Someone in one of my Facebook groups linked the Matt Walsh post on Robin Williams. (I am refusing to link it here because I don’t want to have any hand in generating hits for someone whose ideas I find so utterly off-base. If you want to read it, Google it.) In essence, Walsh argues that depression is spiritual, Williams made the choice to die, and that we can choose to look for hope and joy in our lives or we can wallow in depression.
Someone who says all of that crap obviously has never been so depressed that they cannot physically pull themselves out from under the covers or so depressed that they just cannot eat. Someone who says that suicide is a choice and they make the choice to straddle their family with grief has never been in so much physical, emotional, and mental pain that it’s like being trapped in a burning building and your choices are to either be burned to death or to fling yourself out the window.
(Someone posted a quote about this on Facebook and unfortunately I can’t find it.) Here’s the quote:
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.” – David Foster Wallace
Why do I say this? I’VE BEEN THERE.
The reason I’m sitting here typing this and not dead 19 years ago is that something intervened 19 years ago in a way that can only be considered the hand of God. The night I planned to end my life, someone was praying for me and God heard those prayers. I can’t really put into words what happened (nor do I want to try because I’m keeping this purposely vague for my family’s sake) but that was the night I gave my life to Christ. Somehow, I survived the rest of that school year and the rest of high school though I came out of it with pretty significant PTSD.
In college, I suffered with depression so intense that it was all I could do to get out of bed some days. I lost a great deal of weight from not eating and there were days when I couldn’t stop crying. Again, God intervened through some of my non-Christian friends who carried me to the health center, sat with me while I cried to the doctor about what I was feeling, and escorted me to my psychiatrist appointments. A few of them also explained to me that if I didn’t start eating a certain amount at each meal, they were going to carry me to one of their apartments, tie me to a chair, and feed me Cheerios and soy milk from a mixing bowl the size of my head. The college group leaders at my church saw what was going on and one of them made me an appointment with the therapist who ran the shepherding ministry. I saw Donna (the therapist) for two years and was on medication that whole time. I was surrounded with enough people who were keeping tabs on me that I was able to graduate a year early despite everything that had happened.
In my current life, I’ve been on meds for 10 years — since Jon’s first parish and while I don’t have many days when I’m too depressed to get out of bed, those days still happen. I’m thankfully functional because I had a physician’s assistant in Minnesota who was committed to finding a medication and dose that worked for me and I’ve built myself a network of people online who *do* check in on me in some way/shape/form and who are not afraid to email me and make sure everything is OK. It’s how I survived everything surrounding Daniel’s birth (the number of people watching me for signs of post-partum depression was pretty massive) and how I’ve survived everything since. This also isn’t a one way situation — I watch *THEM* for signs of these things because I know what I’m looking for.
One thing that Walsh does say and then backs away from is that when you’re in depression that severe, you cannot feel joy — it was honestly (in my case) like someone had put noise cancelling headphones on my heart. You might have some good things in your life but you cannot register any of the joy from them. I seriously have wanted to throttle people who tell me that my depression would go away if I looked at all the good things in my life — don’t they think I’ve tried that?!?!?!?!? Ditto with the people who claim that my depression is spiritual and it would go away if I prayed hard enough. Again… I was praying pretty darn hard and that specific cup was not removed from me. Instead, the way I approached my spiritual life changed.
I remember sitting outside the Cowell Coffee Shop with my friend Jeremy and the phrase “my grace is sufficient for you” came into my head. We grabbed our Bibles (which we had in our bags like good Intervarsity students) and found the source: 2 Corinthians 12:9. The verse reads:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
I’m not saying that this verse cured me of my depression or made every bad thing go away but it did give me a new way to approach mine that worked and that helped me to know that God was with me in the midst of everything I was fighting instead of watching on the sidelines. God became someone to kvetch to instead of this faceless deity who existed on some other plane and maneuvered us around like chess pieces.
Getting back to Robin Williams, I don’t know what his “network” looked like or whether he was on medication or really anything other than he died of asphyxiation and he left a grieving family and fans all over the world who are stunned. I know that he had substance abuse problems which is actually not surprising — many people self-medicate with alcohol and/or drugs just to make the pain stop. I’ve also seen people who are SHOCKED that he killed himself because “he was such a funny guy”. This might be a newsflash to some people but a lot of people who are humorous and funny in that fashion are doing it to hide some pretty horrific pain on the inside. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to me if he couldn’t the joy he was giving people or even any hope that things would get better.
Do I wish he had acted differently? Yes. I can’t imagine the pain of his wife or kids. Do I think he made a choice and said “Screw my loved ones — they’re going to be sad but I don’t care”? No. I think he honestly couldn’t see a way out and we need to respect this. I’m not God so I can’t tell you his eternal placement but I believe in a God who is abundantly merciful so I’m confident that wherever Robin is, his pain is over.