- Posted August 13, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Living with a chronic illness
Chronic depression ain't no secret: The tortured soul of Robin Williams
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 14.8 million adult Americans experience clinical (severe) depression in any given year—or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population over 18. [source: NIH Depressive]
I am one of them.
You can feel it coming on. An overwhelming level of hopelessness churning deep within your psyche, the origins of which you can’t possibly explain to anyone who hasn’t been there.
It has little to do with outside influences. If I drum up the nerve to tell people I suffer from depression, they’re like, “Look at all the wonderful stuff you’ve got going for you!” And of course they’re right. I’m healthy. I’ve got a great kid and a loving family. I’m in damn good shape for a 55-year-old broad. I’m smart and creative. I’m self-sufficient. I’m funny as hell. I’ve got a nice house, a decent job, a hot girlfriend, a cool car, and a pretty decent cadre of friends who have my back.
I know all this stuff, and I thank my lucky stars Every. Single. Day. The problem is that, rather than being comforted by these warm fuzzy truisms, I contemplate how ‘lucky’ I am and go, “You know, they nailed it. I got a pretty fucking good life. I have every reason to be happy… Then why am I so miserable?” Which is why I don’t tell people about my weird condition in the first place, because I know they’ll never really get it.
All the good stuff doesn’t hide the fact that the nasty little voice residing within your omnipresent brain is constantly telling you there’s something fundamentally wrong with you for feeling the way you do. It doesn’t have anything to do with love, money, job, family, education, health, or lack of any thereof. Sure, failure in those areas may exacerbate the problem, but success rarely improves it.
It doesn’t come from having a low self-esteem or having delusions of grandeur. It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are or what’s going on around you, whether you’re in a solid relationship, whether you make boatloads of money, whether you’re speaking to your siblings, or whether you love what you do. The incessant derogatory voice comes from somewhere deep inside your soul and overrules your sensibilities, ridiculing and berating you for missing the obvious. It doesn’t mean you want more. It doesn’t mean you want less. It means you can’t handle it either way.
Look at Robin Williams. Three kids and a loving (as far as we know) wife. A stellar career. In damn good shape for a 63-year-old dude. Beloved by many. Healthy for the most part. Smart and creative. Funny as hell. Two nice houses, a fleet of bicycles. Friends. Family. Wealth. Fame. Yet he couldn’t live with himself.
Maybe they changed his meds. More likely he was self-medicating, as many people with our level of depression do. The meds help, of course, but who wants to admit to anyone—including yourself—that you’re dependent on a cocktail of psych drugs just to be able to maintain on a daily basis? Not me. Or him, I’m sure. It’s another slap in the face, another derision that can't be reconciled.
I mean it’s not like I take blood pressure meds. I’m not on insulin, or cholesterol meds, or arthritis meds, or anything that has to do with chemically regulating an uncontrollable physiological condition. No ma'am, I take meds because I’m fucked up in the head. I’m a psycho. I see my glass half empty, even though it's overflowing with luck, happiness, and something akin to karma. But none of it matters. I can’t control my emotions without gulping down a bunch of stupid little pills. And therein lies a huge part of the problem.
The drugs are an endless double-edged sword. You can’t live with ‘em, you can’t function without ‘em. You hate the dependency you have on them because it makes you feel weak and dysfunctional. It's shameful to have to rely on prescription medication to get you through the day without breaking down.
Yet the Catch-22 really happens when the drugs are doing their job. You start feeling pretty darned good. You might actually go a couple three weeks in this pseudo-euphoric state. Then the cockiness kicks in and you go, “I think I finally licked this thing. I’m doing kind of awesome right now. Why am I taking this fucking crap?”
So you stop, or cut back (I never stop), and within a few days the despondency creeps back in like a slow IV to the jugular. You feel like a total failure—again—as you dole out your daily doses. Then you wonder—again—what’s the point… You deride yourself for being unable to cope on your own... And your tortured thoughts plummet into an abyss that you really don’t care if you ever pull out of.
There's definitely a genetic propensity for depression. My dad was clinically depressed and tried to end it numerous times. He used to sit in his big easy chair in the living room watching Ed Sullivan with tears streaming down his face for no reason we could fathom. He’d randomly swallow a bottle of pills, and at least once tried to slit his wrists. I remember when I was a kid he gulped down a fifth of vodka like water, after consuming a handful of pills, and announced to me and my mom he was going to the bedroom to die. That was memorable.
I’ve hit that spot a few times, way before I understood my dad’s history; tried to slit my wrists in high school and once took a bottle of OTC sleeping pills that didn’t work.
I somehow continually managed to snap out of it and function, thanks to 75-250 mg of 2-3 different psych drugs each day for the past 15 or so years under half a dozen psychiatric evaluators. But you’re forever at the precipice, upping the dose for awhile and then backing off, upping and backing off. Wondering if you’ll ever be able to wean yourself off completely, knowing you never will, and sensing a simmering level of despair that never completely disappears.
Is that what happened to Robin? Did he finally decide enough was enough? Did he chuck his meds down the john like I did once, maintaining until he absolutely couldn’t anymore? Some will say his marriage was on the rocks, he wasn’t satisfied as an actor, he fell off the sobriety wagon, his heart surgery changed him.
People speculate because that’s what they do. I’m no exception. But I’ve visited the dark place where his mind dwelled and can say from a first-hand perspective that it’s ugly as hell, and I’d do nearly anything to never go back there again.
His was a deliberate conscious act that he knew he’d never come back from. He clearly got to the point where he’d do whatever it took to finally end the agony. Those of us who have felt that level of pain gasp, not so much from the shock of the event, but from knowing how close we’ve been to being there.