Depression is Not a Joke: Thoughts on Robin Williams’ Suicide From A Fellow Depressive

I lay in bed, phone in hand, reading about Robin Williams’ severe depression, how the disease beat him down to the point where he found suicide the only option. It didn’t surprise me. I’d known Williams’ suffered from the same condition I’ve battled for 3 decades. He’d been in and out of rehab for drugs and alcohol. He’d spoken previously about the darkness that swarmed his brain just as his breakneck wit overwhelmed the world with laughter, though he never revealed its true depth.

robinwilliams

The great Robin Williams lost his battle with depression on August 11, 2014.

I’ve been there, though not as close…not nearly as close. I’ve imagined the bottle of pills in my hand. I’ve pictured the heft of the gun, the barrel cold against my temple. I’ve felt the fictional sweet kiss of the razor slicing my wrists. But I’ve never done anything about it. Even at my most fatalistic, pre-Elaine, pre-Sienna, I couldn’t put thoughts to action. Too frightened. Too scared of judgment. Post wife and daughter, the thoughts still appear randomly like fleeting wisps in the night. They’ve been there this past week and a half as I’ve suffered through a deep depressive episode triggered by something I’ve yet to figure out. My therapist and I are working on it, trying to pull me out of this feeling that I’m in the blackest ocean abyss, chains constricting my legs like an anaconda, arms flailing upwards against the crushing weight of the sea and the heaviness in my legs. I’ve had days this past week+ when I didn’t want to get out of bed despite my 2-year-old daughter needing her daddy. Sometimes my mom would come and take Sienna for a few hours so I could sleep (my usual means of recovery). Elaine took care of Sienna one evening last week so I could go see Boyhood, a movie filmed over 12 years about a boy and his family as they grow. The movie just exacerbated my mood as I felt time slip away. Just as the finale of Six Feet Under destroyed me with a montage of each character’s lives and deaths go by quicker and quicker making me lose my tentative grasp on time and causing a tearful breakdown in the car in my wife’s presence, so too did Boyhood, though this time from a parent’s perspective. As I watched Mason (Ellar Coltrane) literally age from 6 to 18 in the span of 2 hours and 40 minutes, I again lost that elusive and impossible grip on time, feeling Sienna grow faster and faster and faster. She’s still not yet 2 and a half, but I saw her graduate high school and I heard Mason’s mom’s (Patricia Arquette’s) heartsick words echoing through my head: “I got my degree. I got a good job.I put you through college. What’s next? My funeral?” (paraphrased). I’m almost never affected by film or television or literature, but I was by Boyhood. Knowing the state I was in, I should have gone to see Guardians of the Galaxy. I’ve had panic attacks this past week+ because I haven’t blogged in so long and I’m afraid readers and fellow dad bloggers will abandon me. For some reason I’ve been unable to even scroll through Facebook as if touching the keys would burn my fingertips and seeing the happiness of others will blind me. I’m terrified that if I don’t share other people’s blogs, if I don’t comment, if don’t hit the “like” button, they’ll all leave me. So I’ve shared some things without reading them. I’ve hit “like” a few times. I’ve made a comment or two. I’ve even posted about this, my most recent fight with this damn disease, and caring people have responded, some have send PMs, but I’ve been unable to read them. I post and run. Post and run. I can’t scroll long. It hurts too much. And I don’t know why.

This isn’t my first battle as I’ve said. I was unofficially diagnosed at age 9, 31 years ago. I kept everything inside until 1996 when I had my first nervous breakdown and then went back to bottling it up until my second nervous breakdown in 2010. I’ve been on so many different medications I’ve lost count. I’ve seen 4 different therapists and 4 different psychiatrists with my most recent ones being the best. I can be fine for months and then something can trigger an episode, something seemingly innocuous that leads to irrational thought after irrational thought until my brain might as well be a Sharknado, turning and twisting and biting. Each waking second I feel like I’m up against a Mt. Everest of negativity, 31 years of incongruous thought processes and feelings – wrong thoughts and feelings as my therapist will be quick to point out.

Depression is a fiercely selfish disease. When you’re deep inside its clutches, you can’t see how you’re affecting others. My sister taught me that years ago when she lectured how the world walks on eggshells around me, how no one knows what will set me off. I keep that in mind as best as I can but I still succumb at times. I’m better than I was 18 years ago, 10 years ago, 4 years ago. My episodes don’t last as long. Suicidal ideation is rare and cursory. But the triggers, those bastards, still exist and often I don’t see them coming and need time to work through them. And that’s what I do. I work. Hard. Each and every day. And I’ll never commit suicide. I have a responsibility to those I love. I can’t ever hurt Elaine and Sienna like that.

