Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Thoughts on Depression and the Death of Robin Williams

You came to visit me today.

You sat next to me in Science class, somewhere between kingdom and phylum. Nobody else saw you come in, of course, because you're sneaky. You looked like the boy in the flannel shirt and Reeboks, but I knew it was you.

We're not supposed to talk in class, but you did it anyway. I heard you whispering about the blinds being closed so no light could come in, and how it would always be that dark. But that classroom was always dark, and I couldn't remember when it wasn't.

Suddenly, you were sitting on my chest. I didn't see you move, but I felt you pressing into me, felt the weight bearing down. You told me that eleven or twelve years was enough, that the rest would all be the same, that there would never be anything new or different. Or better.

You were inside my head. I couldn't breathe.

That was the first time that I saw the appeal of the neck-length tape measure wrapped around a hook in the cubby.


Earlier this week, our collective hearts were broken and our spirits devastated when beloved comedian/actor Robin Williams passed away. He took his own life at the age of 63, and after hearing the nature of his death, I have started to remember my own experiences with depression and suicidal thoughts, which started when I was in elementary school.

It's not something I have occasion to speak about very often, nor that I particularly like speaking about. The memories, what few of them remain, are too painful to revisit. I've attempted to describe it via the passage above, but the difficult part to reconcile is that this didn't happen just once; it happened over and over and over again, in different settings and to varying degrees all through my school career.

When you are young, you don't fully understand the finality and permanence of death. As the thought of suicide grew in my mind, what I believed was that killing myself meant killing someone that everyone hated, and that if I eradicated that part of me, I would return, somehow, as someone that everyone loved.

To this day, I am still not sure what kept me from doing it. Speaking in practical terms, I couldn't overdose because I wasn't able to swallow pills at the time; I was afraid of blood and sharp things, so that ruled out a slightly more violent end; and I didn't have the necessary fine motor coordination skills to make a noose. It reads like a comedy of errors, but I feel that these obstacles were put in place almost by design. I remember thinking of each of these things as one failure after another on my part. I felt that I was a failure at life...and then I was a failure at death, too.

That was what depression told me.

What it didn't tell me was that I wasn't alone. That there were and are so many others, like Robin Williams, who suffer quietly, wanting and hoping for things to be different, but who feel trapped, isolated, and lost in their despair.

Though I did begin taking Prozac for the depression at age 12 (and voluntarily stopped when I was 15), the cloud only began to lift after I left high school, when--for the first time that I could really remember--people saw me. They saw that I was here, that I existed, and that maybe I was even a good person. Their voices became louder than depression's voice, and at long last, I could breathe again.

I know that I got very lucky.

My story is only one story, and depression affects other people in all sorts of different ways. We have a very long way to go yet when it comes to discussing mental illness and suicide, and the stigma that surrounds these issues will never go away unless we start talking about them.

If nothing else, I hope the death of Robin Williams will be the beginning of this desperately-needed change.

I only wish he could be around to see how it ends.

[If you are having imminent thoughts of suicide, please consider calling the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (in the U.S.), or visit their website.]