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Let’s Talk About Depression and Mental Illness and Suicide and All That Fun Stuff


I was so sad yesterday to hear of Robin Williams’ death, and especially sad to hear that he’d been suffering from serious depression and that his death was the result of an apparent suicide. I can’t say I know what it feels like to have serious depression or to battle lifelong mental health issues, but I do know what it feels like to have simple, low-grade depression and that’s bad enough. And I know what it’s like to love someone who suffers from mental health disorders and that’s bad enough, too. I am so sorry for anyone who feels the way Robin Williams must have felt and thinks death is the only escape. I am so sorry that depression isn’t something we openly talk about very much in our society and that, on top of feeling so desperately sad, for lack of a better word (and I know it’s more than sadness), people who suffer from depression often feel alone and ashamed and like they have to hide what they’re going through.

I was depressed for a short period when I was 13 years old. I’ve never really talked about it with many people — I don’t think my family even knows — but when I was 13, I thought — very briefly — it might be better not to be alive. I remember taking a few — like four or five — Tylenol I found in the medicine cabinet and feeling very dramatic about everything. I wasn’t trying to end things. I was just trying to feel something. I think I was trying to feel like I had some kind of control over my situation.

My parents and sister and I were living in a hotel at the time. We’d just moved from Seoul, Korea, to Bremerhaven, Germany, and we spent nine months in a small hotel suite before we found a house to live in. I was homesick and lonely, and I missed my privacy. I shared a tiny room with my 6-year-old sister with a small bathroom that separated us from my parents’ tiny room. I didn’t have any friends yet, but, even as I met people, I couldn’t very well invite them to my home to hang out. So, I spent a lot of time alone. I had books, and I had movies. The front desk of the hotel was stocked with a bunch of VHS tapes, and one of my favorites from their selection was “Dead Poet’s Society.” I probably watched it on a weekly basis until I just about had it memorized. I loved Robin Williams’ character in the film and felt like he was speaking directly to me, through the TV screen in my little hotel room: be something. Find meaning in your life..

Summer came, my family moved into a house, and for the next two years the darkness was at bay. I was happy and had a lot of friends. And then we moved again and I felt that same sadness return. This time it was more like a soft buzzing sound. It didn’t paralyze me or anything, and in retrospect I can see that it was a low-grade depression. I was still productive — I played sports, was in school plays, made good grades, was active in a variety of school clubs, and had some friends (though not as many as before), but that buzzing was there.

In college, there was no buzzing. At least, not of the low-grade depression variety. I was happy and busy and stimulated and had lots of friends. Life was good. And then I graduated. And I couldn’t find a job and I didn’t really even know what I wanted to do with myself and most of my friends moved away and I was in my first serious relationship, which quickly became more complicated than I was emotionally prepared to handle. He broke up with me in the middle of January following my college graduation. I still hadn’t found a permanent job yet and I felt so… lost. It was the loneliest, darkest period of my life to date. I never considered suicide, but I could understand the appeal to someone who might feel all the time the way I felt in those few months. I could — and can — understand how someone might crave escape any way he or she could get it when escape from those feelings seems so elusive.

In retrospect, I wish I had gone to therapy. I wish I had spoken to someone. I know it would have made me feel better faster. But, I was lucky. Even without therapy, the darkness was very temporary. Winter ended, the fog lifted, my heart healed, and I moved on. Mine was more of a circumstantial depression, and not that kind that paralyzes a person. When my circumstances changed, so did my my mood and emotional well-being. People who suffer from clinical depression aren’t healed in the same way. They can’t just will themselves happy. They can’t just take a daily kickboxing class like I did and let all the endorphins do their thing. It doesn’t work like that.

Growing up, my family didn’t discuss things like depression or mental health disorders. I suspect that’s the truth for most families — even families who have cases of mental illness, like mine did. I didn’t know there was mental illness in my family when I was young and I’m not sure how much even the adults understood (we didn’t talk about it, remember). To my knowledge, there was never a diagnosis, but it was clear to me even as a child that a couple older relatives — my Grandpa Jack’s sister and their mother were… different (my great aunt especially).

My great-aunt Dee Dee and her mother, my great-grandma Eleanor, lived in a house together in a way that was very similar to Big and Little Edie Beale from “Grey Gardens,” minus all the cats and the fur coats and the rich and famous relatives. I remember visiting them as a child and not knowing where to sit. Where could I sit? There were stacks and stacks and stacks of magazines and newspapers and sweepstakes submission forms and just junk everywhere. There wasn’t a square inch of floor visible. And yet, when my great-aunt came to my grandparents’ home, I remember so clearly how upset my grandmother, who kept an immaculate home!, would get when Dee Dee would rub wet bars of soap over the toilet seat before using it. And then, when Great-Grandma Eleanor died, it got so much worse for Aunt Dee Dee. It got really, really bad. And still, there wasn’t a name for the bad. We didn’t say that she was mentally ill—at least, I never heard that term in reference to her—though by then, we must have all known she was.

