Wednesday, August 13, 2014

O Captain. My Captain!

I cried over Robin Williams and his passing. I think a lot of us did. He was one of those gifts to us from the gods.

I never watched "Mork and Mindy." And there were times when I watched him being interviewed when I felt a little uncomfortable with how manic he seemed to be. More than once, the psych expert in me took over and I felt a diagnosis coming on.

Yet, he made me laugh. Sometimes very, very hard. And sometimes there was this window into his spirit that told me that he must be a gentle, tender soul.

When Bing saw me sitting in front of the computer, tears running, she came rushing in to see.

She looked at the page and then frowned, puzzled.

"Why would someone who had so much kill themselves?" she asked.

I turned around to look at her.

"Please don't be obtuse," I said, giving her a withering look. She retreated. We haven't discussed it again because I don't think she gets it. I don't think many do.

Depression is a deep well. I suffer from it. Not just the garden variety of days when I have the blues, but  real "black dogs" as Winston Churchill described his depression. But, I am one of the lucky ones. My depression is fairly minor. It wanders into my life about every four or so months and takes over for a few weeks and then dissipates on its own. My Da had it before me and his Father before him. I'm sure the line runs down and further down yet. When I was little, I knew that there were days when my Da didn't feel quite right. He referred to those times merely as those ole blues. In my family, we just accepted it. It was a time when we treated him extra gently. My Da was never mean spirited, never went too deep. He was just very quiet and a little unreachable for a while. He would stand outside and look up at the sky a lot. Once I asked him when his blues started. He looked at me for a long time, probably measuring as a parent how much was prudent to tell me. Finally, he answered.

"I think I was about 14 or 15," he said. That was all we spoke of it.

My bouts with depression began when I was in my early teens. Like my Da, I was not officially diagnosed. Well, not until I was in my 20's and began my psych internship. Then, as part of our program, it was mandatory that we see our own psychiatrist once a month. It was then that I described my own black dogs to my doctor. I told him that the best way to describe it was like in the movie, The Wizard of Oz when everything goes from black and white to technicolor. That my depression days were like those black and white scenes. Like life suddenly went from colorful, rich, and full to bleary, dull, and flat. Worse, I often could feel or sense when the depression would be coming, but I could never sidestep it, no matter what I did. We tried different variations of medications. Some seemed to work, but the price was too high for me. Not financially, but mentally. In order to keep the depression at bay, I had to agree to feel shaky and buzzy inside, as if there were a small nest of bees just under my skin. I didn't like the feeling and frankly preferred the depression. At least it felt more honest, like I was living in my own skin. My doctor reluctantly agreed that I could stop all medications as long as I alerted him if I ever felt suicidal.

I've never been that far gone. Like I said, I am one of the very, very, very lucky ones. I suffer from very minor depression just a few times a year.  I can only imagine what it is like for those who suffer deeply and relentlessly from it.  And I never will treat it lightly, will never be one of those naysayers who insist that those who suffer from depression just need to go take long walks or stop thinking solely of themselves.

It isn't a choice. No one would choose to feel depressed. It's a condition.

I remember showing some of Robin Williams' movies to Liv. She's seen Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, Hook, and Back to Neverland. And loved them.

I loved The Birdcage, Awakenings, One Hour Photo, Good Morning, Vietnam, and my two personal favorites: Dead Poet's Society and Good Will Hunting.

In fact, one of Robin's lines from Good Will Hunting is written on a piece of paper that I carry in my purse.

"Maybe you're perfect right now. Maybe you don't wanna ruin that. I think that's a super philosophy, Will, that way you can go through your entire life without ever having to really know anybody."

It was a line that stuck in my head and I took it to heart. I still do.

So, yeah, I cried when Robin Williams killed himself. I think that there are those among us who feel the world around them so deeply, so acutely, that it gnaws away at them little by little until they feel cornered and helpless. Many, like Williams and yes, like me too, drink too much or take too many drugs to try to find a way to cope, to sidestep, to manage.

I loved drinking. I still do. I loved drugs. Still do. I just don't take them anymore. I have a daughter and made a promise to myself and to her the day that she was born that I would lead an honest life and would do my best to be honest with her as well. That I would not take drugs because they were illegal and that I would not drink excessively because I never wanted her to see me inebriated.

I have been pretty good at keeping that promise. I admit to smoking weed occasionally when I know that she will never know. And I have never been drunk in front of her. Ever. I've also been honest with her about my drinking and drug use in the past. She knows that while I've never had to go to re-hab, that I was two steps away from it.

She also knows about my black dogs, my depression. She knows, as I did with my Da, that there are a few times in the year when I have to kind of step back into myself for a while to deal with a world that is just too close to me sometimes. That I will never shut her out, though, and that I will always come back in a few weeks. I think this is much better than having her live with me on medication, a false replica of myself.

