Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams: Making sense of a tragedy...

I'm still trying to wrap my head around what happened yesterday with Robin Williams. Is there a way to make sense of it all or will this always be one of those things we shake our heads at and wonder about for years to come?
I keep asking myself if something could have been said or done to have prevented the tragedy, and I'm sure I'm not alone.
Thinking about it sparked more questions than answers which prompted me to sit back and take a look at depression itself.
There’s a huge misconception concerning the difference between depression and being depressed.
I, myself, have been “depressed” from time to time, but in my own experience, the feeling was short-lived and faded away quickly. I look back on those times as being sad, and usually with good reason, like after my husband passed away. I’ve even had bouts of severe “sadness” in the years since, but those times have also been rapidly overcome and dealt with accordingly.
Depression is not the same. It doesn’t just go away, though there may be times it seems like it has.
There's also a difference between people who suffer from genuine, clinically diagnosed depression and those who threaten suicide as a manipulation tool to get the attention they crave.
Unfortunately, I’ve had some experience with the latter on several occasions so this has been a gray area I’ve struggled to comprehend for most of my life.
There have been people close to me who have used threats of suicide as a weapon to manipulate others into giving them what they wanted.
In my personal experience, this has usually occurred after a bad break up or when things weren’t going their way. Try growing up in that environment.
Please don’t misunderstand the point I am trying to make. I’m not saying that people who get upset over circumstances they think are hopeless and actually do hurt or kill themselves weren’t asking for help. That’s not my point at all.
I’m simply speaking on my personal experience as a way to demonstrate how confusing, devastating and dangerous either situation can be. Not only for the one making the threats, but for the people around them as well. This is where it gets tricky, and both sides can easily be misunderstood.
I know in my heart that the threats people in my life made were not caused by true depression because as soon as they got what they wanted, the skies cleared and all was well with the world.
Sadly, the target of their ploy then became hostage to the fear of the “what ifs”. What if they were serious? What if they actually do try to hurt themselves? If they do something drastic, will it be my fault?
It’s a wonder people put into those situations don’t become depressed themselves, myself included.  
The experiences I’ve had have left me jaded when it comes to people who threaten suicide, but fortunately, I’ve come to understand the difference between genuine depression and the other unfortunate circumstance.
I’ve set aside my normal author/book spotlights to post about this issue which has been grossly overlooked in society. A topic no one wants to discuss, perhaps because it’s so dark and misunderstood.
While trying to educate myself on this topic, it occurred to me others might want to as well.

Depression is, by definition: severe despondency and dejection, typically felt over a period of time and accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy.
Clinical depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life for a longer period of time.

According to an article today in Forbes Magazine, there are 5 common misconceptions about depression:
1) Depression is synonymous with sadness. (I kind of explained my own experience with this as I stated earlier)
2) Depression is a sign of mental weakness.
3) Depression is always situational
4) Depression symptoms are all in your head. (Believe it or not, they can manifest themselves physically, too)
5) If you are diagnosed with depression, you’ll be on antidepressants the rest of your life.

The Mayo Clinic also offers a plethora of information regarding depression that might prove helpful as well. It’s definitely worth a look…

Furthermore, depression has no preference.
It effects men, women, young, old, back, white, Latino, gay, straight, rich, poor … it doesn’t matter. Depression is an equal opportunity disease.
If left untreated, or sometimes even while being treated, depression can distort someone's view of the world rendering their outlook bleak and hopeless.
In my opinion, THAT is a true disease, no different than addiction or any other mental illness.
Someone suffering with the disease does not simply CHOOSE to be unhappy. They won’t “snap out of it!”

While I can't imagine the anguish someone with depression might feel, it's clear that things on the outside aren't as they appear on the inside.
It also has nothing to do with the type of person someone is.
Though I didn't know him personally, I doubt anyone could find anything about Robin Williams that would have been categorize as selfish or manipulative.
 He was a giver, someone who donated his time, money and heart to those in need. His ability to make us laugh allowed him to use his celebrity to help those in need. There’s nothing selfish about that at all.
I’m no expert, but I assume Mr. William’s struggle with addiction was how the disease expertly masked itself. The disease couldn’t be measured by the smell of liquor, bloodshot eyes, or the slur of words.
It was something rooted deeply within. Camouflaged by a smile, hidden behind a punchline, drowned out by laughter.
As a writer who hears voices in my head on a daily basis, I can only imagine what thoughts must have gone through his when he looked out upon a crowd during stand-up routines.
Was there a voice screaming at him, telling him things none of us could ever possibly understand? Goading him into believing none of it mattered as he scanned the sea of happy faces before him? Did the disease distort the things his family and friends might have said to him, constantly transforming something positive into something negative? Was his comedic genius a by-product of the disease? His minds way of fighting back, trudging through the chaos and torment?
We may never know exactly what depression does to those who suffer from it. It can be explained with words, maybe even expressed through writing or art, but unless experienced firsthand, it can never be truly understood.
This tragic event has changed the way I see Robin Williams. Possibly even made sense of some of his behavior and actions over the years. It could certainly explain his energy and the sincere way he fought so hard to reach us though laughter and love.
Now when I remember him, I hear another voice in my head whispering… see him. See what’s underneath. Hear him. Hear what he’s trying to say. Understand him. Understand how little control he had over the darkness inside him. Remember him. Remember that if he could have changed it, he would have.
The pain and shock is still hard to swallow today so soon after the loss, but I hope something good does eventually come from this tragedy.

Below are some very important links.
If you or someone you know is, or might be, dealing with depression, have had thoughts of hurting yourself/themselves, or even something more drastic, PLEASE SEEK HELP!!

Suicide Prevention Hotline:

NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness (Teens)

Anxiety and Depression Association of America:

Freedom from Fear:

SAVE: Suicide Awareness Voices of Education:

1 comment:

  1. Great post!! I have been wanting to research depression further but it makes sense when you said you won't understand it unless you experience it.

    I am gonna have a Robin Williams' movie marathon this weekend and I'm excited.

    Have a great weekend!