Years later a very close younger family member was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and so much of my great-aunt’s behavior (and to an extent, her mother’s behavior, though I remember less of it) made sense to me. And seeing how much various treatments have helped this family member of mine has been revelatory, and, as grateful as I am that such help exists, I can’t help feeling sad for my aunt and for everyone else who doesn’t get a proper diagnosis and proper treatment (and even for those who do, because it’s still hard). How would my great-aunt’s life have been different if she’d gotten the help she needed? (And for the record, other family members tried to help her personally, and to get her help, for many years but they were unsuccessful). And even now, how would the life of my close family member with bipolar disorder be different and better if there was less stigma around mental illness and more understanding and acceptance and open dialogue? (It’s telling that I was asked not to refer to this person by name or specific relation to me to protect job security). How would your life be different? How would the lives of people you love be different? How would Robin Williams’ life have been different and better?

Because there is history of mental illness in my immediate family, I worry about my son. I have analyzed his behavior probably more than is healthy, trying to determine if he’s showing early signs of mental illness or if he’s just being a typical toddler. Having seen first-hand how challenging mental illness can be, not just for the people who suffer from it but also for the people who love them, I pray Jackson—and any other offspring in my extended family — will be spared. But I also hold out a lot of hope that those who suffer from mental illness now and in the future will have more and more resources to help them through it—that they will feel less alone, that there will be more research conducted and discussions had and treatment made available.

My family member shared this article with me this morning saying, “This describes depression pretty well,” and I’m sharing it now with all of you in case it helps someone. There are links at the end to additional articles and essays that may be helpful.

If you are someone who is suffering from depression or what you think could be a mental illness, or if you’ve had thoughts of suicide, please, please seek help. Here are a few resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
American Psychiatric Association
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

You aren’t alone. Help is available.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Addie Pray Addie Pray August 12, 2014, 12:03 pm

That sweet, sweet face. It’s so heartbreaking.

muchachaenlaventana muchachaenlaventana August 12, 2014, 12:10 pm

I have struggled with depression on and off during my adult life. For those who have never and are seeking to understand what it really feels like–this is the closest thing I have found to really explaining what it does to a lot of people and how they experience depression.

avatar stickelet August 12, 2014, 12:50 pm

I love this and her first blog on depression as well. http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html

It absolutely describes how depression can strike out of nowhere and you have no idea why

muchachaenlaventana muchachaenlaventana August 12, 2014, 2:24 pm

Yeah I like the second a bit better because it goes in to the way depression feels and suicidal thoughts and how those feel during depression–its just this will not to exist more than anything. Her first post is also really good though, for the reasons you described.

avatar HmC August 12, 2014, 2:13 pm

I love love LOVE hyperbole and a half. That post is funny and simultaneously so heartbreakingly sad.

avatar Em August 12, 2014, 5:03 pm

This. And..

I’m not sure if this is how everyone else feels necessarily, but depression for me is more about a lack of feeling than feeling particularly bad. Numbness and apathy. It’s like, you know when you go to the dentist and they numb your mouth and it hurts because you can’t feel anything? It’s that, but inside. And sometimes you do crazy things, like drugs or cut yourself or make risky decisions because you want to feel SOMETHING so desperately, whether that be pain or heartbreak or adrenaline. Just anything. And sometimes when that stuff doesn’t work–which it frequently doesn’t–you start to think that maybe it’d be easier to give in to the numbness, the nothingness, rather than trying to fight it. I’ve been there before, and strangely enough, my lack of motivation to do anything was what kept me from taking it to the next step. Of course, this is not always the case.

It’s sad to hear someone else fall victim to this mood disorder. Williams has been one of my favorite actors since I was a small child, and while I had some notion that he suffered, I didn’t know it was to this extent.

avatar stickelet August 12, 2014, 8:14 pm

Yes this. If I am not feeling overwhelmingly sad, I am feeling nothing. I don’t care about anything. I won’t be able to decide what to eat, so I just don’t eat. And I totally understand about trying to feel something by doing things that aren’t healthy. Hope you are feeling well Em.

avatar MsMisery August 13, 2014, 8:34 am

Yes to this also. For me it is a complete lack of motivation. I know there are certain changes I need to make in my life which would probably improve my lot and make me happier, but…. meh. Can’t be arsed. Can’t even get off the COUCH let alone go back to school or research apartments or serious adult life stuff. Every single day is the same and in a way that’s easier although it means every day in the same gray fog of blah where it would be comforting to just be abducted by aliens or otherwise blink out of existence, Left Behind style.

