I’ve been in a sadness-induced sort of funk for most of the week. This time it isn’t mamma-drama-trauma (MDT) related, nor is it the residuals of PTSD from nearly a quarter of a year of my life upended due to family issues.
It’s immense sadness over the death of Robin Williams.
Honestly, I would not have thought I’d have such a visceral reaction upon hearing the news. Perhaps it was the profusion of social media postings and comments that got to my head and heart. Certainly, I’ve enjoyed his comedy and dramatic work for years. Just a month before I had watched “Mrs. Doubtfire” with mom on a quiet evening in Carefree. I’d seen the movie at least a handful of times before and was all too happy to watch it again. Mom enjoyed it too and even seemed like her old self from years ago, I’ve also felt a certain kinship with him when some years ago I learned he was an avid cyclist. And of course, I have a special place in my heart for those who take the time and the energy, like he did, to support our men and women in uniform.
So as I cycled the other day, my thoughts weren’t on the road or the beautiful country scenery. My thoughts were consumed with this comedic genius who took his own life. ‘Why?’ played over and over in my head as I cycled. At 63, I’d thought he had made peace with his troubled side. That gave me a great deal of hope for those (e.g. family members) who struggle with depression and substance abuse, especially in their younger years. Robin Williams was a hard-working man and, by all accounts, a gentle, loving and thoroughly giving spirit. It pains me that his cycling (his “moving meditation”) didn’t save him. It pains me that the love and support of his family and friends didn’t lift him to a brighter place. Even his successful career and the accolades from people from all around the world weren’t able to quell the demons that apparently darkened every inch of his soul. There was something inside of him that he could not come to terms with and in the end, this was, I can only suppose, his way of freeing himself from that very dark place. The choice was his and he alone was responsible for it.
I’ve always been very sensitive to the subject of suicide. Admittedly I do not know enough about suicide in the academic sense to hold an intelligent –that is to say–UN-emotional conversation. My “experience’” if you will, is rooted mostly (though not entirely) in emotion. It started decades ago, admittedly, colored in a certain negative bias that I’ve long since moved past. The bias was based on childhood memories. My father so often threaten suicide to, in my mind, gain attention. He went so far as to lock himself in his study with a shot-gun, scaring the hell out of everyone in the house, including my sis who was barely six at the time. My father died years later and not by suicide. My feelings are also rooted in motherhood, agonizing over my estranged son who often says things like “life is not worth living” in response to his self-induced isolation from family and his abysmal financial situation. My experience is also moved by my wonderful but weary Gramps who did take his own life because health problems severely wore him down in his later years, and it is also deeply shaken by a friend whose husband threw himself off a seven story building to end his life and the fairytale of their five years of togetherness.
Honestly, I have a strong fear of the subject. It’s like the feeling of an approaching storm that is simply waiting for the perfect alignment of events to start a downward death spiral. It’s a fear that lurks in the background of my life. I attribute this to depression, of course. Not necessarily mine. Like most people, I have great and not so great days. But depression in its clinical form has a mighty tenacious hold on both sides of my family tree. I cannot remember my father ever being particularly happy, and certainly not my mother. Indeed, part of all the MDT over the last months is deeply rooted in decades of depression. It has, in my view, ravaged my mother and her choice has been to succumb to it rather than seek help. It has done much the same to my twin brother.
Until a few years ago, I was of the mindset that a combination of physical activity and professional help (even the ‘better-living- through-chemistry approach”) would prevent suicide. A naive approach, certainly, but it’s what helped me during extremely rocky points in my life (well…except for the chemistry approach; I never took pills/drugs of any kind).
Yes, full disclosure here. I had my own “moment” years ago while going through an acrimonious and painful divorce. I remember it vividly, as if it were yesterday. I was out for a run on a gravel path in Northern Virginia crying my eyes out. I felt like a complete failure in life and the guilt of a broken family for my kids as well as the overwhelming fear of starting all over again at the age of forty with nothing in the bank came crushing down on me like a ton of bricks. Everything seemed insurmountable and the utter desolation I felt was enormous. I felt like I was being swallowed into a massive black hole and I didn’t want to continue a minute more on this earth. A fire-engine red Mack truck was heading down the road in my direction and in an instant, I thought about stepping quietly into its path to end it all. I’m not sure what kept me on my running path that morning. Perhaps in that instant a surge of endorphins smacked me upside of the head, stopping that negative thought in its track or maybe it was the image of my children’s faces….or perhaps it was the greater fear of not dying instantaneously and living in a vegetative state or worst yet, for the runner I was, being paralyzed from the neck down.
I’ve experienced countless low points since that particular morning run; luckily I’ve never returned to the thought of ending my life. I kept running, putting one foot in front of the other. And, during the worst of those years following the divorce, I was fortunate to have the unconditional love of three beautiful souls that never, for one moment, stopped listening to the good, bad and the ugly of my life. Their friendship, support, loving presence and unwavering empathy got me through my darkest hours. And then, there was Rocket-man, who stood by the stranger that I was to him on my darkest day one December morning in 1997 and that act set the foundation for a life together.
So I am trying to put this week into perspective and make sense out of what seems senseless. In so doing, I think of the words of my California friend who lost her husband to suicide and who now volunteers at a suicide prevention hotline: “In the note he left he told me that it was his loved ones that kept him alive for so long and if it wasn’t for us, he would have done it earlier.’‘ And, then there are the words from comedian and political commentator Dennis Miller. He stated it best during a recent commentary on losing his good friend Robin Williams:
“If Robin Williams, who was a locus of joy, can get to that dark of a place so can any of the billions of people on this planet. And if you are ever in that corner, you have to round that corner off by getting a hold of another human being. You know how quickly life can flip. You know two days later the sun can be out. It’s that moment. Anybody can get to it. If he could get to it, anybody can get to it. Never not make the call to somebody. Never.”
Folks, It could happen to any of us. That’s the scary part of all of this. So never not make the call. Never not reach out to someone. Never give up….life can flip in an instant. It seems so simple a concept; If we could all just remember that if today is dark, the sun will come out tomorrow.