Yesterday, I felt as if I lost an old friend. I didn’t know him personally, but I thought the man was a comic genius, an incredible dramatic actor, and from what I did know of him, someone who was a genuinely decent and good human being. Robin Williams took his own life yesterday. Not out of an attempt for attention, but because as someone who suffered from severe depression he had apparently reached the point where there was no more rope to tie a knot into and hang on for dear life. The prospect of a life without the crushing sadness, without the continual physical pain of depression, without the agony of psychological pain was greater than the need to continue that struggle.
I know that struggle. Like Robin Williams (and countless others), I struggle on a daily basis with severe, clinical depression. I have Type II bipolar disorder. I go from periods of extreme manic (how does ANYONE think I can write a 65K+ manuscript in 10 days?) to crushing depression when the effort to even get out of bed is too much of a battle. Add in the perpetual battle with insomnia that even prescription medication will not touch and that depression becomes greater. I haven’t self-medicated with alcohol or drugs, but I can fully understand the temptation. ANYTHING to stop the pain…even the eternal numbness of death.
Depression is real. Depression is a killer—it is a silent, relentless, merciless killer. The bottom side of the never-ending cycle of manic/depressive behavior is a very, very dark place. Sometimes, it feels so dark that not even light can escape from it. Like most people with a depressive disorder, I can feel the changes in my thought-process before it even starts. For me, there’s a sense of being disconnected from everyone and everything around me. There’s a sense of hopelessness that becomes overwhelming and seems to dim everything. By the time the depression sets in, the actual physical pain is unrelenting.
I had started that downward spiral several days before the announcement of Robin Williams’s death. The announcement did several things to me. It kicked me fully into that dark place that depressives both fear and yearn for—because amazingly, within that dark place, we are so numb that the pain and heartache doesn’t seem to hurt so much. We fear that dark, dark place because it also skews our thought-process. We start thinking that if the darkness numbs the pain, how much better will we feel if we never have to leave that place and if we can make the numbness, the darkness, the painlessness complete? What would it take to make it complete, to make the pain go away?
If you know someone with depression, please, let them know you are there for them. Understand there is NOTHING you can do to help them, but you can save them. Just be there. Hold that person’s hand and help them hold on; tell them you will hold them until they can find the strength to go on; let them draw on your strength because sometimes, even just one second more of life is enough to change the through process from ending the pain to being willing to endure it for another minute…or day…or a lifetime.
A true depressive will not threaten suicide. We just do it. Ninety percent of depressives who commit suicide gave no warning. I was watching a stand-up routine Williams did with HBO last night and there came a part of the routine where he was talking about his recovery from alcohol and how alcohol affects the brain—shuts off the conscience, and he compared it to that little voice in the back of one’s head when you are on top of a very tall building and look over the edge. He said that little voice whispers, “Jump.” A chill went up my spine with those words and there was almost dead silence in the audience. He recovered quickly, realizing the joke didn’t have the impact he was looking for—but in that moment, everyone in that audience and everyone who has ever viewed that program had a glimpse into the skewed thought process of a manic/depressive. Most people don’t hear “Jump” when looking over the edge. They hear “GET THE HELL AWAY FROM THE EDGE!”
I’m forcing myself to write this because I’m hearing “Jump.” I’m hurting all over. Depression is physical pain. The uptake receptors in a depressive’s brain don’t work right. The darkness is closing in. Asking me what’s wrong doesn’t help because there is nothing situational that can be changed to alter this depression. Trying to tell me what I have to live for is a form of trying to shame the depressive into a better mood—the old “snap out of it” line. I know damn good and well what I have to live for. Unfortunately, that little voice still says “Jump.”
I know what I have to do to silence that voice and I will do what I need to do to continue living. That is my promise to myself, to the people who love me, and the people who care about me. Silencing the voice telling me to jump and continuing to live are two different things. That voice will never be fully silenced. The only way to silence that voice forever is to enter the darkness for one last time and surrender, and I don’t think I’m ready to surrender.