Amanda Amanda August 12, 2014, 12:18 pm

I don’t talk about it much. But I’ve battled depression. I’ve even had suicidal thoughts several times – though none for the past 4 years. And the absolute worst part is feeling so cripplingly alone. If there were more open dialogue, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to reach out for help. And to not feel like everyone would abandon me when I needed it most. There really does need to be more talk and light shed on it.

kare kare August 12, 2014, 12:26 pm

I really needed this today. Thank you, Wendy. I’m very fortunate to have a family that recognizes mental illness. Unfortunately, my brother is a war veteran and the treatment for mental illness is subpar. He’s been diagnosed with MDD, IED, PTSD, and a small case of OCD. Therapy isn’t really offered in the capacity that he needs. He is also a drug addict who, in retrospect, self medicated long before he was in the war. All the VA offers him is medications that don’t work because his tolerance is incredibly high. After a near overdose and arrest, he explained to his doctors he can’t take any habit forming medication. They offer it to him every time he goes to talk to someone about his recurring nightmares and flashbacks, so he’s stopped going altogether. Hopefully a tragedy like this will move people to reexamine the current systems in place.

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy August 12, 2014, 12:31 pm

I’m so sorry there isn’t better care offered your brother and all war vets. Getting them the help they need and deserve should be a top priority in our country.

avatar stickelet August 12, 2014, 12:34 pm

I’ve struggled off and on with depression for as long as I can remember. It is terrible. I know I have many family members and friends who would help me in a heartbeat if they could, but almost no one knows about my struggles because they are hard to talk about and for those that do, it’s hard to know how to help (and I don’t think I could articulate how to help either). Also I tend to keep my emotions bottled, and I think that is true for a lot of depressed people.
I’ve never taken meds but I have been in counseling a number of times and it has helped. Sometimes my depression is circumstantial and sometimes it’s not. I think that’s the worst part, when it strikes for no reason. I have so many things to be happy for and yet I am so, so, unbelievably sad.
Mental illness runs rampant through my family and it makes me nervous about having children, especially combined with my epilepsy diagnosis. But I’m not even dating so I don’t have to make any decisions about that for a while.
I’m hopefully on the upswing at the moment of a bad bout with depression. Things are looking up and I have some things to look forward to as well. For anyone who is struggling, know that you are not alone. Reach out to a friend or family member or hotline. People want to help.

avatar rocketgirl August 12, 2014, 12:35 pm

I work with people with severe mental illness and see everyday how much they are shoved aside daily. The limits of treatment and the lack of options are appalling. And seeing what happens to someone like Robin Williams shows it isn’t just a bad mood or not having enough money or friends or family. It is something entwined in our brains that requires help to master. And even help and support, are not always enough. Kare – I know the VA does some work with EMDR(a form of therapy aimed at PTSD) maybe your brother can request that or find a therapist that does. There is an EMDR practice here in Portland and if you go on the national EMDR website, you can find practitioners in other areas. Thank you for writing this today, Wendy – your insight and words are always healing.

thatswhat-she Meg August 12, 2014, 12:39 pm

I’m another who has battled depression and anxiety on and off for years- although nothing compared to what Robin Williams seems to have endured. Other than my husband and a couple close friends (ie, the friends who have dealt with similar issues), I really don’t talk about it at all. Most people would never know. I did end up in the ER once with my first official panic attack, but since that was right after I had broken both hands and was on Vicodin, it was easy to frame it as an isolated incident.
For me, it’s not that I think friends and family would judge me for dealing with these things- I just hate being felt sorry for. That said, I do think it would be helpful to out myself at least to my doctor (once I get one… another thing that’s probably anxiety-related, lol). It’s just exhausting to manage all of it on my own, even at a low-grade nuisance level.

avatar MsMisery August 12, 2014, 12:39 pm

Even though I didn’t know about Robin’s issues, part of me wasn’t surprised when I found out he’d been struggling with depression. As mentioned in the article Wendy linked to, many depressed people hide it very well, even from those closest to them. I know I do. I am not sure if part of this is the stigma attached, or just the personal nature of one’s mental health, or if we just don’t want everyone fretting over us… It also doesn’t help that there are still people out there who don’t think depression is a thing or that you should be able to just smile your way out of the sad.

avatar Anonymous August 12, 2014, 12:44 pm

I’ve battled depression for a while now. It’s up and down. I can go years seeming normal, graduating from law school and then working an intense job. But through everything there is this undercurrent of not being good enough. And once in awhile I can feel extreme despair and desperation. Sometimes it lasts for a couple hours, other times a couple days, a couple times it’s lasted for months and it gets worse and
My family has been great in the sense they’re supportive but my mom still thinks depression can be conquered by exercising regularly and thinking happy thoughtsThere are triggers to making me feel worse which is usually me downward comparing myself to others. Facebook is the devil for someone like me.

avatar MsMisery August 12, 2014, 12:52 pm

My father doesn’t understand depression, mental illness, or addiction issues AT ALL. He thinks you should be able to just “change your mind” or stop doing it or something. Makes it really, really hard to discuss my own thoughts.

