The topic of suicide has been everywhere this week due to the death of Robin Williams. I can’t put into words how sad it must be for his family and friends, especially with the circumstances of his death. I know his family must be asking themselves what they could have done differently. I’m sure his friends are wondering why Robin never asked them for help, or maybe he did, and now they’re asking how they could have helped differently.
Mental health is not easily understood by people. There’s a lot we don’t know about the human mind, and how it operates. Generally, unless you have a mental health issue, you won’t be able to understand or relate to someone who is suffering from a mental health issue. The result is that people easily come to their own conclusions on how things should or should not work, and outcomes such as suicide are less understood.
I see the threads of conversations on facebook and twitter now. Is suicide selfish? Is it the result of a disease we don’t really understand? Is suicide from mental health issues the same as suicide as a resolution to a physical disease that causes unimaginable suffering? All of these questions are natural, and are reactions to losing someone we love. I think the reactions of people are a result of grieving, and I think it’s healthy that we have these type of conversations. Robin Williams is an amazing human being, and I love him for all of the joy he brought to my life. I hope this death brings about a better understanding of mental health in the long run. I don’t think asking “why,” is a bad thing – but when most people heard he committed suicide and asked “why” …I asked … “why him, and not me?”
I am a suicide survivor. It isn’t something I tell people, including my closest friends and family. It is something that I regret, and it is shameful. That said, I was very lucky I happened to have someone near by when I tried. I do not want to go into the details of the event itself, but I was lucky, I was very lucky.
Why did I do it?
I’m sure you could narrow down a number of factors, but none of them on their own make much sense. I didn’t have the easiest upbringing, but honestly there are people in the world who had it worse than I did. Is it genetic? I do have evidence in my family of depression, but the science on ‘nature vs. nurture’ is still a long way from being settled. Was I unhappy with my personal relationships? Throughout my life I have made good and bad choices with people I have made friends ( or more) with, and I expect to continue that trend as I learn and continue to grow. Was it residual guilt from the loss of my Mom at age 17, before I started my senior year in high school?
I don’t know, but I don’t think any of the above reasons justify such an action. When I made the choice, it felt like the choice was made for me. My memories of the event are non existent. I felt like I was in another world, a place of pure darkness, and the voices in my mind were telling me to destroy myself. It was real. Part of me honestly believed the world would be better without me in it, and I honestly thought everyone who ever knew me would feel the same way.
All of that is bullshit, of course. I’m way to fabulous for that to be true. The truth is, I don’t have a simple explanation for why it happened, but it did.
Before it happened, I was already in therapy for years. I was diagnosed with chronic depression when I was 20. I had tried different treatment options, including medication. Sometimes I got better, and sometimes I got worse. When the “event” happened, it was during one of my good times, which is really odd to think about. My emotional state seemed to have come out of no where. I wanted answers, and started to switch therapists and tried more intensive treatment methods.
I finally worked with a doctor who had been in the mental therapy field for a couple decades, including spending some time with people who had been in the military. After some review, I was diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is a long winded way of saying I have post traumatic stress disorder for a REALLY long time. I always considered myself a very visual person, always remember things like playing back a movie in my mind, but I didn’t realize that some of that “playback” was actually a flashback.
When I received the diagnosis, there was a sense of relief because it explained so many different aspects of my behavior I never understood before. It also explained why I tend to act like a ‘lone wolf’ when it comes to my social habits and have a hard time maintaining close long term relationships – and yeah…depression happens, but I know why, and it’s extraordinarily comforting. I’m now able to make healthy decisions about my mental health, and more importantly, I am able to recognize the triggers of my disorder. Hopefully, in a couple years, it will be like second nature to me.
Grades of depression
Okay so…now comes the controversial portion of my post. The word “depression” gets thrown around way too much. There is still so much we do not know about our mental health, and treatment options are lacking. It doesn’t help that a lot of people get mis-diagnosed with depression, including me, but the fact is…most people who are “depressed” do not have “depression.” To this day there are a lot of arguments regarding the criteria of depression, but with most of the doctors I have worked with, there is general agreement that the current criteria doesn’t work, so nothing in the medical community is settled on this topic.
For those of us who are not doctors, we often think of depression as a emotional state. Being “Depressed” is an emotional state, but clinical depression is an actual mental disorder. Just because you feel sad and lazy all day long, doesn’t mean you have clinical depression. It could be a symptom of a mental health issue, but for most of you, it’s just the result of bad choices you have made.
When someone commits suicide, a natural question we ask is: Why didn’t they just ask for help?
With clinical depression, the feeling of hopelessness and loneliness is so overwhelming, that it is damn near impossible. I know when someone is depressed when they have seemed sad for extended periods of time, but go out of their way to admitting it.
(here comes that fun part!)
On the flipside, I know when someone doesn’t have depression when they express how depressed they are. This includes doing it on social networks. I will never understand why people spew their personal business on twitter or facebook, but expressing yourself on one of those platforms and announcing your emotional state verifies that you are not clinically depressed. In fact, I have noticed that my friends who are clinically depressed, are more likely to use social networks as a way to spread happiness and to use it for fun. It’s an odd paradox, but if you think about it, Robin Williams did exactly the same thing.
I’m not saying people who express their sadness on facebook are not sad, in fact, I’m not even saying they don’t have mental health issues (they may still be suicidal, even!)…but those are cries for help. Depression doesn’t allow you to call for help, anymore than cancer will let you live. For those of you who express yourselves on social networks, if you really need or want help, turn to your loved ones and ask them directly, and you may have mental health issues that have gone undiagnosed. See a specialist, and get some help!
The point of all this…
I actually didn’t have a point. I just wanted to share my thoughts and feelings on this topic since it’s being discussed so heavily. I don’t know if any of this adds anything to the discussion, but I am hoping at least one person reads this who is in a bad situation – gets help.
The fact is, unless you have been through this directly, you will never understand – and if you do, it’s cause you’re a survivor and you know how dark the human mind can get. I only survived because of a friend, and by the grace of God. If you are a survivor, make sure to thank your friend every day.
For those of you who have been on the side where you have been impacted by suicide, your feelings about suicide are only natural. I have seen people say that “suicide is selfish.” In a way, I understand that perspective, especially since it can cause so much pain. It’s okay to be angry about it, and angry at the person who left this world. Don’t stop loving them though. Robin Williams, I love you man, you will never be forgotten.
Finally…I think as a culture we need to become more self aware of ourselves and each other. If you say you “love” someone, friend/family/other/etc. , make sure to ask them how they are doing on a regular basis. Make sure to spend time with them or somehow maintain contact with them over social networks. It has never been easier to reach out to people and communicate with them. People who have been diagnosed with clinical depression, or have depression as a symptom, will do everything they can to lock themselves away from the world. Don’t let them. Pull them out of their shell kicking and screaming.
Someday, we will fully understand the human mind, and we will be able to cure mental conditions like this. We can never cure sadness, nor should we, because it makes the good times seem that much better. Until that day comes, we will have more casualties. The best thing we can do is to take care of each other, tell each other “I love you,” and try to live life to the fullest.