But, if I ever got to the point where I feared that I would hurt myself or anyone else, I would get on those meds. Lickety split.

Drugs and depression seem to go hand in hand. And what a vicious circle. You take the drugs to escape the depression, but the drugs cause addiction and then you have an additional dilemma to deal with. It can cause a sorrowful life.

I don't know if I've passed on this genetic disposition to depression and/or addiction to Liv. So far, she doesn't seem to be suffering from any form of those black dogs. And I have been vigilant about nonchalantly checking her pupils and smelling her breath when she comes home from being out with her friends. Not even a whiff of cigarette smoke yet.

But, I'm not naive. I'm fairly certain she's tried a few things. Few of us grow up without taking that dare. I just want to nip it in the bud. Hopefully, my honest sharing of my life has given her some perspective. Maybe I'll get lucky and she'll slide through. Maybe.


As I said, I'm no fool. Well, actually I am a bit of a fool, but I like to think that I am one of the brighter fools.

So, I cried when Robin Williams died. Did you?


Karen said...

I've had conversations with my girlfriends about Robin Williams. He is one of the few men that I would go with, no questions asked if he showed up at my door and asked. What a lovely, wild, caring, wonderful human being. And how terribly sad that his only and final form of relief was to kill himself. How terribly, terribly sad.

Lawfrog said...

Yes, I cried. It is the definition of a tragedy. I too feel the world around me acutely and deeply. It is a blessing and a curse. I understand why he did it. Sometimes there are such dark moments where you feel the only escape from the pain is the final escape. I get it. And I am saddened that so many people have to suffer that way. I understand anxiety, depression and the pain they bring having lived through them both and continuing to live through them. It's not easy. My heart aches for him and for all of us who march through these painful diseases. May we all find a way out.

the only daughter said...


Jacquelineand.... said...

I didn't cry. I probably will later, when the pain is a little less.

No one is perfect, but some people are damned good; he was one of the good ones.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

I will miss Mr. Williams so so much. I loved all of his movies, especially Good Will Hunting!

8thday said...

On Tuesday I posted this as part of my gratitudes:

And this morning I am in tears about the death of Robin Williams. At a time in my life when I was in shock and walking around in darkness, a friend took me to see him live in concert. I do believe it was the first time after the attack that I managed a laugh. I am so grateful to Mr. Williams whose humor helped pry open a new path of hope and life for me.

On Wednesday I was in NYC where there were hundreds of small tributes to him - on Comedy Clubs, on park benches, on signs. Every one I passed made my throat constrict and tears well up.

What a gift he gave us all.

Trop said...

Strangely no tears. Just silence and a profound sense of loss. Not like I lost a personal friend, but just that this terrible disease could take such a beautiful wonderful person. Robin Williams was a gift to us all. It's hard for me to grasp that his life and his work are over.

The good die young. Assholes live forever. There is something deeply wrong with that.

I have often described my depressive periods as like being pulled down under stark and bleak sepia tones from the color and buoyancy of life, just as in the movie The Wizard of Oz.

He was pulled down by "under toad," and this time it was too much.

Anonymous said...

I didn't cry - but I was deeply saddened and shocked. He had such a gift. I constantly think about his family and friends - as they will always be left wondering and missing him so. My cousin's son committed suicide a few years back and there isn't a day that goes by that she doesn't hurt and miss him. It just breaks your heart.

Joanne Noragon said...

I believe we are fortunate he lived as long as he did.

Mitchell is Moving said...

Yep. And again just now...

Finding the Happy said...

Yes, I cried. I am crying still.

Karen M. Peterson said...

I've gotten teary several times this week thinking about him and about how lonely he must have felt and how scared. I've been so close to that point before and it was the most horrible feeling you can imagine.

I love this post, Maria. Much like I love all of your posts. I love your honesty and your beautiful way of expressing what so many of us are thinking.

And I love that clip. Dead Poets Society is one of my favorite movies of all time.

B said...

Yes, I cried. It could have been me seven years ago this December. I was one of the lucky ones who was found and revived. I think I'm more angry than sad. I know you can't watch someone 24/7, but if they knew he was so depressed the last days of his life, why would they not have him on suicide watch? Why was he in a bedroom alone, no one even checking on him in the evening or morning? Had his support system given up? If so, why shouldn't he? Just my two cents.

Earth Muffin said...

I haven't cried about him, not yet anyway. His death, among some other personal things going on right now, has knocked me for a loop though. It wouldn't surprise me if tears fall from my eyes at any moment.

I'm assuming, because you're a well-informed person, that you know about the riots in Ferguson, MO. That is VERY close to my home. We don't have reason to be in Ferguson and the closest we get to it usually is driving past the sign on the interstate, but that doesn't make this a less bitter pill to swallow.

lily cedar said...