Diablo Diablo August 12, 2014, 12:47 pm

Mental illness affects something like one in three households, yet it is still socially stigmatized and not talked about. It is still treated as something blameworthy, and people living with depression are still routinely told by otherwise smart and compassionate people to suck it up and deal. I was a confirmed fan of Robin’s from the first time I saw him on “Happy Days.” (Mork from Ork engaged in a “coolness powers” duel with Fonzie, and obvs lost, but it led to his own show.) He had one of the fastest and zaniest minds ever in comedy, and probably no one could improvise verbally as well or fast as he could. I have an early album on which he improvises a “Shakespearean” play based on audience suggestions. You ask yourself how someone who was beloved by millions, acclaimed, rich, could feel so bad. M and i were talking yesterday about how many artists we love have killed themselves: Spalding Gray, Hunter Thompson, David Foster Wallace (my favourite writer), Robin. The list could go on. I’ve personally known a few more, most notably a good friend from high school who ended his life three weeks before graduation. He was smart and funny, and we used to write inane movies on the bus home. “Spiderman vs Elvis” still stands out in my mind. M worked for a few years for the local mental health association, and we learned that there are no easy answers. The suffering is real, and the stigma makes people with mental illness hate themselves even more for being “weak.” For those of you out there living with depression or bipolar disorder (or other conditions), I won’t demean your struggle with anything glib today. I hope that you can stay strong, find people to talk to and feel support from, and that you can live to see a better day tomorrow.

avatar Tikka August 12, 2014, 12:58 pm

This really touches home for me. I’m a longtime lurker and thought I’d share my story. Last month, my brother committed suicide. He was only 28. Like Robin Williams and many others who have shared their experiences here, my brother suffered from depression. The last 5 years had been rough for him, from layoffs to money issues and everything in between. No matter what he did, things just didn’t seem to get any better for him. I knew that he was dealing with depression, but I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten. After his death, my mom and I learned from a friend of his that he had attempted suicide at least twice before. In hindsight, I should have seen the signs because I battle depression myself and have had suicidal thoughts. It’s definitely been an eye opener, so I’m getting help for my issues. I miss my brother so much and wish he would’ve reached out to me or just anybody, but I now realize that he had reached the point where he was tired of battling his demons and tired of being in pain.

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy August 12, 2014, 1:05 pm

I am so, so sorry for your loss. And I’m glad to hear you are getting help not just to deal with your own issues but hopefully to help you process the loss of your brother. What a tragedy.

Diablo Diablo August 12, 2014, 1:05 pm

So sorry for your loss. Take care of yourself.

beelzebarb beelzebarb August 12, 2014, 1:51 pm

I’m so sorry for your loss. My sister committed suicide almost 2 years ago. Please feel free to email me if you ever need to talk about it blhill81@gmail.com. Hugs to you and yours!

avatar Tikka August 12, 2014, 2:23 pm

Thanks, Wendy and Diablo. And beezlebarb, you shall be hearing from me soon!

beelzebarb beelzebarb August 13, 2014, 1:17 am

Any time, hon. I can’t say I know how you feel because nobody ever can, but I do know how hard it is. I’m here. DW is a great place to find people who’ve been there and can help. I speak from experience. Thanks Wendy! I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

avatar missliss August 12, 2014, 6:45 pm

I am also so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine the pain. Wishing you peace!

Nookie Nookie August 13, 2014, 7:41 am

Oh I’m so sorry… My heart goes out to you and your family.

Portia Portia August 12, 2014, 1:02 pm

Debilitating depression and other mental illness runs in Bassanio’s family and I know it’s affected him from the outside. It’s difficult knowing someone is in such profound pain and not being able to do much about it except get them the resources they need. Combating the sigma that so exists in our culture around mental illness and even around asking for help with depression will go a long way in getting people the resources they really need.
A few years ago, my sister started having panic attacks. It turned out that most of it was a reaction to changes in her medication for an unrelated medical issue, but she spent an entire summer dealing with it alone. I think of her having to go through that alone and it makes me sad that she couldn’t feel like she could tell anyone.

bittergaymark bittergaymark August 12, 2014, 1:06 pm

It’s sad, very sad. Tragic. But it’s all so textbook the media/ public reaction. “Oh, he was so brilliant!” “Oh, we loved him!” “Oh, and now he was tortured, too!” “Oh, the humanity!”
I mean — we, as a society — glamorize suicide and mental illness. RELENTLESSLY SO. Of course, nobody is there to help you — when you REALLY need it. Where were they for Mr Williams? But the minute you kill yourself the whole world fucking loves you. And FINALLY — you rule Twitter… And the world waits breathlessly for what Mr Beiber has to say about your death.

