I am shaken up as the rest of the world by the suicide of Robin Williams. I’m angry, devastated, sad, and yes – betrayed.
Betrayed by depression, that monster that robs families of their loved ones and drives people to give up the greatest gift of all: life.
Betrayed by the fact that such a great comic and dramatic genius could fall so deep into sorrow that he would take that gift and destroy it – and no one could stop him, most importantly himself.
I will never again watch a Robin Williams movie with the same feeling again. He had the rare ability to make you laugh so hard your belly ached and to cry so freely touched by the emotion he evoked. He was a part of my growing up as a young child from Mork and Mindy to The World According to Garp. The list goes on…Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire, Awakenings, Good Will Hunting, The Butler.
He was there when I became a teenager, a career-woman, a wife, and a mother. He was always there. And I knew he always would be. That foundation has now been shattered.
Depression. It can strike anyone. None are immune. It has befriended me for every decade of my life. I’ve beat it back to have it return. I’ve been on the brink of giving in, but didn’t. I will never stop beating it. If I do, it wins. It can never win.
I believe that depression and creativity can go hand in hand. Is it because as artists we view the world in a more intense way? And in that intensity we can feel too much at times – pure joy as well as the deepest of despair. Such intensity is hard to process at times and mold it to fit into the normalcy of everyday life.
Sometimes we don’t succeed. But sometimes we do.
It can be a constant battle when you live in a dream world of expression. I wrote a post once about how depression can loom for writers more so during the holiday times and how we can fight it.
And we have this amazing power within us every day. The power to choose to live or choose to die by our own hand. And that artsandhealth.ie/topamax/ scares me. I’ve been close in my life to choosing one over the other. I hope I never stop seeking help when the choice leans to the dark side.
CHOOSE TO LIVE.
Suicide. It falls on both side of my family – my adoptive family and my natural family.
My cousin took her nine-year-old son’s life with a shotgun and then her own. She was paranoid at the time and believed someone was after her and her son. She slept on the floor outside his room at night to watch over him. Some may ask, “But why would a mother take her own life and her child’s?” I can only answer this – because I believe she was taking them both to a better place. Because she felt she couldn’t protect her son and care for him anymore here on this world.
My son played for years with the wooden train tracks of his cousin he will never know, this cousin that will forever stay young. The train tracks were marked with crosses to tell them apart from my cousin’s friend’s tracks when they played together. Blood red crosses. I look at them, remembering my little cousin. They are significant to me. They represent life gone in an instant.
CHOOSE TO LIVE LIFE.
So I hug my son closer. I tell him I love him more. I let our small battles go. I fight the depression devil when it rears its head and try to focus on all I have to live for. When it overcomes me I reach out for help. I wish Robin Williams had found that help. I wish for all people in such darkness to find their way back before it’s too late.
And I found out not long ago that my natural father killed himself and did not die by car accident as I had been told. The “car accident” included plugging up the tail pipe to suffocate by carbon monoxide parked outside a church.
This scares me too. I understand the suicide temptation. Is there such a thing as a suicide gene? Do I have it? Will my son have it?
I don’t know.
But I do know I will keep fighting the depression demon. It can’t take me as it has taken so many others.
I choose them all.
I have attempted suicide several times. For me, too, it’s genetic… My grandfather and cousin both committed suicide, and my family on my father’s side is notoriously fatalistic and prone to self-destructive behavior. I worry all the time that I will slide into those behaviors, and when someone like Robin, who is successful and beloved by all, falls to this disease, I always think, “Then what chance do I have?”
My way of getting around it is by trying to see every day, even when it’s completely mundane, as an accomplishment, and by focusing outward (not easy for a writer, by any means). Times like this make me turn inward and become increasingly self-reflective, which I’ve found to be a dangerous thing.
Donna Galanti says
Cyn, my heart goes out to you. Thanks for sharing your struggle. What a tough legacy you’ve had to overcome and how courageous of you to see every day as an accomplishment. I will remember that thought – a simple yet powerful one to help us carry on in dark times. My natural mother is also mentally ill and I am thankful every day that I have fought hard to rise above that and will continue to do so.
