Depression and Suicide

WARNING: This is not going to be a cheerful post.

Like many I’ve been following the sad news about the death of Robin Williams this past week. I’ve seen a wide array of comments, some kind, some not so kind, and some downright evil. Rather than delve into those, though, I want to share my own perspective on this topic and try to explain a bit about what Williams might have been going through.

I was diagnosed with clinical depression twenty years ago. Without going into details I’ll just say that I was scaring many of the people close to me including my parents and the girl I was dating at the time. I would feel so lost and hopeless without any explanation that could be tied to my circumstances. My then-girlfriend is the one who finally persuaded me to get some treatment and I went to a therapist who referred me to a psychiatrist.

Things did not instantly get better. In fact, they got worse. The girlfriend broke up with me and I went into a tailspin. I’m not blaming her, by the way. The collapse of the relationship was not her fault. The blame rested squarely with me and issues I had that I would not fully understand for a very long time. My mental debilitation was so severe that I couldn’t work and had to move back in with my parents. It got to the point, and this is the part I’ve only told a few people about, that I started to wonder if the world would be a better place without me in it.

I don’t think I thought about suicide constantly, but the fact that I thought about it at all scared the crap out of me. I didn’t tell ANYONE, not even my mother, who would have understood better than anyone. I didn’t want to end up in a hospital, though in retrospect it might have done me a lot of good. 

I never tried to kill myself. I just couldn’t go that far.  What saved me was my little niece. My brother and his family moved back to Illinois from Oregon when I was at my darkest point. KatieMae was 2 and was one of the most delightful children I’ve ever been around. I got to spend a lot of time with her and couldn’t help but be brightened by her cheerful and fun nature. Also, my treatment finally started to take hold. Things stabilized. I came back from the brink.

Looking back I have to thank God for putting that little girl in my life. Not everyone is so blessed. As I’ve retold this story I can’t help but wonder if Robin Williams ever had someone come into his life and brighten it like my niece brightened mine.

I’ve had a taste of how dark things can get. We all have a point where we can’t take it any more. In Williams’ case, and in many others, that point was reached. Those people need our sympathy and understanding. Nothing is served by playing the blame game or calling the victim (and I choose that word deliberately) ‘weak.’ Depression is a disease. Telling someone to ‘suck it up’ or ‘man up’ or whatever is no solution. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.

Those who’ve never experienced it have a hard time understanding. I get that. My wife and I have been married nearly thirteen years and she still isn’t sure how to handle it when I go into one of my dark moods. That’s not her failing. Like many things, it’s hard to understand something you’ve never experienced.

I’m not writing about this so people will feel sorry for me. I’m writing it because people need to understand that depression can get such a hold on you and drag you so far down that you can truly come to believe there’s no way out. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not right. But it is very true.

I have nothing but sympathy and pity for Robin Williams and all the others who have reached the point he did. The details of how he was finally pushed to suicide don’t matter now. What’s done it done. Instead, we must strive to keep as many people as possible from following that path. Not everyone can be saved, and that’s a tragedy, but everyone who comes back from the brink is a victory.

I still live with depression. I will for the rest of my life. But it hasn’t claimed my life and, thanks to my Lord, it’s not going to. Twenty years later, I’m still here.

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