Meanwhile, in real life — his last TV show bombed. I don’t even remember his last films. The last one I saw was a dreary flick involving a camper six or seven years ago where his talents were completely squandered by a feeble script. Oh, and he was reduced to signing for what was sure to be a shitty sequel — one I am sure he had ZERO interest in doing to pay the bills. (MRS DOUBTFIRE 2) But now that he’s dead — EVERYBODY loves him. Two days ago? Eh, not so much…
It’s hollow. It’s false. It’s empty. It’d predictable.

And it’s gonna happen again. And again. And again.

something random something random August 12, 2014, 1:18 pm

I agree that his talent has not been seen much these last few years. But I do think his work touched a lot of people. I’ve never met Robin Williams and I don’t confuse publicity with the reality of his life. He apparently has people who love him who are truly grieving. But I’m sorry I won’t get to see him act again. He still had the ability to draw me into watching a show or movie. It’s a shame there isn’t more out there for maturing talented actors and roles seem to go to the next big name.

avatar MissDre August 12, 2014, 1:19 pm

I do get what you’re saying, and I have often thought the same about other celebrities that have passed away… Not just celebrities but regular people do. So-and-So was an asshole and drug dealer in life but as soon as he’s murdered in a drug deal gone wrong he’s suddenly “such an incredible person and was just the nicest kindest man and how could this ever happen?” (true story in my neighbourhood). We idolize the good in people when they pass, because we realize we’ll no longer get to experience that good going forward.
I just wanted to say though, that I have always REALLY really liked Robin Williams. And I am very sad that he has passed. It doesn’t matter if his career started to slide in later years or that he wasn’t talked about day to day. He was still incredibly talented (in my eyes) and I feel like he deserves every bit of this attention.
And you’re right. We glamorize mental illness when a celebrity passes, and yet not enough is done to help people on a day to day basis.

avatar HmC August 12, 2014, 2:37 pm

You get ever more dramatic and irrational reaching for any way to find negativity in anything. People are responding positively to someone that touched their lives in a positive way, even sharing their deeply personal stories. Whether that was years ago or recently, what does it matter? He was still a beloved and successful figure even if his last TV show “flopped”. Your never-ending battle cry against the entire world is exhausting just to read.

avatar HmC August 12, 2014, 2:39 pm

Also, speaking of PREDICTABLE REACTIONS… 😛

bittergaymark Bittergaymark August 12, 2014, 3:03 pm

You missed my point completely. Which was… it’d sure be great if people gave a rip about the depressed when they were still alive… rather than glamorize them once they’re dead. Maybe.. gee… i dunno… Less people would kill themselves.

The same people who never lift a finger to help the depressed are somehow often the very first to frantically type away with those same fingers on Facebook once the blood is spilled.

avatar lets_be_honest August 12, 2014, 3:10 pm

I don’t like glamorizing death and agree that often happens, as does people ignoring folks while they are alive and then posting all over fb about what great friends they were after they die. However, I highly doubt this man was not shown love and attention while he was alive, even in recent months. He probably received more attention and “people giving a rip” about him in one month as I have in my entire life.

avatar TECH August 12, 2014, 3:22 pm

I agree with what Mark is saying to an extent. When Cory Monteith died last summer he was all over the news for a few weeks, and there were renewed calls for people to pay attention to drug addiction. Now with Robin Williams’ passing, there will be renewed calls for suicide prevention. It feels disingenuous because the media will move on in a couple weeks.
Our culture has an odd fixation with celebrity. We act like we know these people, and we really do not know them at all.

avatar snarkymarc August 12, 2014, 10:43 pm

BGM: We don’t really know how his family and friends were trying to help. Many of them probably tried everything they could think of and are now racked with guilt. What’s worse is that a number of folks here have shared that close loved ones have killed themselves. I’m sure they all struggle with what could have been. We don’t need to pile on them.

avatar MissDre August 12, 2014, 1:08 pm

Add me to the list of those who have suffered from severe depression and anxiety attacks. I think one of the hardest parts (besides the horrible feels of depression) is feeling like nobody understands and nobody can help. Even when you WANT to talk about it, your friends just keep trying to offer solutions to cheer you up (you just need to have a positive attitude!) and it makes you feel angry and lonely and alone that nobody can understand.
And when your friends and family get tired of trying to help, tired of the negativity, eventually they begin drift away from you because your depression becomes a very difficult burden on them, and it makes you feel that much more unlovable. You start to wish that you didn’t exist. That you could just fall asleep and never wake up.
The ONLY thing that helped me was a professional medical intervention. The RIGHT Medication. A good therapist. Weekly checkups with the doctor. Parents that picked me up when I couldn’t cope anymore and had to drop all responsibilities.
Seriously. If you’re feeling like you’re being sucked into the black hole of despair, get professional help.

Amanda Amanda August 12, 2014, 1:11 pm

I wish I had learned earlier to get professional help. At 13 when I tried to talk about it with my mom, she told me that it upset her and she couldn’t handle it. When you hear *that* at 13, it makes it hard as hell to reach out to anyone else.

