It’s so painful to know that brilliant people like Robin Williams and Richard Jeni, people who spent their lives bringing laughter to others, didn’t experience that joy for themselves at the times in their lives when it would have been the greatest relief. They simply couldn’t. Depression is an abyss and it isn’t always possible to find one’s way out. Sometimes the only end that can be seen is the most devastating, because logically a person knows he or she will be leaving a world of pain and loss for their families and friends, but depression tells you the world is better off without you. It tells you the pain of those you leave behind to live with losing you is nothing compared to the darkness you’re imposing on their lives right now. It tells you you’re making everyone around you as miserable as you feel and that the pain of being around you would be lifted if you suddenly weren’t around to create it. It tells you that life isn’t a gift, it’s a burden your spirit can no longer drag around like a heavy piece of luggage. It fractures the mind and causes physical pain in the body.
Thirty one years. That’s how long I have dealt with it. I feel as though I understand the struggle intimately. That is why I was so appalled when I read Matt Walsh’s post about Robin Williams’ suicide. Though Walsh claims to have struggled with depression himself, he apparently doesn’t actually understand the insidious way it alters a person’s life and perceptions. He thinks it can be just ‘prayed away’ and that if a person suffering depression puts his/her faith in the christian god and chooses to be happy, he/she will be. This view fails to take into account that if it were as simple as ‘choosing to be joyful’, depression would not exist. Speaking logically, I think it would be impossible to find a single individual who was willing to choose to deal with the grief this particular illness brings. It is an illness, by the way; a chemical issue in the brain that tweaks the entire body. Chronic exhaustion, emotional lows, muscle aches, anxiety, isolation…who would choose to live like this? Who would choose a life so encumbered by feelings of sadness and hopelessness that ending it seems like not only a comfort, but the only escape?
What does this say about devout christians who have taken their own lives after a long struggle with depression?
Walsh’s view of this issue is myopic in the extreme. To the one who is suffering, suicide doesn’t feel like a choice. It feels like the only relief after all else has failed.
Messages from the people who were touched by Robin Williams’ immense body of work and his depth of character and caring are not an incentive to kill one’s self, as Walsh’s blog suggests. It is not ‘lying about suicide’. It is the genuine outpouring of grief for our own collective loss and support for his family and friends, who are experiencing their own very painful loss right now. I suppose if you live in a world in which every action, thought and dream is seen as an incentive to sin, words of support look like encouragement to do something most humans consider unthinkable. The majority of us view those messages as a good thing, however. Something beautiful and comforting. A way of letting those closest to Robin Williams know that he was greatly loved and will be terribly missed. An assurance that they aren’t alone in their grief. Only a warped mind views the act of reaching out to other human beings in love as a way of communicating that killing themselves is okay.
The one thing I do agree with Walsh on: depression affects the spirit as well as the mind and body. Though not in the way he thinks it does. The spirit becomes weary and heavily burdened by depression – not the other way around. As a person who has religious beliefs, I can not bring myself to believe that depression starts with a spiritual issue. If I had believed that before, I wouldn’t believe it now. Going from christianity to Paganism has actually made my depression easier to live with. Not being burdened with the belief that everything I do or every thought I have is inherently sinful lifted an immense weight from my soul. Did it take it all away? No. Depression is primarily physical. Spirituality helps me cope, but I’m not going to stop taking my meds and rely on religion as a cure-all. Anyone who does that is setting themselves up for failure, regardless of their religious beliefs. Religion doesn’t take away disease, regenerate lost limbs or erase the past. What it does is uplift the spirit, provide comfort, ease isolation and frequently offer a sense of community. All of those things are good for the spirit but they do not change the chemical processes of the brain.
The claim that Robin Williams (or anyone else) chose suicide is an oversimplification of a very intense and personal struggle. When faced with the question of agony vs. relief, does the ‘choice’ seem obvious? None of us were inside Robin’s mind at that moment. None of us were inside his body, experiencing his physical pain or seeing his world through his emotional suffering. All we can do is try to relate it to our own experiences. Some of us have had our own standoff at the precipice, when jumping into the void felt as though it was the closest we’d ever get to freeing ourselves from our pain. In the end some of us back away and manage to go on. Some simply can’t bear another second on this side of the veil. Either way, it’s not a choice. It’s a response to what’s happening in our bodies and lives. Do we have enough hope to sustain us awhile longer, or not?
After a lifetime of dealing with intense depression and newly diagnosed with a crippling disease, Robin Williams found that he didn’t.
It makes me so sad that he didn’t have the ability to keep going any longer, but I’m not going to judge him for it or pretend that all he had to do to ‘fix’ himself was choose to be okay. What I will do is remember him with love and be glad that he was here for awhile. He was a truly brilliant person with a precious and beautiful soul.
Good journey, Mr. Williams. Rest well and be at peace.