depression was the only problem Robin Williams had that's one thing. I wrote in my blog this morning that the suicide started when he first got addicted to alcohol and drugs. Why he along with every other celebrity who sabotages themselves that way had to feel like going down that road is anyone's guess. And then to do death on top of it? With all sorts of money,fame,work(he has at least three more movies coming out this year alone)and it seemed like everything to live for why he let the bed parts of life overshadow him is a true waste.

Jeanette said...

Very well said Thumper. I've been there and I'm grateful I'm not there now. I really wish people would stop judging Robin - do they really think external things like money, fame and fortune can fill that deep abyss called depression? If they do then they have not been there and they have no right to judge him - to use those words "selfish" "waste". They do not effing get it. If he felt he had everything to live for he would have kept living. But he didn't - that's why he took his life - that's what depression can do folks. It's a disease, a hideous and ugly disease and it kills people just like cancer does. RIP Robin Williams - I hope you find peace in the next life.

karenn said...

Alcohol and drug addiction are often part of the depression cycle. I do not know whether Williams had unipolar depression or bipolar depression, but observations suggest it was probably the latter. It is unfortunate (and part of the problem) that so many people think "well what do you expect -- he was an alcoholic and drug addict and that's his own farkin fault." Science says otherwise.

Scientific studies have linked alcoholism/substance abuse with mood disorders. The following is from the NIH

"Several studies have reported an association between alcoholism and mood disorders. To date, there have been two large epidemiological studies of psychiatric disorders: the National Institute of Mental Health's Epidemiologic Catchment Area (ECA) study (Regier et al. 1990) and the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) (Kessler et al. 1996). The ECA study (Regier et al. 1990) revealed that 60.7 percent of people with bipolar I disorder had a lifetime diagnosis of a substance use disorder (i.e., an alcohol or other drug use disorder); 46.2 percent of those with bipolar I disorder had an alcohol use disorder; and 40.7 percent had a drug abuse or dependence diagnosis (the percentages of people with alcohol use disorders and drug abuse disorders do not add to 100 due to overlap). Forty–eight percent of people with bipolar II disorder had a substance use disorder, 39.2 percent had an alcohol use disorder, and 21 percent had a drug abuse or dependence diagnosis (these figures reflect overlap, as above.) As shown in the table, alcohol dependence was twice as likely to co–occur in people with bipolar spectrum disorders than in those with unipolar depression (i.e., depression without mania). It is also noteworthy that bipolar disorder was more likely to occur with alcohol dependence than with alcohol abuse (see table). As part of the ECA study, Helzer and Przybeck (1988) found that mania (i.e., bipolar I disorder) and alcohol use disorders are far more likely to occur together (i.e., 6.2 times more likely) than would be expected by chance. Of all other psychiatric diagnoses investigated in this study, only antisocial personality disorder was more likely to be related to alcoholism than mania. The findings of the NCS with regard to the comorbidity of mood disorders and alcoholism were very similar."

Williams took steps repeatedly to overcome alcoholism and substance abuse. What you need to understand is that sor someone with unipolar or bipolar depression, rehab is a little like trying to put out a forest fire with a garden hose. The depression is always down there inside you, struggling to get out. A lot of time it wins. And it is not the person's fault.

The Whiskeratti said...

These comments made me cry. Frak! Life is so mean sometimes. Not profound but there it is.