Of Robin Williams, Depression, And Suicide…

Robin WilliamsWell, it’s been about two weeks now since Robin decided to end his life. I talked to quite a few other Bipolar and Depressive people who hit a similar low on hearing about that. It was kind of weird because I didn’t feel any particular attachment to the guy in general. I thought he was funny and generally liked him in his stand up and movies; but didn’t even take any great strides to see anything he was in. I definitely could see and identify with his approach to dealing with depression; make other people laugh and focus on something else so you don’t have to think about it for awhile.

Reading the news was an instant depressive trigger. I felt my brain try to rocket into the pit but the antidepressants must be working to an extent. As I stated in my short update post, it was like someone took a tennis ball, hauled back and threw it as hard as they could downwards. It tried to drop out and just bounced off the floor, then dribbled a bit as it settled at a lower level than what I had been at. For the first couple of days, my brain just would not function correctly. In a depressive crash, the person’s brain may suffer slow down and lag; like being on a shitty internet connection. That’s where my brain was. Normally, I do a fair amount of writing about finance and law for clients; but at that point I was having a hard time just adding double digit numbers in my head.

I expressed this to my mother who asked if I was just feeling sympathy or sorrow. Being that my brain was being a sluggish piece of shit, I couldn’t articulate that a Bipolar crash or spike has its own feel. Mental illness is illness; symptoms and hints are there at what you’re experiencing or may experience. I know it was a depressive crash because a depressive crash only feels like a depressive crash. (Depressive crash.) It would be like slamming my fingers in a car door and someone asking, “Are you sure you didn’t stub your toe?” Yes, I am quite sure I didn’t stub my toe. Not only did I just slam my fingers in the door (a trigger, e.g. Robin’s suicide) but I have symptoms relating to that incident (symptoms; brain rapidly falls out which lasts for days, brain slows down and loses critical thinking capabilities, the void of depression sets in).

I have a bitch of a time articulating myself verbally during these times partly because my brain slows to a crawl and partly because, as a high-functioning autistic, I have a hard time converting my emotions and feelings verbally. But yeah- thanks for the Devil’s Advocacy either way! (Seriously, that sounds sarcastic but it’s not.)

There has been a ton of speculation about the reasons behind Robin’s suicide from mainstream media, mentally ill people, and mental health groups. As someone that is going on about a two decade war with Bipolar-Depression; I’ve seen several parallels between his struggles, actions, and how I view my own future 30 or 40 years down the road.

Was Robin Williams Bipolar?
So let’s address the elephant in the room. Was Robin Williams Bipolar (or Manic-Depressive)? Those of you that saw my initial post about the news, I mentioned that “another Bipolar kills themselves”. The memory I was drawing from was from when the comedian Jonathan Winters died. Winters was diagnosed Manic-Depressive (Type 1) and was a huge inspiration to Williams. I had thought I remembered Williams stating that he was such a big inspiration, not only for his comedy, but due to his own struggles with manic-depression. I now believe this to have been a confused memory on my behalf. I dug for the article but I simply couldn’t find it. So chances are pretty good my brain was just being a piece of shit, as it is wont to do.

Williams publicly stated on numerous occasions that he struggled with severe depression for most of his life. Bipolar bloggers point at his animated comedy and screen persona as evidence of mania. Initially, that was the thought I had as well until I recently went back and watched his stand up again.

The thing is, Williams always tried to have a personal life for him and his family away from the spotlight. What these folks are basing their assertions on is his public face. None of us act the same at work as we do in private. If we did, we’d be fired in no time for refusing to wear pants to work.

On going back and watching more of his work, I came to realize that no, it was not evidence of mania. Sure; he’s animated, fast, and outgoing. Williams struggled with cocaine addiction for a long time. Assuming he was (mostly) clean later in life, I think it’s extremely possible that he used to get high before hitting the stage as a young man and just hit his stride in the frenetic activity of a coke high while delivering. That frenetic energy became his stage persona even after he (mostly) quit drugs. In other words, the actor acted.

In watching his stand up, I can tell you exactly why it’s not a manic tirade. It’s too coherent. He flows smoothly through his set, the times he “forgets” things are convenient for his performance, like the “what the hell was I going to say moment” he has during his joke about marijuana. That, of course, got major laughs from the people who have smoked pot from the audience because we’ve all been there.

I vaguely remember getting high once when I was younger, opening my eyes and looking down to find a burrito in my hand. I don’t know where I got a burrito. We didn’t have anything in the apartment to make burritos. I must have walked down to the corner stand and bought one but hell if I could remember it. I do remember it being the best burrito I ever ate; which is normal stuff when you’re baked. Everything is ambrosia.

Therein is the problem with that assertion. All we have seen of this side of Williams is his stage persona. And his stage persona, while animated and outgoing, is too coherent and measured to be a manic tirade. Disjointed thoughts are a huge problem for manic people. They just don’t connect in a logical way and your brain is in overdrive; so you can start at Point A and end up at Destination Zebra Cthulhu “Wheres The Beef?”.