FireStar FireStar August 12, 2014, 1:56 pm

I have someone I care about who was suffering from a pain on his left side and fatigue and just a general feeling of being ‘off’ and he was diagnosed with having an anxiety attack but when I talked to him there wasn’t anything in particular he was worried about or stressing over – like a divorce or a move or his job. He is not really one to talk about his feelings oh so much – how can I help him? He wants to feel better – but he doesn’t really know how since talk therapy wouldn’t really speak to someone like him. He is usually the smartest person in the room whatever room he is in…are there meds that can help or is it usually combined with some sort of cognitive therapy?

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy August 12, 2014, 2:10 pm

There are definitely meds that can help but they have to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional he is willing to talk to. Even if talk therapy isn’t his thing, he has to be able to open up at least enough to gauge what medication (and how much of it) might help him.

FireStar FireStar August 12, 2014, 2:20 pm

Thanks. It’s just hard for me to understand how everything on the outside is right in his life but internally it just isn’t. And that is just the truth of it – no matter what the outside looks like, he is still dealing with something so severe that he has physical manifestations of it. I know even telling me he was feeling this way wasn’t easy for him. But if it is something chemical going on in his brain and drugs can allay his symptoms and help him to feel more relaxed and at peace then that is something I can definitely talk to him about.

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy August 12, 2014, 2:24 pm

It’s hard to understand, but it’s an illness, like cancer or diabetes or any other illness. This one just has so much stigma attached to it. I’m no expert, of course, but I know that just as other illnesses are managed with treatment, so is depression (and other mental illnesses). I have seen a marked difference in my loved one when on medication vs. when not on medication. Good luck to your friend.

avatar MissDre August 12, 2014, 2:49 pm

Re: marked difference… Yes in the past when I’ve stopped taking my medication because I felt like I didn’t need it anymore, my mom always knows. She could always tell that I was sliding within a week or two.
And I’ve had panic attacks in the past seemingly over nothing. I’d be walking down the street and then all of a sudden I couldn’t breathe, then I’d be hyperventilating, then the tears would come, then I’d start sobbing and become paralyzed, and not be able to snap out of it. If someone asked what was wrong, I wouldn’t even know.
I used to take a specific medication for anxiety which thankfully I don’t need anymore. But I still take my antidepressant.

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy August 12, 2014, 3:01 pm

Yes, I have seen panic attacks like you describe. Exactly like you describe. It’s scary as the observer, so I can only imagine what it must feel like for the person experiencing it. (Although I have had what I think is pretty close to a panic attack when I have felt really claustrophobic or had a bad driving experience).

possumgirl possumgirl August 12, 2014, 4:09 pm

Such a trap isn’t it? Start meds-4 weeks later: “I feel pretty good now. Maybe it was just a passing thing and it was going to get better on it’s own and now I’m taking all these meds that I don’t really need.” Stops meds- 4 weeks later: “Huh. I feel really sh*!!y now. Maybe I should stop taking all this life.”

gigi gigi August 12, 2014, 2:57 pm

Yes to marked difference – I can tell when my son has skipped meds too many days (or when he stays at his dad’s too long, they dont give him his pills consistently). I can see it on his face, & its scary. I start hiding all the pills & all knives or sharp objects & the shotgun go under my mattress or at work with me.

FireStar FireStar August 12, 2014, 3:43 pm

Thanks for this. Thanks for this post actually. I did a little research and emailed my friend some links to see if any spoke to him and we’ve been emailing back and forth and I think he is open to speaking with a mental health professional to find out exactly what the deal with him…I get that there is no quick fix but I’m glad he is open to starting the process now instead of just suffering. If nothing else I’m sure Robin Williams opened up discussions like this everywhere today. Hopefully people will take this reawakening of this discussion to heart and will seek out help for them selves and their loved ones. This post certainly encouraged me to.

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy August 12, 2014, 3:54 pm

So glad to hear this. Thanks, FireStar.

something random something random August 12, 2014, 1:11 pm

I think this article is such a poignant and positive way to direct the grief over the untimely death of Robin Williams. I keep thinking about the the last role I saw him play- himself going to a funeral in an episode of Louie. I also keep thinking about “What dreams may come” where he dies and watches his wife from an afterlife. She commits suicide. The storyline is unique but what is really beautiful about the film is cinematography. I watch it whenever I feel compelled to see beautiful imagery.

Mental Illness is all around us. I’m glad so many people now have the internet to at least connect to others who may also be suffering. I’m grateful for all the efforts and resources and solid personalities out there. Thank you, Wendy. This forum and open sharing is kind and sweet.

Kate Kate August 12, 2014, 1:13 pm

I’ve had that kind of depression you talked about, Wendy, when I was younger. I don’t anymore, but sometimes I do feel like something must be wrong with me, because I really don’t want to be here, living life, but I feel like I just have to keep showing up. I don’t want to kill myself, or hurt my parents and husband that way, but I do wish I hadn’t been born. And I think that’s part of why I don’t want kids. I don’t want to be here, so I’m not going to drag someone else into it too. And I don’t think any amount of therapy would help me “get over” this. It’s who I am.

