When we heard that Robin Williams had committed suicide, I hoped we would google it and learn it was just a new, creepy urban legend. But it wasn’t.
We were mostly without internet at the time, so I just caught snippets of reactions from the electronic consciousness. One snippet seemed to echo frequently. It was the idea that Williams hadn’t focused on the good in his life or that, unlike the pontificating pundit of the moment who had also been through really hard times, he had simply chosen to wallow in his misery.
I’ve heard variations of that sentiment my entire life because while I can’t say I know what it was like to ride a mile in Williams’ roller coaster car, we are in the same amusement park. I don’t know how all the rides work, this is how I explain my experience at the fair.
I had a fresh ticket in my back pocket a few weeks ago when I bounced into my shrink’s office, plopped down on the couch, and, without taking more than one breath, chattered non-stop for 45 minutes.
I chattered about a book I’m wrapping up, an idea for a play I’m going to write in September, an idea for a novel I’m already fantasizing about writing in October and had spent the previous half hour drafting a 20 page synopsis of. I chattered about reorganizing the linen closet. I walked to my car, still dictating a dozen to-do’s into my to-do-a-maphone.
You could say I was up. I was real up.
I have a family I adore, a great job, and a growing creative life, but there was a lot on my mind that week. I’d learned of a friend’s recent death and a serious illness of another. There was a mountain of work that wasn’t getting smaller, a world panicking about Ebola, Russia and the Middle East, a fresh diagnosis of a degenerative eye disorder (I’m blaming that for any drawings that appear subpar) and more than a few bills marked ‘Freakin’ Urgent – Pay UP Loser’ waiting in the mailbox.
I, however, was helicoptering over the planet, suspended by a thread-thin seatbelt over a world that looked technicolor perfect and sparkling with possibility (it could have been the algae blooms in Lake Erie).
I would have been up if you had told me I had a special type of cancer that made my butt look even fatter when viewed from outer space with the naked eye.
I can admit the flying is fun when it’s not scaring the shit out of me, but it does scare me. I become SuperWoman, taking on too many obligations in a single phone call and exercising the purchasing power of a regional big-box store, leading to a crash whose destructive force would make Michael Bay drool with envy.
I’ve been doing this part of the roller coaster ride since I could talk.
I’ve tried working with my brain’s air traffic controllers, but the littlest things (medications, for example) can inspire strikes and and even walk-outs. My current shrink has been helping me find new ways of negotiating with the control tower. We haven’t ruled out new and improved pills to pop, but my brain, like my diet, is a work in progress.
But like my diet, if there were an easy way to be ‘normal’ (or thin – the ultimate fantasy) by just ‘snapping out of it’ or ‘deciding to be well’ without having to medicate and journal and snap rubber bands on my wrist and sit with a shrink once a week for many of the last 30 years, I would jump at it – even if I had to jump for “it” from a plane without a parachute to grab it out of the sky with a pair of tweezers.
Because I know that in a few months, even if I found out I’d sold a zillion copies of my soon-to-be-imagined bestseller “How to Not Dust a House for 365 Days or More”, Santa was real, both kids had landed scholarships to Harvard and Yale, and peace on earth prevailed, I would still feel like closing my eyes on a deserted highway so that the Big Guy and the kids could call my death an accident and not know that I had intentionally left them forever.
I know this because I’ve been doing that part of the roller coaster ride in one form or another since before I could talk – long before I was old enough to understand the words, “snap out of it”.
5 thoughts on “How I Explain It”
Well said. I to have been there and and still doing that. We have not walked in others shoes nor on their path. We cannot possible know what is or was in their thoughts.
Thanks. Everytime I heard someone saying what Williams should have done or what kind of coward he was, I wondered how they could know what he was feeling at the time.
Well said, Rachel. My brother suffered from depression. I hopelessly tried to remind him of everything for which he should be grateful and happy. I scolded him after his two suicide attempts. I came to understand that there was really no way that I could completely understand his depression, so I decided to just accept it and love him. His death will be a year next month, and I’m glad I was able to be close to him for some of his years. I feel like I understand why Mr. Williams felt he could not go on, and it’s frustrating to hear those who say he was selfish. Thank you for sharing your very personal experiences with bipolar disorder. Your words make it very understandable. Love to you and your family:-)
I’m so sorry you went through that loss, Michele. I’ve been on that side of the illness, too, and it still stays with us. Love back to you and yours 🙂
I feel the depression and sometimes think about that very same deserted highway and like you still find a way for that highway not to claim me. My mom, sister and maybe my daughter deal with bi-polar disorder but I just get the depression, none of it is a great gift. It would be wonderful if more people understood that it is not really in our control but something we have to control. My heart goes out to everyone who has this in their lives and thank you for putting it in perspective.