(Disclaimer. This blog and the NSBCF is dedicated to fighting for our lives. We have an illness: cancer. This post is about another illness, an illness as real as cancer: depression. If you or someone you love is battling this disease, please reach out to someone or contact the suicide prevention hotline at: 1(800) 273-8255)
To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--
To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.
Please take a moment and read Hamlet’s words as he contemplates ending his life. Shakespeare captured the tortuous moments a deeply depressed person goes through when there seems to be no end in sight.
Depression is a disease. It has some shame to it because it is “mental” and people in deep depression are often confronted with criticisms such as, “Why doesn’t he/she snap out of it?” or “He/she has everything! What do they have to be depressed about?” Depression strikes no matter what you have going on in your life. Over 600,000 people attempt suicide every year in the United States.
Brilliant, creative, imaginative people seem to be the most vulnerable to depression. There is something about the creative, sensitive psyche that makes you feel things more exquisitely. The same ability to have your heart race when you see an osprey overhead carrying a fish back to the nest, or to see a sunset that can move you to tears, makes you feel other things as well. Sadness. Loneliness. Despair. You can have all the friends in the world and you can have a loving, wonderful family, but they cannot heal your spirit. Only you can do that. And it takes a lot of work.
Before you can heal, you must travel to a very, very dark place. It was perfectly described in “Ordinary People,” written by Judith Guest, and acted, with perfection, by Timothy Hutton. When young Conrad was asked what his depression was like that led to his suicide attempt, he opened up for the first time:
Conrad: “I don't know. It was like... falling into a hole. It keeps getting bigger and bigger and you can't escape. All of a sudden, it's inside... and you're the hole. You're trapped. And it's all over. Something like that. It's not really scary... except when you think back on it. 'Cause you know what you were feeling.”
His wise psychiatrist tells him later, “ Let me tell you something about feelings, Kiddo. They don’t always tickle.”
And so this leads me to Robin Williams. I keep hearing people saying, “He was so funny! How could this happen?” The person who opens their heart and makes everyone else feel good, doesn’t necessarily make himself feel better. In fact, it is a temporary tonic for them for the moment. And then they return to their lives and they are not laughing. Real life is not a stage. Real life does not include adoring fans. Real life for someone in a deep depression, who is trying to stay sober, who is facing money troubles, who has to maintain a happy face to the public, can be overwhelming. Sometimes it is just too much to be the strong, happy, brilliant, funny guy. And perhaps that is how Mr. Williams felt.
He did the only thing he felt he could do to stop the pain. It is tragic and sad. I personally loved Robin Williams. He was a genius in my mind. And geniuses fight the hardest battles.
When Christopher Reeve had his riding accident and had to get intensive therapy, Robin Williams, his roommate at Julliard, paid the expenses. He was a generous soul. He gave and gave of himself until there was nothing left to give in his mind.
In the spirit of his generous heart, if you know someone who may be suffering, reach out. It can be something as simple as, “If you ever want to have a cup of coffee or maybe just watch tv together, I would love to hang out with you.” And then, when you are together, just let them be. Don’t ask more of them than they can be. Don’t make them entertain you. Just be their friend. If you see warning signs: Lack of sleep, loss of appetite, overuse of alcohol or drugs, sleeping too much, or not caring about their appearance, seek help for them.
Suicide has been happening long before Shakespeare wrote about it so eloquently. Depression is now recognized as a legitimate disease. And people can recover from it. It takes work. And sometimes you have to feel worse before you feel better. But you can get better. So with that knowledge, if you need to hear it for yourself, believe it. Or if you need to know for a friend or someone else you love, let them know and help them find help.