I couldn't believe when I heard that he was dead. Depression is a fucking dangerous disease. Twice now I've felt such awful pain that the only way I thought I could make it stop was to kill myself. Thankfully I didn't but I understand the pain.

I read this morning that he also had Parkinson's disease. A friend of mine in Oklahoma lost her husband to suicide after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease as well. His death was a shock as well. My mother's eye doctor, a man who literally gave the gift of sight to thousands of people, locked himself in his office one night and killed himself.

Depression doesn't discriminate.

Jocelyn said...

I was and am distressed and sad, but I didn't cry. What you note about watching his mania and wanting to make a diagnosis is what I always felt, too. More than anything, I feel for his kids and family.

Somehow, and I realize this is a cold thing to type, the group public mourning of Williams, coupled with the overwhelmingly-tweeted and Facebooked reaction to Ferguson, well, it's got me pulling into myself and wanting to disconnect from all those voices out there. Somehow, if an event really, really means something, I don't want to tap into the zeitgeist surrounding it. Rather, I want to pull close and tight and work it through myself.

Thank you, by the way, for your honesty and descriptions of depression. This is helpful.

Steph Lovelady said...

I am usually not that affected by celebrity deaths, but this one did touch me.

My wife suffers from depression (pretty much controlled with medication and I don't think it's a false version of herself) and anxiety (less well controlled). I'm not sure if I've ever been clinically depressed but I know I've skated pretty close to the edge at various points in my life.

John Wooldridge said...

No I haven't cried over his death, nor am I likely to. As you Maria I struggle with the dog and sometimes its bite gets the better of me and though I'll never understand depression I know first hand how it takes something away from a person, something that everyone around that person cannot fathom or understand. I know people will say what did Mr. Williams have to be depressed about but the dog doesn't care who you are nor what you have. But will I cry for him, no I'm afraid life has enough to cope with without grieving over a person I do not know, electronically or in the flesh, nor knew me. It saddens me to think that the dog has claimed another yet there are many others who suffer the same fate so if I cried for him I must cry for thousands of other unknown souls and I'm simply not strong enough.

Anonymous said...

Yes. I cried. I am still grieving. Although I have not seen many of his movies, and I have not watched a movie of his in quite some time, he was a staple of my childhood. I wanted to be best friends with the Genie when I was a mere 2-year-old toddler. I thought Mrs. Doubtfire was an odd woman, but I accepted the character all the same. His versatility and wide range of voices captivated me and I admired all his talents. Upon hearing his passing I wept almost immediately. I feel that a part of my childhood died, forcing me further into adulthood. It also ripped open a seam somewhere inside me and I feel a bit of my own depression leaking out and bleeding into my daily activities. I finally watched Good Morning, Vietnam the other night. Robin was, as ever, phenomenal in the role and kept me laughing. However, something was nagging me in the back of my mind that he was battling such an angry beast of an illness. I felt empty, sad, and near-tears for hours after the film ended.
You describe depression so perfectly. Thank you for putting feelings I have into words. As I battle my own black dogs, I wish all the best to you.

Stephanie Faris said...

People just don't understand that depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. It's a physical condition, not some choice people make to be sad. We don't have to relate to chronic pain or a heart attack to be concerned about someone who has either, so why is it when someone is depressed, people assume they should just "snap out of it?"

LL Cool Joe said...

I was at the airport about to fly home from the States when I saw the tv screen with the news. No, I didn't cry, but I was shocked but not really surprised. I know all about depression too.

kristi said...

I was so upset when I heard the news, driving home from work last week. And I totally get it. I lost a coworker to suicide. She was a kind person, but she suffered from bipolar disorder and would drink while taking her medications. It is a heartbreaking illness, and I have suffered from depression too. It was severe after this last job loss. My kids kept me here. I did think about my purpose, and I prayed a lot. I cried and screamed and got angry. But thankfully it passed. Nobody who hasn't suffered through depression can ever get it. He receives no judgment from me whatsoever.

Christine Yubeta said...

hell yes, i did...and I have been so disturbed by those who somehow feel that being a celebrity and dying somehow means that you forfeit anyone mourning your passing. I went through the same thing when Whitney Houston died. I hazard to guess none of them have a freakin' clue what it feels like to be addicted or depressed or hopeless...and it makes me angry.

I remember watching Comic Relief in the 80s and knowing he was a genius...but over the years, when I would see him, I always had the feeling that that there was profound sadness there, but that is what comedy is born of...pain.

We are poorer without him.

thegrumpygirl said...

I cried. For a couple of days I occasionally cried. I'm still sad about it now. A lot of it to me is also about a daughter, Zelda Williams, losing her father. That is sadly something I can relate to. I already said most of it here:

but yes, I cried. and I don't feel weird about it either.