Robin Williams suicided earlier this week, he will be just one of 800,000 to 1 million people to take their own life this year alone (Varnick, 2012). It is tragic and there is no one I've encountered in the days that have followed who has not been impacted by his death in some way.
I’m not going to be so offensive as to attempt to posthumously analyse what drove Robin Williams to do what he did. I am not going to speculate about his mental health, his state of suffering. I’m not going to be so arrogant to make such presumptuous statements that imply knowledge - because I cannot, do not, and will not ever know. Nobody will.
I understand why there is an almost delirious emotional outpouring over his death in the articles, statements, observations, suppositions and speculations that are cropping up in the media almost every hour. Clearly, globally, we are desperate for an explanation. We want to make sense of, and try to understand something that simply cannot be understood or explained. This is because we are looking for logic and reason in a place where logic and reason do not exist. The junction at which a person turns toward suicide is not a place that is fertile ground for rational thinking. It is a bereft, bleak, inexplicable vacuum of time, space, emotion and that which does appear real, could simply be a mirage. At this place, nothing makes sense. Nothing.
No, the only person this week’s events make any sense to is Robin Williams.
I have depression and I hate saying it. Not because I am ashamed or embarrassed, but because I hate the word and all that it conjures. It is a stupid, small and inadequate word used to describe a monster. Too many people use it in reference to what are ultimately inconsequential events - “I’m so depressed, the Knights lost again” or “How depressing, it’s raining”. Thanks to the overstatement of the word, the experience itself has been economised in to a first-world issue that people don’t take seriously and one which really could be solved by simply pulling up one’s socks, or sitting mindfully for 20 minutes.
Let it be known, DEPRESSION, in its true incarnation is perdition. It is Shelob's web, it is being dead but still breathing. It hijacks all reality, and all sensory perception undergoes a toxic fermentation process before being delivered back to you as reality.
Because of this, in my experience, the advice being peddled by experts this week - to reach out if feeling sad, confused, vulnerable of scared - is simply not possible. For me, depression turns everyone in to an object of suspicion or mistrust - certainly not an ally worth talking to. Talking itself - formulating coherent sentences - is a labour I become incapable of. And if that's not enough of a reason why I won't reach out, my sense of self is so utterly diminished that even if there were a trustworthy person in sight, I believe I have no right to deliver the barbed-wire, poisonous package that is me to their doorstep.
People are surprised about his death for so many reasons. We already know that mental illness does not discriminate, so it's stating the obvious to point out that not even his fortunes could save him. But we're still surprised by that. I think people are also surprised because he was 63, so OLD to be being affected by depression. Surely by that age all that "mental health" stuff, that indulgent midlife existential crisis stuff should have resolved itself? No, it simply illustrates that the problem is as prevalent (increasingly so actually) in the "older persons" demographic and certainly doesn't dry up at the same time as your hormones do.
People speak about how sad it is that, despite all the laughter and joy he brought to the world, Robin Williams could be so unhappy within. Happiness and laughter is NOT the opposite of depression. No, no NO! The opposite of depression is vitality - the will to be, to exist. It is the light in the eyes, the skip in the step, the sparkle in the smile. It is what separates us from automatons, it's what gives us dimension. Depression is not simply unhappiness, it is a soul that is dying, and perhaps sometimes, for some people, suicide is simply euthanasia of that soul.We must continue to talk about mental illness in all its guises. We need real people to share real stories so that society isn’t misled by the many watered-down descriptions flooding the airwaves and so the way we deliver services, care and interventions actually hit the desired mark. For real. There still needs to be debate about depression as an illness, because there is still a lack of understanding that illness is exactly what it is. My hope is that a major part of Robin Williams’ legacy (beyond the canon of comedic genius) is that his death jolts the world out of its stupor and ignorance.Rest in peace now O' Captain! Robin Williams 1951-2014
Joanne Isaac says…
Thank you Liz for this wonderful post. Your writing is so moving. I have not stopped thinking about your talk yesterday and feel so privileged to have heard you speak again and to have gotten to know you a little better. I have written about your talk today and hopefully you will see it soon and it will lead more people to your blog so they too can be moved and challenged by your inspiring and powerful words.
You are such a bright light.
Jo x x
on August 15, 2014
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