I think a lot of the issue is that our society puts this huge value on being POSITIVE!!! You’re supposed to be like YAY! And want a family and a house and whatever else everyone is supposed to want, and it just all seems like a huge bore to me. But you can’t talk about it, because you’re not buying into the huge positive AMERICAN DREAM. I don’t know, fuck it.

avatar snarkymarc August 12, 2014, 10:38 pm

Kate, This is probably silly and meaningless to you, but I really enjoy your comments and insight. I’m glad you exist.

Kate Kate August 13, 2014, 9:08 am

Oh, thanks Marc! I appreciate that.

Lianne Lianne August 13, 2014, 11:21 am

ME TOO! And we’ve discussed the thoughts you bring up above and you already know how I feel. I don’t think everyone has to “buy in to the American Dream,” as you say. It’s about what makes life meaningful to YOU. Maybe you just haven’t figured that all out yet.

avatar Rangerchic August 12, 2014, 1:18 pm

I absolutely adored Robin Williams and I am so sad he took his own life.

I have never suffered from depression and I used to be one of those people who didn’t get it (like can’t you do something to overcome it??). Until my oldest daughter got depression. She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Once she was diagnosed, everything she and the rest of us were going through (it was hard on the entire family) fell into place.

I still do not understand depression. Unless you go through it I’m not sure anyone can. I am much more empathetic and don’t just brush it off anymore and try to help my daughter in anyway I can, but I don’t understand the feelings that one suffers. I have read the hyperboleandahalf mentioned above…I thought that really help me get a grip on what someone goes through. I try to find out as much as possible to help my daughter, to better understand. I just wish there was more scientific understanding as well to better help anyone going through it.

gigi gigi August 12, 2014, 1:45 pm

This is so hard for me to read… all of you sharing about your pain & struggles. But you are talking & sharing! Thats a good thing. Men (& boys) do not do this as much, & also have a higher suicide rate. IT hurts my heart that we live in a culture where males cannot reach out, talk through things & ask for help. I project a lot of this onto my son, & I am so scared for him. It would absolutely destroy me if he did kill himself. He is on medication & I have taken him to several different counselors & therapists, but he refuses to talk. So….. we muscle on. But I am terrified of what lies in store for him. Every mother wants her child to find happiness, I can only hope that mine will someday.

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy August 12, 2014, 1:55 pm

Oof, that’s really hard. I hope your son finds the happiness you dream for him, too!

avatar snarkymarc August 12, 2014, 10:48 pm

Gigi, For me the worse part of being a male was learning to swallow all of my feeling and now often being completely confused about my emotions. It sounds like you are doing all the right things by your son (and daughter, if I remember correctly). I hope at the end of most days you appreciate what you do for your children.

muchachaenlaventana muchachaenlaventana August 12, 2014, 2:01 pm

I have tried to post on this twice…including a link in my post which is why it maybe didn’t work? I have struggled with depression on and off my adult life. This is very sad but after a lifelong struggle I can see how at 63 your reasons for not comitting suicide aren’t as important or don’t make as much sense as they did at 23…not to be totally morbid but having had thoughts of suicide some of the reasons you don’t are more to do with how other people will feel, but after 50 years of thinking of that, I can see how after awhile and nothing ever getting better none of that seems to matter anymore.
The link I tried to include was to Hyperbole and a Half’s Understanding Depressing Part Two–if you have ever watched someone you love really struggle with depression but never have yourself, this is a must read and sums up so well how depression can and does really feel to a vast majority of people.

muchachaenlaventana muchachaenlaventana August 12, 2014, 2:02 pm

So everyone: google “Hyperbole and a Half Understanding Depression Part 2”

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy August 12, 2014, 2:11 pm

I found your earlier comment in the spam folder for some reason and approved it, so your link is working upthread.

muchachaenlaventana muchachaenlaventana August 12, 2014, 2:32 pm

Thanks! Saw that above. I thought I was losing it for a moment.

avatar HmC August 12, 2014, 2:17 pm

This post is a beautiful testament to Robin Williams’ life and his struggle. Thank you Wendy. I hope anyone out there suffering knows they are not alone and they are not beyond hope. The fact that someone so entirely successful and beloved could not see or appreciate it says a lot about how deep mental illness runs. Rest in peace to a good soul.

avatar TMD260 August 12, 2014, 2:33 pm

I suffer from Anxiety/Panic disorder & I can definitely agree it is stigmatized. I’ve heard it all from “just breathe into a paper bag” or “just calm down”… Luckily, my parents are supportive & so is my boyfriend (who takes the brunt of my anxiety many times).

