Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dead Comedians Society

"For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause."

Yes, it's another post about Robin Williams.

The news of his death by his own hand shocked the world this week, and I was no exception.

I was sitting right here when Neil called out from the TV room and told me Williams had taken his own life, and that he'd been suffering from severe depression.

And I am not proud to say that my first reaction was along the lines of, what does he have to be depressed about.

I, who of all people, should know that depression doesn't need a reason. I've written a bit about my own struggles in this space.

Depression moves in with you and lives with you and lies to you and tells you that life is too hard, too painful. And even when you know, intellectually, that your life is good and you have everything to be grateful for and nothing to be grieving about, sometimes you just feel too weary to fight back.

And yet, those are the times when you just have to sit with it and wait. A day at a time. An hour at a time, a minute at a time if you must.


Maybe I was lucky that even when I was sickest with it - and it is a sickness - I was able to hold on to hope. I couldn't think my way out of it, I couldn't will myself to be well, but I could put my faith, my chips on the belief that I would get better.

I got better.

I don't kid myself. There is no cure. I've beaten it into submission and I've had a very long run of joy, but I know it could come back. I'm not afraid it will come back at random. Loss brought it on in 2001 and loss almost surely would bring it on again. Since there isn't a damn thing I can do about that, I don't dwell on it. I don't borrow tomorrow's trouble.

Still, I have mixed feelings about Williams' suicide. I have compassion for his pain, but I feel angry about his action. He had kids. A wife. Friends. So many people who loved him. I can't help thinking that what he did was the ultimate eff-you to all of them.

I won't use labels like cowardice and selfishness, labels bandied about in the news stories about Williams' passing.

But in a way, what he did was akin to saying, my pain is greater than any pain I might cause you, my suffering is more untenable than any suffering my death might cause, my pain is the biggest, most important thing in the world.

I.e., it's all about me.


When I was struggling to keep breathing all those years ago, when I was so tired and everything was overwhelming, when going to a party was no more appealing than cleaning the bathroom, I can remember considering suicide and crossing it off my list. It was something I could think about in the abstract but knew I would never, could never do.

I had children. Challenging, hormonal teenage girls, but they were mine, I chose to have them, and I owed it to them to keep living. I had parents. A brother. People who cared, people who would have been devastated if I did myself in, people who would never understand.

And I don't understand. Oh, I understand how bad it can be, which I definitely would not understand if I hadn't lived it. I'd have been one of those people thinking the afflicted were weak and morally lacking, and that they should just suck it up and get over it.

At least I understand that it is a real illness, as real as diabetes and allergies and obesity, as real as cancer and heart disease.

I used every tool possible to treat it. Therapy. Diet. Rest. Herbs. Tea. Hot baths. Support groups. Exercise, although sometimes getting up off the sofa and going to the mailbox was all I could manage because I felt as wrung out and exhausted as I imagine I would if I'd had the flu. Medication, which was a complicated process that sometimes involved long periods of feeling no better or even much worse. I was atypical, treatment-resistant. I dubbed myself the side-effect queen.

And the shame. I felt so ashamed and guilty for suffering and even a fraud for calling it suffering when there were people in the world who were enduring real tragedy. The stigma. You have to hide it from the world. And even when you summon your courage and try to tell some of your friends what you are going through, they are uncomfortable, as if you were telling them that you had HPV. Or AIDS Or leprosy.

Much mention has been made in the press about Williams' addictions and treatment programs and relapses after years of sobriety, as well as his recent stay at Hazelden for "continued sobriety." Not for falling off the wagon, but for a sobriety tuneup.

You see, addiction and alcoholism are more socially acceptable than depression.

In stark counterpoint to Williams' suicide, a fellow bead-maker passed away this week from acute lung and brain cancer. She was here, she was happy, she was living her life, and now, quite suddenly and against her will, she's gone. People die all the time, every day. It underscores for me how transient life really is.

When you're in the clutches of clinical depression, life does not feel like a gift, but unless you are truly insane, somewhere, somehow, you have this knowledge. If you've ever mourned for anyone, if you've ever grieved a loss, if you've ever felt warm sun on your face and smelled clean air on a spring day, you must know.


Despite depression (and its fucking lies) your lifetime is a gift. I give myself permission to say this because I lived it.

So yes, I think Williams should have muscled on through it. We're all under sentence of death anyway. But what I think really has no bearing on Williams' decision. I don't get to vote. Even if I think no one has the right to end his own life, that doesn't make me right. It's just my opinion. As the saying goes, opinions are like assholes. Everyone's got one.

And while I have no palpable faith in heaven or hell or an afterlife or reincarnation, who's to say when we die we won't immediately be reborn in a rice paddy in some third world country.

Then again, you could wind up pitching for the Yankees.


Shakespeare put it so brilliantly in Hamlet's pivotal speech.
To be, or not to be- that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die- to sleep-
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die- to sleep.
To sleep- perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub!
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

1 comment:

Cathie said...

Once again, a very moving post, thank you Liz.

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz