Robin Williams was found dead on August 11th, 2014 and initial reports are speculating that it was a suicide. No, I was not a hardcore Robin Williams fan though I have seen some of his movies. I also am not one to report on celebrity deaths beyond sharing an article or two on my personal facebook page. But when it comes to suicide, I always pause a bit. I’ve been honest with my struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, even though there continues to be a stigma attached to mental illness. (Depression, touted as a treatable disease, is often dismissed as not serious or as a pity party. Treatable does not mean curable and many people, including me, battle depression on a daily basis with the help of medication, a therapist, and the support of friends, families, and colleagues.)
When I first started this blog, I was in the midst of a major depressive episode. I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I had been kicked out of an internship program in California and had to have treatment for my depression, I was back home in an the home of my emotionally abusive mother, and I was trying to help get my grandmother into a nursing home while my mother throw hissy fits like a toddler on a daily basis. And God-don’t get me started on God-I wasn’t sure what I believed and after being betrayed by a “progressive church” I was not a fan of Christianity at the moment. Suicidal thoughts were a daily plague. It felt as if depression had infected the core of my physical and spiritual body. I was looking for something-any little thing to hold onto. I was lucky that a friend introduced me to the daft old man traveling through space and time in a blue box. Of course, the show isn’t a cure for depression nor did it change my circumstances, but it provided me with relief from suicidal thoughts for just a few hours every day. And then of course, I saw the episode, “Vincent and the Doctor,” and was moved to tears. Here was an episode that viewed mental illness through a compassionate lens and didn’t end with the cheery note that everything will be ok. As we know, through personal experiences, and now through the death of Robin Williams, sometimes things do not turn out ok. Sometimes the darkness is just too overpowering, especially when mental illness is stigmatized and adequate treatment is not available. But even when someone does have access to the best medical treatment available sometimes depression can become so debilitating that death is viewed as the only option.
Even though I am in a much better place than I was a year ago, depression is still a daily battle. Getting adequate medical treatment, having friends and professors that care and support me, and re-evaluating my theological notions about God (letting go of the manipulative, domineering God of my childhood) has helped, but I would be lying if I said depression still isn’t a struggle. I would be lying if I said that there aren’t days when I look out at this dark world filled with hatred, violence, genocide, and poverty and wonder if it is worth it. Is life in general worth it, does my life in particular make a difference in a world filled with hurting people? The answer I hold onto, especially during the days and nights I feel shattered is-yes. Somehow life, in the end does matter. Somehow my life, as a small insignificant individual does matter. It is that yes, which sometimes comes out as nothing more than a whisper that keeps me going. Depression means that I have to say yes to life on a daily basis. And I know the temptation to say no is strong.
If you struggle with depression or any other mental illness, I pray that you are receiving help and are able to say yes to life on a daily basis or even on a minute by minute basis. For those, like Robin Williams who lost their battle yet fought so valiantly, their lives and their deaths matter. They aren’t selfish cowards who couldn’t hack life, but wounded people who fought with all their strengths, but some wars can’t be won.