Robin Williams’ decision to end his life wasn’t fair to his wife or his children, family, friends. But was it wrong? I can’t say that it was. He was tortured. Another tortured genius like Hemingway and Woolf who could no longer battle his demons. Depression, like most mental illnesses is a cancer of the mind. If the pain gets too intense, who am I or who is anyone to tell a person to keep going if there’s no fight left, if each breath, each second is a waking nightmare. If someone has cancer, is in unending pain, sees no light at the tunnel and wants to end it, isn’t it just as selfish of us to ask him/her to keep living and fighting because we want them in OUR lives? I wouldn’t kill myself, but I can’t say Robin Williams is wrong for taking that road. Who knows how deep his depression went? Who knows what he thought in his last moments? This is a man who covered his sickness as best as he could, who made millions laugh as his own brain probably screamed he was a failure. We were robbed of so many more laughs created by Robin Williams, but not by Robin Williams himself. We were robbed by Depression.

I couldn’t sleep last night after reading about Robin Williams. I kept envisioning his last agonized moments. And then I’d wonder if his death would push me over the unable-to-blog hump and I’d chastise myself for it. Then I started thinking about all of the bloggers that would beat me to the punch and/or write with a more poetic touch. And I felt so egotistical. So disgusted with myself. At 3-something in the morning I posted on Facebook about my insomnia, Robin Williams, and my warped warped thoughts and fears. I’ve yet to read any responses, though my mother said I received a ton of support. If I can I write this then I can read those responses. I’m proud of myself for writing. I think. I hope.

If there’s any positive in this tragic loss it’s that Robin Williams was such a high profile figure, such a supposedly kind and humble man in person, such a dynamo on film and stage, that maybe the light will finally shine on mental illness. Maybe more information about mental illness will be available to the masses. Maybe the government and insurance companies will do more for those of us who suffer either aloud or in silence. Maybe they’ll do more to create affordable therapies and medication. Most importantly, maybe we’ll all talk about it more. People will look to Robin Williams and no longer be afraid to speak up. I’ve found that talking about my disease with fellow sufferers has been a huge form of therapy. They get me. And there are millions of us.

It’s time to stop being afraid if you suffer from depression or any mental illness for that matter. It’s time to stop fearing judgment. Step into the light and talk about it. If you’re feeling suicidal, call someone. Call a hotline. Seek help. Because we’re in this together. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

As proven by the unfortunate loss of Robin Williams.

46 thoughts on “Depression is Not a Joke: Thoughts on Robin Williams’ Suicide From A Fellow Depressive

  1. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Mike Tremoulet

    August 12, 2014 at 3:56pm

    Lorne, that’s incredibly well written. Thank you for sharing your story and viewpoint. I haven’t wrestled with this myself, but every piece like this I read helps me gain a little more understanding and compassion for what this life is like.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      August 13, 2014 at 7:54pm

      Thanks so much, Mike. I’m glad I was able to help you understand it a little more. It’s so so hard for people who don’t have it to understand because it’s in the mind as opposed to the body where it’s easy to see, but damn is it a vicious disease

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    Daddy Files

    August 12, 2014 at 4:00pm

    Nice job Lorne. I’m glad you chimed in because your voice is among the ones we really should be hearing.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      August 13, 2014 at 7:56pm

      Thanks Aaron and thanks for all of your support. Meeting you at Dad 2.0 has been one of the highlights of my life. I consider you one of my best friends

  3. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Matt

    August 12, 2014 at 4:10pm

    This is an important post, Lorne. There are so many people out there who simply don’t understand depression and how it truly affects people. I’m always happy to see someone “real,” i.e. not a celebrity, talking about it. Well done.

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    Joel

    August 12, 2014 at 4:11pm

    Thank you for sharing so honestly. I hope you find the peace, stability and joy you are looking for in life.

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    Gabriel

    August 12, 2014 at 4:36pm

    Excellent post, Lorne. Beautifully written. Stay strong!!!

