[This is not an ordinary post for this blog, but this is not an ordinary day.]
July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014
His death is a shock. The tributes from the many people who knew and/or loved him continue to spread across every form of media. People are sad. I am sad. Robin Williams’ death is sad. But it is the thoughts and images of his suffering, the unfathomable depth of pain, and the cruelty of depression, that leaves me heartbroken. Many people more qualified than I can and will speak to the disease that took his life. Many people will share of the importance of reaching out and finding help when depression hits and/or life becomes too much to bear. Asking for help is hard, though, and harder still when one is dealing with a disease that takes rational thought away.
Maybe one small thing that can ease that barrier is knowing someone who knows what you’re going through. If you sense that there’s at least one other soul who experiences what you experience, maybe that person is a lifeline to another day. Maybe. And maybe this is why I’ve noticed a number of people sharing their experiences over the past 24 hours. Rob Delaney, Kathleen Edwards, Harvey Fierstein… these are just a few celebrities that I follow who I’ve seen post thoughts; telling readers or fans, in a way, that they are not alone.
I’m not a celebrity by any stretch of my imagination, but there is something about Williams’ death and the public reaction that makes me want to share a story, too. My story. For me, clinical depression is a palpable black cloud that hovers over my shoulder. It is a dark basement. A place of unhealthy solitude; of isolation. It is both terrifying and seductive and that, for me, is the crux of the cruelty that this disease can be. Sometimes, it can be exhausting to ward it off. Scarier still, is how it first appeared (from Ordinary Year, Chapter 1):
So in the summer of 2009, I was in a healthy, well-established, loving relationship. I lived in a nice apartment, had nice neighbors, a dog and a cat, and interests both in and outside of work. I’d been sober for years. I dabbled in writing. I learned to play the mandolin. I reconciled with my brother, a relationship that had been damaged for a decade. I finally got to know my nieces and nephew, and the chance to start being an aunt to them. They wanted both Lynn and me to be in their lives. Things with my dad were so-so. We didn’t see each other very often, but I don’t see any of my family very often. Still, we were all okay. Everything was okay.
But every day, from late May through September, I cried. At some point, every day, I found it impossible to stop the tears from falling. I’d turn to the wall in my cubicle to hide my face, grabbing tissues and hoping no one noticed. I’d be in my car, driving to or from work, and start sobbing. I started to wonder if I was going a bit mad.
I knew that I was lonely for some of my old friends and so I decided to make a trip to Louisville to reconnect with some of them. I ordered my plane tickets and started to think about sitting at a patio table outside of a coffee shop, talking for hours with one of my closest confidantes, Dina. I thought about catching up with my good friend Kevin. I thought of taking Dina’s kids trick or treating. I looked forward to some time on my own, some time for myself. It would be a good, well-needed and well-deserved long weekend.
A few weeks before my planned trip, I was walking from the parking lot to the library, to work, when the thought crossed my mind that it might not be a bad thing if the plane I took from Providence to Louisville crashed. I had no plans to make it crash and I didn’t exactly wish for it to crash, but the thought of it crashing gave me such a feeling of relief. It would finally be over.
It scared the hell out of me.
Thanks to medication and a few years of therapy, I’ve learned how to live with the darkness. I’ve learned how to recognize it. I’ve learned how to ask for help before that voice gets silenced. It’s heartbreaking when that voice dies. And it’s heartbreaking, the lives it takes with it.
To echo the message of so many others in health care, if you feel you’re struggling with depression, seek medical care. If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide, there are people who can help. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).