Robin Williams died yesterday.
The world rarely shows such an incredible outpouring for the death of one individual. So what does it say when news coverage, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are utterly inundated by cries of love and respect of this man and his work? He was loved. He was admired. He made people smile. He made people feel. Feel. Feel.
Feel. I relate to this word, to this concept. For someone living with, battling, fighting, struggling, and often times losing to depression, I understand the word feel far too well. I think, perhaps, that Robin Williams was the same.
You see, depression, real, lasting, non-circumstantial depression, at its very core, is a problem of feeling. Sure, yes, it’s misfiring synapses, chemical imbalances in the brain yada yada etc etc… but at its core—at my core, it’s a problem with feeling. Feeling too much. Feeling too much about the wrong things. Having a difficult, almost impossible struggle to control feeling. To me, that’s depression.
Robin Williams was, by all measurable means, a man who ought to have been happy, beyond such struggles. He had everything he needed to stay alive without anxiety or stress: check. He had personal and non-personal love almost un-endingly showered in his direction: check. He had laughter, fun, and what would often seem like happiness, despite his well-documented struggles with personal demons. And yet he’s dead. He hit his limit, for whatever reason. Game over. You lose.
Depression, true, lasting, crippling depression is hard to define. I’ve often compared it to describing the color of the sky to a blind person. How could anyone who hasn’t/doesn’t experience it ever really understand? People go through hardships, a bad break-up, being laid off, the death of loved ones, and they feel depression, anxiety, fear… But it’s temporary. Time heals all wounds, as they say. But true depression, time doesn’t heal it. You either find a way to make yourself strong enough to battle it, or it takes you. There’s no gray area here. Depression kills. Unless of course we find a way to keep it from killing us.
I’d hope by now it’s readily apparent this is a topic with which I share a fair amount of familiarity. I’ve been hospitalized for suicide attempts. I’ve lived with depression. I’ve fought, I’ve momentarily lost. I continue to fight. And people, most people, continue to not understand. They want to, that much is obvious, but they’ve never seen the color of the sky, they’ve never heard the bird call. There are no words that can help them understand. It does little to explain to them what it’s like to experience their worst, most debilitating life events and have that as an on-going undercurrent in their lives, indefinitely.
This is my life.Was this Robin Williams' life?
Some people who experience depression find fame and fortune. They are loved, they create wonderful things… only to find it’s not enough. It’s the tragic link between creativity, intelligence, and depression. You get Kurt Cobain, Robin Williams, Heath Ledger and Elvis Presley, among others. People who ought to have been or were, titans. And yet they fall.
I don’t know fame. I certainly don’t know fortune. At times I actively shun and avoid many of the aspects of life that could lead me in that direction simply because it means letting down protective walls I’ve put in place to keep myself safe. I’m most creative, most actively productive when I’m at my worst, as counter-intuitive as that seems. I produce page after page of prose, I write songs and blogs and… and I try… because that effort, that expression, that hope of something more, of something better, is all that keeps my head above water.
I actively keep myself mundane, ordinary, less productive… because it hurts less. And then I hate myself for not producing, for not building, for not being something… more.
I wish there were a simple, easy way to wrap this up, some magical answer to depression, a secret coping tool to share with the world. But as far as I’m aware, there’s not. And I’m here. Writing this. And another battle has been lost and a great warrior has passed on.
I don’t expect you to understand. I don’t expect anyone to really comprehend unless it’s something they do battle with. But awareness… now that’s something. Who knows what might be different if people were aware… if those with depression were completely and honestly open in their darkest hours. Who would still be alive? What works would we have that we don’t?
No, I don’t expect anyone to understand. But to try… to feel… There’s an amazing amount of power in feeling.