Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams, Depression, and Me

I don't remember the world ever being so brutal, brittle, bitter, and breaking than it is now.

The words are starting to run together, aren't they?

GazaISISYazidisFergusonMosul....

And, in the middle of all of this, the suicide of an American actor/comic elicits incredible reaction.

Does this show we are hopelessly superficial?

No.

It's the most natural thing in the world.

The horrors in Gaza and Iraq are unfathomable. Few of us have the capacity to stare them down without flinching. They are not 'scalable' for most of us.

But Robin Williams we can feel.



Many of us grew up watching and laughing with him. And all of us can relate to the tragedy of one person. We may not be able to absorb the tragedy of an entire racial or ethnic group, of kids dying of dehydration in their parents' arms. But we can get one sad, funny, tortured guy.

And we all know someone who is depressed. Or we are depressed ourselves.

One of the only happy things to come out of Robin Williams' sad death is a sparked discussion of depression and mental illness. I suspect it will fade soon, but better lightning-quick than never.

I suffer from depression, and I have not been honest about it.

In sermons and in writings I have safely, glancingly referred to my struggle.

"Hey, I know many of you today are struggling with depression or love someone who is. I want you to know that I have as well. I've been there. As a matter of fact, at one point Welbutrin saved my life. So, you don't have to run or be ashamed. Lots of us are there".

Well-meaning words. Wholly inadequate words.

I have preached some crap sermons through the years.

I was first diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of 32. I am 45 now.

The therapist that had put me through my paces was a crusty sort, not given to compassion, at least overtly.

But he looked at me with something approaching kindness and said "You have no idea what it is like to feel OK, do you?"

I was born with it, man. Deep in the DNA, hard-wired in the genetic code.

Sometimes it has been manageable. Circumstances collide with a predisposition and I felt blue, listless, craving sleep or self-medication, sad. In those times, exercise, prayer, friends, bucking up, playing through, all of those things helped.

Other times the black dog was more tenacious and only meds helped.

Twice or maybe thrice in my life I have been in the grips of what the pros call 'anhedonic' depression.

This is another black dog entirely.

Those of you who have been there will know instinctively what I mean.

The deal with this strain of depression is that nothing makes it better. Every strategy that has ever worked before is worse than useless - as a matter of fact, your proven strategies line up in demonic array and mock you. Nothing makes it lift. Nothing makes it even slightly better. Nothing, not even for a second.

It's not as if you are sad, splayed out on your bed, sobbing.

It is just that there is no hope that anything will ever get ok and, when it spikes you flinch at anything, are scared of everything, are so anxious that you can see your heart beat in your chest and you want to claw at the cellophane-wrap-like thing enclosing you.

This is where well-intentioned advice is like freshly squeezed lemon juice on a knife puncture.

Tell someone with a migrane to get on a treadmill for thirty minutes.

Tell someone with a terminal diagnosis to buck up.

Tell someone with lupus they just need to pray and trust God more.

Tell someone in the grips of anhedonic depression anything.

"At least depression doesn't kill people like cancer does", said a well-meaning friend a few years ago.

I said nothing.

I suspect this was where Robin Williams was a couple of days ago - anhedonia. The scary thing is this - he had tried everything. He had sought professional help - it doesn't get any more professional than the Hazelden clinic.

Sometimes everything doesn't work and you get stuck in a moment you can't get out of.

At times past in my life I have picked out the overpass abutment to drive into, researched the medicinal cocktail to take, looked up state laws on suicide and life insurance

So, what to do with this?

If you are depressed or think you might be:

-You probably are, or you wouldn't be asking the question.
-You are anything but alone.
-Tell someone you trust.
-Don't self-medicate with drugs or alcohol or sex or food. Don't get me wrong - those things will give fleeting moments of relief. Then you will crash, harder than before.
-God is actually there. He really is. Here is where the Christian faith really has an answer. On the Cross, Jesus absorbed all of our pain, all of our wrong, all of our suffering. In one cataclysmic moment he took it all into Himself. Even after all these years, that knowledge doesn't stop stunning me. If you believe this, cling to it with all you have. If you don't believe it or aren't sure, consider if it may be true.

If you know someone who is depressed:

-You are their friend or loved one for a reason. Be brave.
-Nothing you can do is enough, especially if they are in anhedonic depression, so don't take the responsibility.
-Don't try to solve them or fix them.
-Do offer the good advice at first - pray, exercise, eat well, focus on the positive, see a counselor or a psychiatrist who can provide meds.
-If that advice does not work, do not press it. Be with them. Don't leave them.
-Pray, if you know how.
-Pray, even if you don't know how.

Check out the photo of Robin Williams higher in this post.

Now check out the last known photo of Robin ever taken, according to Radar Online, at a Dairy Queen near the Hazelden Clinic in Minnesota where the teen waitress said he appeared to be 'struggling':



It's a brutal, brittle, bitter, breaking thing.

But there is the Cross.

Those last two sentences.

I don't write either theoretically.

8 comments:

  1. Todd- I would like to thank you for so bravely and eloquently putting your own struggles in to words. I have often had trouble with helping others to understand just how horrible the feeling is and that it is so much more than simply feeling sad. There is another article that I just read that states that Robin Williams died not from disease but by his own choice. It makes me want to scream and I am certain the author has not suffered from depression a day in his life. I find so much inspiration to find my path back to faith from both you and Miranda as well. In any event, THANK YOU for your words.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Sara, for your kind words.

      Delete
  2. Very well done, Todd. This is especially commendable for a person whose life is much more public than the rest of us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Brad. I miss you guys!

      Delete
  3. Thank you. Coming out is never easy. You've done something good by writing this.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I hope so, Kathy. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Very well said, I think this is the first blog I have read that is the right amount of compassion with the right amount of education. Unfortunately, as much as I like Matt Walsh - his post came across very gruff, and not tender to the hurting. You have been tender to the reader's experiences all around, people who struggle with depression, their loved ones and some who have no idea what's going on. Thank you for writing this :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ladychello, I have been on vacation and just now saw your kind post. Thank you for your kind words.

      Delete