Bipolar? I don’t believe so based on the information I have available.

My Speculation
I mentioned parallels that I could see me reaching later in life. Robin’s wife announced shortly after the suicide that he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s. Now, I have a reader and a good friend who has Parkinson’s. It’s been a huge transition for her because she had to adjust from caretaker/giver to actually needing help from people. I’ve listened to her talk about her own feelings about it and what she saw in others when she was going to a support group for people with it. Really, it just went to further reinforce beliefs I’ve already held.

I’m not anxious to die, but I have no fear of death either. I have seven suicide attempts under my belt and due to the past 20 years or so of thinking about, envisioning, and dealing with those thoughts; I’ve just become numb to it.

What am I afraid of?

I’m afraid that there will come a point I can no longer critically think. I’m afraid that I will wind up with a degenerative disease, be a burden on the people that love me more than I already have been, and will lose myself in the process. Robin’s suicide came as a shock, but the announcement that he was dealing with the early stages of Parkinson’s dispelled the shock and put everything into a crystal clear focus in my mind.

If I’m a 63 year old severely mentally ill man still struggling with drug addiction who is now faced with a massively degenerative disease; my choice would be suicide too.

But I don’t think this was a long, calculated plan from Robin. No, I think these thoughts had been bouncing around in his head for awhile and manifested at a moment of severe weakness. I base that speculation on the method of death- superficial wrist cuts with a pocket knife and hanging himself with a belt. It seems more likely to me that if he had made the choice in a stable state of mind, he probably would have had a bit better preparation; such as buying a length of rope. The public evidence suggests a heat of the moment decision to me.

I think the reason this hit me so hard was because I looked at Robin Williams and I saw myself. I don’t walk his road, but I walk a parallel road of my own with many similar sign posts.

The great tragedy in all of this is our attitude towards death in general. Would it not have been better for him to be able to talk to a counselor about his fears and prognosis with the option of assisted suicide after undergoing evaluation?

I get it. We don’t want to think about our loved ones dying or even wanting to die. Death is a source of confusion, pain, and fear for many. But it’s not like wasting away, confined to a bed for the next ten years is any kind of solution. If I wind up with dementia or Alzheimer’s; I don’t need my family dragging their asses to the home to visit me when I have no idea who the hell they are and the entire situation is just painful. Don’t keep me alive on life support while my brain is dead and I’m locked in a semi-permanent coma. Don’t leave me alone and vulnerable with people I don’t know in a place I’m not familiar with.

And sure as hell don’t tell me I don’t want to die after DECADES of dealing with thoughts of death when all that is ahead of me is degeneration of my body, plus the mental illness, plus whatever complications may arise.

Remember me as a relatively whole person, not a shell or shadow of what I used to be.

My wish for Robin is not that he should not have committed suicide if he was in a stable mind to make that decision. My wish is that he should have been able to face it with dignity so his loved ones did not have to find this tortured, kind, warm soul hanging from his own belt, wrists slit with his own pocket knife.

A bit of disclaimer: Understand that the previous is my opinion of how I would want to be treated. My father faithfully visits his mother with Alzheimer’s in a home. My mother worked to take care of her grandmother and her mother as they got older. And my Parkinson’s friend; I know it’s been an impossibly tough transition for you. I’d do what I could for the people I love and care about, but I doubt I could do it nearly as well because I require so much mental management of my own to stay out of the pit and continue to get this life of mine pointed in the right direction.

This is also not a suggestion that suicide is a solution. If you’re having suicidal or self-destructive thoughts, get help. 1-800-273-8255 (for America). Suicide is a very permanent solution to an oftentimes temporary, treatable problem.

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4 Responses to Of Robin Williams, Depression, And Suicide…

  1. Nancy Love says:

    It’s been awhile. I have been doing pretty well. I always read your posts. I have read what you said about Robin Williams. I loved him and it has hit me kinda hard. He was number one on my list of people I would love to meet. I always saw the serious side of him, as well as, the comedic side. Anyway, just thought I would touch base and let you know, I am still following you and still appreciate your writings.

    • Dennis says:

      Thanks, Nancy! I’m replying here because I can’t remember if I messaged you on FB or not. I’m very happy to hear you’re doing well. I appreciate the following and the fact that you continue to read my work. 🙂 Take care!

  2. brian engler says:

    I like your analogy of the depressive state. I have a hard time saying what it’s like also. No one can really express it clearly. Danny Kaye, who was also depressive, said once that having depression was like laying in bed, and the cure for your depression was on the night stand, and not having the strength or drive to reach over and get it.
    The worst of it are the people who mock him for taking his life,or use it as part of their agenda.

    • Dennis says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Brian. Glad you liked the analogy.

      I generally don’t give much thought to the people that shit on people that commit suicide or that have an agenda. Many people are assholes, always have been and always will be really. It’s not worth it to waste the energy on those people; to me anyways. I’d rather use that energy on empowering other people to understand their illness and harden their skin to that shit.

      Trolls will be trolls.

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