On Depression

August 12, 2014

Let me start by saying I don’t have answers, only questions and challenges. And maybe a few ideas.

Robin Williams, as I’m sure pretty much everyone knows now, committed suicide. I wasn’t surprised, but I was taken aback. He’s been in and out of rehab, and while he got clean, he was still hurting. It seems he finally decided that life just wasn’t enough compared to the darkness. Many of us are very sad.


I’m not asking why he did it. The answer is simple: he didn’t want to wake up to his own life again. And we’ll talk about that, too, in a second. But first, why do we care?

Before you get angry, I’m not saying we shouldn’t. I’m asking why we are, now. The answer is simple: he made us laugh. We are sad because someone important to us is gone. We’re sad because of our loss. And that’s fine, that’s always the truth.

Not to say we aren’t sad about the suffering and pain of the deceased, but the reality is they are gone. They quite literally are beyond mortal misery. We aren’t. We miss them. We have the hole in our lives that we want to fill.

Robin Williams was a touchstone in our lives. His comedic genius was driven by a mad frantic energy which we quietly agreed not to recognize, even when we knew it, was driven by a nearly emotionally violent push back against depression. At times, it was fueled by cocaine or alcohol. Other times, it was fueled by a need to be what we wanted, to garner our appreciation, to make us happy. Someone suffering from depression performing a life of powerful emotional energy is going to burn out.

What I’m saying is Robin Williams, in a very real sense, died for our joy.

And that’s a solid transition to my other point about depression. Depression isn’t being sad. It’s not being mopey. It’s being emotionally empty. It’s having no sense of self-worth or passion. You’re sad, but not too sad. It sounds like being bored, but that’s so far from right.

Imagine none of your food tastes interesting, or it’s all slightly spoiled. People aren’t friends, they’er usually just figures that pass in and out of sight. Movies and books mean little. There’s no motivation. You want these things, you know they’re normal, but you can’t get them. It’s like suffocating.

How could you not see suicide as reasonable? It’s obvious. Depression gives no options, and fighting it is a daily struggle that just doesn’t end. There are a million metaphors but no single one is sufficient. Rather, all of them give you a vague idea combined.

Now, to be clear, I don’t advocate suicide, but I certainly see it as a personal choice. I hear the words “coward” and “selfish” tossed about when I go outside my circle of friends, but I think people saying this don’t see how few options are visible from the bottom of a well. Standing at the top, we see a wide horizon of possibilities. At the bottom of a well, you only see one choice. Stay there or get out, and there’s only one visible out.

So when someone finally acts, we say the words “tragic” and “such a waste”, and talk about them being “too young to be so sad.”

How incredibly blind we are. For that person, this was the final shot at being in control, having some self-sovereignty, and they took it. They had their life in their hands, for the first time in a great while.

The tragedy is that we do so little, that we let people languish at the bottom of their wells. Individually, we can do little. But as a society, we can start lowering ropes. Not everyone can be saved, and offering safe, painless, socially accepted outs would be a great step, I feel, but giving people the support structure in a way that works with individuals, not “diseases”, we can save lives.

But as it is, we demand these people be “on”. They’re told to get out, to do things. Be an adult, be responsible. We want them to get over it, to just try living. And doing this takes so much energy, it empties what little emotional reserve they have available and then, well…

We’ll miss you, Robin Williams.


One Response to “On Depression”

  1. hoellenhamster said

    It has been a while since I read a take on depression or suicide that was this honest or open-minded. This makes me happy-ish. Thank you!

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