Finding out about a celebrity’s death doesn’t usually affect me much, but when I read that Robin Williams committed suicide, it hit me hard. As you may know, Robin Williams battled Bipolar Disorder in addition to serious addiction issues, and it’s being reported that he had been fighting a long, severe cycle of depression at the time of his death. Unfortunately, as a member of the Kinship of the Black Dog, I know the hideousness of that endless war of attrition… I really do… And it not only does it break my heart that it overtook him, but it also scares the hell out of me.
It makes me doubt myself and my own resolve to never off myself… that one day I might not be strong enough to keep fighting the good fight… even though all that I have to live for has pushed me to fight for my sanity time and time again. No matter how bleak things have gotten for me, I’ve always been rational enough to know that the darkness will eventually pass, and that it’s the chemistry in my brain. I’ve retained control of my actions… and it scares me to death to think that I might not be able to do that one day.
It’s unrealistic and unfair, but I’m guilty of putting him, along with other famously successful Bipolar patients, on a pedestal. I tend to think of people like Williams as having BEAT Bipolar Disorder… Like they’ve totally overcome the long-reaching tentacles of it’s grasp and are no longer as susceptible to its clutches as I am. I know it’s ridiculous… but for some weird reason I still do it. In looking up to him as an emblem of hope that I can succeed in life in spite of my illness, I selectively forgot that mental illness can’t ever be completely left behind. In my mind I’ve admired the talents he used so very well… Which were probably due, at least in part, to his brain chemistry… and chosen to ignore the flip-side of his reality. Focusing on the upsides of having Bipolar, like creativity and energy, helps me to partially ignore the absolutely devastating reality of it’s downsides.
I so desperately want the positive to neutralize the negative, for my sake, but situations this prove it doesn’t always work that way. No matter how insanely gifted a person may be, they will continue to wrestle with the demons in their heads, and Williams’ suicide has reminded me that we are all fragile as humans. It makes me question my drive/compulsion to succeed… because I know the pressure on those who have achieved notoriety for their talents are under a tremendous amount of pressure. That pressure had to have taken a toll on Robin Williams, and I’m relieved that I don’t face that on a daily basis. Would I become a recluse to avoid anxiety if I hit the big time with my writing? Very possibly. Is it worth the risk? I believe so… because life would be miserable if I lived in fear of doing what I love and not doing my best to excel. I’m an All or Nothing, just as Williams was, and just like so many others that I know with mental illness are as well.
Re-examining one’s own Achilles heel is a humbling task, and it’s something I prefer to ignore until its been struck during a crisis situation. I tend to put aside the tools I use to extract myself from a depressive cycle once I’m feeling good again. This comes from the desire to pretend nothing is “wrong” with me and that I can be “normal” for my family and friends. I constantly feel guilty that my family has to “deal” with my less enjoyable qualities… or that there are times when my kids have a Mom who just can’t force herself off the couch to go somewhere fun with them… for an entire summer. It makes me feel like I’m cheating them, and I can see why Robin Williams, despite having a family that loved him, just as I do, might have thought that they’d be better off without him. Mental illness is something that should be maintained by methods that work best for that patient. Depression is an ILLNESS, people… not a shortcoming or a weakness.
It guts me to think that nothing could’ve been done for him… So I’ll tell you what I’m going to do in his memory. Starting now, I’m resolving to take better care of myself… because I deserve to maintain my sanity… and also for my loved ones… so that they aren’t left to wonder if they could’ve done more as they grieve my absence. Running miles, even when I don’t feel like it, will be a celebration of being alive and putting pain behind me. Food that I eat will be to sustain my physical health and mental clarity… Not for comfort. The people I surround myself with will be positive, life-affirming souls that I can trust with my vulnerabilities… And that don’t want to “fix” me. I will continue to use my gifts to make the world a better place… But I will make sure to take enough back from the world to make sure my inner well doesn’t run dry. I don’t know if I can save myself through my “depression-prevention” methods…but I intend to live my life to the fullest while trying.
Robin Williams, we never met, but through your amazing catalogue of work and good deeds I’ve always felt like I knew you. Your struggles with depression make my heart ache for you, because I know that pain, and I can’t imagine the darkness of the moment you decided for good to leave this world. Thank you for sharing your amazing talents and love for people with us, and for helping me to remember to keep fighting. I promise not to lose my spark of madness… It’s what keeps me laughing.