  6. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Gil

    August 12, 2014 at 4:42pm

    Thank you for sharing this with us. I am hopeful as well that this tragedy will help bring awareness, that being said you don’t have to be a celebrity to make a difference. I think this post is a good example of that. Keep fighting the good fight.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      August 13, 2014 at 7:56pm

      that means a lot to me, Gil. I appreciate the kind words and completely share your hope that this will get people talking about mental illness. It’s been in the dark way too long

  7. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Caren

    August 12, 2014 at 4:59pm

    You did it! Great piece, great images, and so heartfelt. (I am afraid to see Boyhood as it may depress me.) Another wonderfully written piece.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      August 15, 2014 at 10:36am

      Caren, I’ll never be able to thank you enough for being such a huge supporter of mine in so many ways. Thank you for the compliments. Boyhood is a great film, but it’s rough if you can’t distance yourself. Usually I’m able to. This time I wasn’t. It really is a remarkable achievement in film, though

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    Larry

    August 12, 2014 at 5:17pm

    Wow. The emotion and closeness you bring to this loss are palpable. Your willingness to share about your own struggles grabs me.
    I appreciate your positive spin over the loss of Williams and hope his tragic death will ultimately lead to some good.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      August 15, 2014 at 10:37am

      Thanks so much, Larry. That means a lot to me. I too hope the loss of Robin Williams will lead to something good. I’ve seen a lot of talk on the Internet so far and that’s def a start

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    Jennifer

    August 12, 2014 at 5:48pm

    Thank you for persevering and writing what I could not. The words have gotten stuck and can’t find their way out.
    It is so hard for others to understand the depths that depression can take you to and many confuse it with temporary sadness. I too work hard on avoiding things I know will trigger a downswing but too many times they jump up out of nowhere and are unavoidable. Even with proper treatment everyone develops their own coping mechanisms. For the things the meds don’t work on, those surprise visitors. For Robin it was humor. Sometimes even that is not enough.
    A large majority of the public do not understand that depression can be fatal. Maybe now they will be able to.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      August 15, 2014 at 10:30am

      Thanks so much, Jennifer. Agreed that too many people make light of depression. They use to word “depressed” to express plain old sadness. They don’t truly know that it’s a disease. We need to keep educating the populace on just how awful depression is

  10. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Debbie

    August 12, 2014 at 11:08pm

    Thank you for being so open and honest. Thanks for sharing your story, may you continue to talk in your out loud voice about this monster you wrestle with, millions of others and you need to know your are not alone. I lost my Dad to Depression 24 years ago not a day goes by where I wish he hadn’t checked out on his own terms, he was loved and has robbed 5 now young adults of a beautiful Grandpa but in his right mind he’d never have done what he did. Please keep talking. Thanks again for writing your story.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      August 15, 2014 at 10:34am

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Debbie. I’m so sorry that you lost your father to the disease. Just know how hard it must have been for him to understand that he wasn’t really alone. Depression masks that. All the love in the world becomes inane chatter against the monster in our heads and sometimes, like with your dad and Robin Williams, the monster wins in a very serious moment of utter aloneness. Keep loving your dad. Never stop. And keep educating people about disease. I promise to keep writing about it

  11. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Josh

    August 13, 2014 at 12:23am

    You are not alone. It’s so sad that that is where Robin Williams found himself. Stay brave.

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    Dashing Dad

    August 13, 2014 at 12:48am

    Lorne – your words are so important to those who have depression. Much more so than the preachy words of people who have no clue about depression I see in the media. Thanks.

  13. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Linz

    August 13, 2014 at 6:58am

    I too battle depression and I don’t think I’ve ever read something that describes it so well. I’ve been stable on meds for a couple of years, but that feeling of hopelessness, the feeling of drowning in my emotions, is something I will never forget (and pray I never have to experience again although I’m not holding my breath). Thank you for writing. I am praying for you and a quick resolution to your depression.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      August 15, 2014 at 10:27am

      Linz, thank you so much for your kind words. I hope you too get out of this morass. Know that I’m here for you if you need help. Those of us w/ depression need to stick together and prop each other up

  14. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Darrell Milton

    August 13, 2014 at 8:16am

    Can I say it? I need to say it.

    I told you so Lorne. I told you if you write something it WOULD be worth reading.