Oh Donna, I feel this post so intensely. I was also taken off guard and deeply saddened by Robin Williams’s suicide. And I felt pangs of anger as well for his family, not to mention many fans, who now must carry on without him. Suicide leaves such a mark behind. I’m very sorry to hear about how depression and suicide is in your family history. The story about your cousin and young son as well as your father is heartbreaking. But your words are life affirming as is the love you hold for life and your son.
Donna Galanti says
Dana, yes, suicide leaves such wounds behind – and so many questions we’ll never know the answer to. And while it’s corny-sounding, for me – love indeed does make the world go ’round and I’m so blessed I have that.
I think it is so brave of you to speak of your experiences with depression. There is still such a stigma attached to talking about this disease and the silence causes many to suffer unnecessarily, which often ends tragically.
I too have wrestled with depression, most seriously after giving birth to my son. The way my obstetrician spoke to me about postpartum depression didn’t describe what I felt. It was only after Brooke Shields spoke out about her experience with postpartum depression that I recognized what I had suffered.
Robin Williams’ death is heartbreaking especially for a man who created so much joy for so many. But perhaps his death can bring much needed awareness and research to this devastating disease.
Donna Galanti says
Tori, thanks for sharing and sorry you had to go through that. I too had postpartum depression very bad that struck at 6 weeks after giving birth like a door being slammed shut. I was also severely depressed when pregnant and had to leave my job and go out on disability early on in my pregnancy. It’s one of the reasons why I never, ever wanted to be pregnant again and go through that again and only have one child. I didnt think I could survive going through that again.
And, yes, I hope too that Robin Williams’ death gives courage to those afraid to speak up – or gives the courage to loved ones to confront the depression they can’t understand in a loved one. We can hope!
kath unsworth says
Donna I understand the why, my brother could not deal with the constant return of darkness and he took his own life. Robin I had heard, had battled Bipolar for years, like my brother and they say it is part of this condition, 50% of people with it, commit suicide. My brother lost his battle. He tried so hard, but it won in the end. I admire people such as you and my sister who fight that fight. I am sad for the loss of your family and sad for Robin’s family too. In the end I hope he is at peace, because depression/Bipolar as you know does not allow peace for very long.
Donna Galanti says
Kath, I am so deeply sorry that you lost your brother to this. I can’t imagine that grief. 50% is such a terrible high number to carry with you when you have this disorder. Yes, I truly hope your brother found the peace he sought for so long. I wonder if we ever will understand the dark workings of the mind that stem from mental illness – and if we do, are able to create cures for each condition. I sense that’s a long way off – if ever. Thanks for sharing your sad story.
Juanita Crawford says
Donna, thank you for sharing and your words of wise wisdom. I cry when I think of our cousin and son’s death. I do believe she wanted to keep him safe…..so over protectively so, even in daily life. Recently, a “young” doc put me on a drug I never should have been on…..didn’t sleep for 4 days, migraine headache…and I knew I couldn’t live another day like this……I was ready to head for the CSX tracks….in my family, my grandfather was killed by a train when my dad was only 10…but it was a horrible accident. He didn’t seen the black train in the dark of night backing up the tracks. My husband put me to bed and I stopped taking that drug, FIRED the doc who put me on it….that’s another whole story that will be in MY book….lol. Slept it off…and life goes on. Robin Williams brought so much laughter to the world. In the world of fame, there has to be a lot of loneliness……
Donna Galanti says
Juanita, yes, our poor cousin’s – such a tragic, terrible time. And what an awful thing to happen to your grandfather. Sorry to hear of your horrible medication reaction!
sherry fundin says
My thoughts go out to all of you. This is a wonderful post, Donna, even though it is about such a difficult subject. Thanks to all of you for sharing your thoughts.
sherry @ fundinmental
Julie Ackerman says
Donna, thank you for this brave post. As a fellow depressive, whenever I hear about a suicide, I think, we lost one of our own. And yes, especially with someone as amazing and talented as Robin Williams, it feels so needless, so tragic. He brought such joy to so many people, but he couldn’t feel the joy himself. I hope and pray that his death brings more awareness about this awful disease, that some good can come from this tragedy.
Donna Galanti says
Julie, I think that often comedians must mask a lot of pain for so many of them make the world laugh by poking fun at themselves and the things that they don’t like about themselves, or things that haunt them. And their laughter really covers up deep pain. And it makes me wonder how others mask their pain as well – that no one else sees.