“Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.” –Thoreau

12 August 2014

From a Dark Place

Robin Williams has died. They believe it was suicide.


Mr. Williams has been sick for a long time, battling clinical depression and anxiety. When I heard that they believe his death was self-inflicted, I just... It hit me in a physical way. I can't imagine what Mr. Williams was thinking or feeling, what prompted him to take his own life. Only he knows exactly how his depression affected him.

But I can tell you what it feels like for me.

It starts with anxiety. Normal anxieties: money, due dates, doctor's appointments, chores of all kinds. Then some less-normal, more intense anxieties: election results, chemicals in our soap, unexplained illnesses, an empty fridge that needs filling, preschool placement, bad cat behavior, potential dental work. And then some totally absurd but terrifying anxieties: cars crashing, planes falling out of the sky, terrorism, muggings, burglary, kitchen fires, cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, immunizations, rabies, dogs that bite, black widow spider bites, bug infestations, bedbugs, wetting the bed, poisoned drinking water, acid rain, and so on. And on and on and on.

The anxiety feels like a monstrous fist inside your chest. Sometimes the fist relaxes a bit, lets you breathe, but it can tighten up again at any moment. The anxiety itself becomes cause for great anxiety. All of your energy becomes focused on controlling that anxious feeling, preparing for it, holding it off as long as possible. The pressure slowly builds, until you cannot contain it anymore without fracturing.

The next stage is guilt. Profound, crippling guilt. Remember, you've already been anxious for a long time, so you haven't been performing normal tasks in a normal way. You've missed things, put things off, while you deal with controlling the anxiousness. When you layer guilt on top of anxiety, it turns into something like this: "I have not called my best friend in a month, and she is probably so angry with me because I'm a terrible friend, a terrible person, really, and I can't possibly make it up to her with one, too-late phone call after a month (a MONTH) of friendship failure, and oh god, that means I'm a failure as a friend, a total failure, and what a terrible thing to do. No one should have to be friends with such a terrible person. I'm a terrible, terrible person."

So you do not call. You can't.

Because guilt is immediately followed by inertia. When I say guilt is crippling, I mean that literally. It weighs down your limbs and your heart. There is only so much guilt and anxiety that your body can take, and so it has to shut down. It has no choice. You tell yourself, "Come on, get up, you have to get moving," but your body isn't listening to your brain anymore. Your brain has been running you ragged. Your body rebels. It is a tired, inert rebellion. Even opening your eyes in the morning feels like too much to ask. Your heart and mind race an anxious, guilt-ridden marathon every day, and your body responds as if it ran a marathon, too.

This is the dichotomy of depression:
Your brain won't stop, and your body can't go.

It is very hard to find help when you're clinically depressed, even if you recognize the signs. When you are stuck in this place, in this loop of anxiety-guilt-inertia, you cannot crawl your way out of it. You are crippled. You are helpless. And if you are stuck in the loop long enough, you are hopeless, too. It's not enough to say, "I will be better tomorrow." You can't turn off the loop by force of will, because you no longer have any willpower. You're just too damn tired. You are fighting your own brain for your sanity, and you can't even put up a fair fight.

This is where depression takes you...

Everyday, you fight a battle that no one can see and many think isn't real. The opposing army has held the high ground from the start. You are terrified and exhausted. The voices inside your head are your own, and they tell you the world is a place you should fear. They tell you that you are useless, worthless, because you cannot fix the world. They tell you that you should be ashamed. And you can't make your own voice stop... it's your head, so you're to blame. What good are you, really? What's the point of you? You can barely crawl out of bed.

So, now, ask yourself: What are your options? What hope is left for you?

I know people want to believe that prayer or time spent in nature or the love of family can save a person from him or herself. Sometimes, I'm sure that it can. But this is my experience, and I can honestly tell you that none of that made a bit of difference to me. What worked for me? Drugs. Prescription drugs and psychiatric help. Without those two things... I don't know. What were my options? What hope was left for me?

I don't really have a message here. I'm not trying to make any particular point. I just felt like it was important--right here, right now--to be totally honest about depression. About what depression feels like to me. This isn't easy for me, because it takes me back to a very dark place. But we all have dark places inside ourselves, and I think, with the right trigger, those dark places can swallow us whole. I wish it weren't true. I wish he wasn't dead.

Robin McLaurin Williams, 1951-2014


We miss you, Mr. Williams.
You are finally out of the loop.
I hope it has given you peace.