    Damn it dude, you are a writer that others look up to and live in fear that THEY will write inferior pieces compared to yours on any given topic.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      August 13, 2014 at 7:49pm

      Seems you were right, Darrell. I’m stunned by the reaction. I sent it to HuffPo, but no response. They’ve prob gotten a zillion pieces like mine so I’m not surprised. I could try GMP, I guess. But here I got again not being satisfied w/ what I’ve gotten. I need you to come here from Oz and physically slap me

  15. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Michele

    August 13, 2014 at 11:04am

    Your courage to speak out and describe your depression in such a visceral way is inspiring and touches me to the core. Please continue to share your journey.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      August 15, 2014 at 10:23am

      Thanks so much, Michele. I’m glad you found the post inspiring and I promise to keep writing about my ups and downs. I hope you keep reading!

  16. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Jason S. Grant

    August 13, 2014 at 11:22am

    Powerful words, Lorne. You are a great writer and have so much courage to lay it all out there and share with us your feelings on such a sad day for Robin Williams’ family and fans. Thank you.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      August 15, 2014 at 10:23am

      Thanks, Jason. I can’t thank you enough for being one of my biggest supporters

  17. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Dustin Fisher

    August 14, 2014 at 2:55am

    Rarely have I read something so freakin honest. Lorne, you are so very inspirational and you’ve made me realize that even when I think I’m being honest, I’m not. Even going so far as to talk about blindly liking and posting other dad bloggers stuff in fear that you would get ousted from the group. I feel that same pressure and I wouldn’t have had the guts to say something about it. It’s high school all over. Anyway, this is great. This deserves all the praise and pub it’s getting. I’m glad you don’t feel the way you used to and I’m sorry to hear you’re in the middle of an episode now. But one thing I’ve found with my insomnia (it’s the only comparison I can make – sorry if I’m making light of your depression with it), is that once I realized that it wouldn’t last forever, each time it came back, I was comforted knowing there would be an end to it. I just had to endure it and get through it. And the waters will eventually recede. Just like yours will. Good luck, my friend.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      August 15, 2014 at 10:26am

      Dustin, I don’t know what to say to some of the things you wrote. It’s hard for me to say thank you because I feel underserving, but I’m saying it anyway. The insomnia thing is actually a good analogy. I need to start looking at episodes as having ends. If I can find the strength to do that, perhaps they won’t last as long. Thanks so much for the suggestion

  18. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Matt

    August 20, 2014 at 12:54am

    Lorne,
    Amazing post, as usual. Just because I don’t always come around every day does not mean that I don’t check in and binge-read your stuff. I love your writing and your honesty. You don’t owe anyone anything – not posts, not likes, or comments. Yet, dammit, when you write, the world pays attention.

    Incredible story and a look inside at what you battle. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      August 28, 2014 at 6:15pm

      Thanks so much, Matt. Honestly I don’t know what to say to things like that, but I’m trying. One day we have to meet!

  19. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Leiza

    February 2, 2016 at 10:46am

    Lorne, thanks for sharing this. I found your article through Google. My first cousin also committed suicide due to depression. We never knew she was depressed. She had a full life, finished her Bachelor’s in Nursing, she had 2 great kids, and a loving boyfriend. But we never knew. She ended her life, and it shocked our world to the core. It’s already been 2 years, but it still hurts, even if I wasn’t too close to her, not as close as we were when we were younger. She was only in her 20s.

    You are correct. You are not alone. There are many “what ifs” and “she should’ve” regarding my cousin. But I will always say, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. We are all in this together.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      February 12, 2016 at 10:51am

      Thanks so much for the compliments and the story, Leiza. I’m so sorry you had to go through that with your cousin :(

  20. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Vivian Taube

    August 13, 2016 at 9:05pm

    Thanks, Lorne. You are incredibly brave. If only Robin had been so open about his depression, he might still be here. I had no idea he suffered from that–or Parkinson’s or Lewy Body Dementia–until he died. I did know, of course, though, about his battle with drugs and alcohol, and his long-term sobriety–though,until he died, I didn’t know he broke that, some years ago, after which, he did return to it. His suicide was tragic. He was a neighbor, actually. I live about half an hour from where he lived–and died–in Tiburon, CA. I never met him, but he and I had a few hangouts in common, as it turned out. I am still sad he lost his battle with his illness. I would have liked to have known him. He seemed like a wonderful person.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      August 14, 2016 at 5:09pm

      He did indeed, Vivian. Thank you so much for your comments. My hope is we can prevent the next “Robin Williams” from happening and that includes all non-celebrities

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