I actually recently had an incident at work with my supervisor who made a comment directed to me that made me anxious & I repeatedly asked him to stop discussing it. He continued & got everyone else that was in the meeting involved. Instant panic overcame me, I removed myself from the meeting & went to HR (this supervisor & I have butted heads before) . I explained to them that while many people may take those comments lightly, it made me uncomfortable & I repeatedly asked him to stop & he didn’t. I let them know about my anxiety & they essentially told me they would speak to him regarding the way he addresses employees, that I had every right to feel this way. Come Monday (yesterday), they called me into a meeting with him & essentially told me that I was “too sensitive” & need to learn how to be a little more thick skinned. I understand business is business & no one cares about personal issues, but I felt my anxiety was completely turned around on me negatively & felt even more ridiculous for sharing that I suffer from it.

As for Robin Williams, I am sad because he was my childhood. I grew up on his movies & even though he hadn’t done anything to reflect his talents recently, to me, it hit home. I have seen his stand up & truly believe he is one of the great, genuine talents of our time. RIP Robbie.

FireStar FireStar August 12, 2014, 2:40 pm

I’m sorry that happened to you. I’m an employer and I can’t imagine being that obtuse. What is the point of HR if not to educate on these matters. Is there anyone else up the food chain in HR you can speak to – even in a I want to clarify Company policy when it comes to X – because I was told to have a thicker skin? At the very least – any issue that would cause you to be singled out shouldn’t be discussed in a group setting in any case.

avatar TMD260 August 12, 2014, 3:03 pm

Thank you for the advice! I will definitely look into discussing what it says in the employee handbook…I guess the next up would be the VP of HR, not sure how willing she’d be to discuss this?

Either way I am looking for another job. This isn’t a job I was planning on staying at, I just recently finished school. I was also discussing what happened with a friend of mine who is also HR & she agrees this situation was not handled appropriately. I just really want to find another job!

Again, thank you!

avatar TMD260 August 12, 2014, 3:10 pm

Forgot to add that my supervisor denied saying anything directed towards me. He completely lied & his lie was believed, but that’s a whole other issue.

mylaray mylaray August 12, 2014, 2:33 pm

I resonated with so much of this. I’ve struggled with depression off and on my whole life. I’ve gone through stages of severe depression and I work really hard to get myself to a point of peace within myself. My husband has also struggled with this. Before we met, he had made a serious attempt that left him unable to walk for several months and the results of that attempt still affects him physically.
I also struggle with having family history. We both have a relative with schizophrenia (in fact his relative is in prison for life relating to that) and several other relatives with severe issues. It makes us hesitant in wanting a child. Then we think that one will be plenty and keep our hands full. We’re both really proactive about taking care of our mental health for ourselves, each other, and our future family.
Also, having struggled with mental health issues, I’ve been able to see how they truly affect the rest of your body. I’ve had other physical issues crop up as a result of my mental health lacking at times. I really wish there was less of a stigma for everyone.

avatar SasLinna August 12, 2014, 2:48 pm

I loved what you wrote here, Wendy. I have mostly been spared from mental illness – apart from some anxiety issues and occasional situational depression – but several family members and friends have been affected by it and it’s just hard. Also loved the links some commenters posted on the nature of depression.

avatar Lily in NYC August 12, 2014, 3:15 pm

I also don’t think people realize the incredible biological link for heart surgery and depression. It’s very, very common and can cause suicidal ideation. When the patient has the additional whammy of having suffered from depression in the past, it is even more likely to occur. Doctors don’t think it’s caused by the emotional stress of having heart disease, but more that it’s a common physical reaction to the actual surgery.

The poor guy. I’m so sad for him and his family.

avatar CattyGoLightly August 12, 2014, 3:19 pm

My brother killed himself almost 6 years ago, and thank you for writing about it and having a place for people to discuss it! I agree that mental illness and depression and suicide are all topics that are not talked about enough, and you have a lot of exposure, so THANK YOU!

Dear Wendy Dear Wendy August 12, 2014, 3:25 pm

I’m so sorry about your brother.

mandalee mandalee August 12, 2014, 3:32 pm

Thank you for writing this Wendy. I was so shocked yesterday when I heard the news. My friends and I were just randomly talking about how Robin Williams was pretty much the man during our childhood on Friday when we were hanging out and were quoting lines from all of our favorite movies of his. It was so eerily and depressing see the news just a few days later.
I worry about depression a lot, since it runs very strong on both sides of my family, especially the men in my mom’s side. I’ve lost 2 uncles and 3 cousins to suicide. Depression wasn’t seen as something that was okay for a man to talk about in my family, they had a very crying is for wussies outlook in the older generations. My brother definitely has an undiagnosed mental illness, but everyone turns a blind eye to it. It’s really scary to watch and I try to offer support/encouragement/a shoulder over and over, but I feel like giving up sometimes. I won’t admit this to family, but a big reason I was anxious to move away from home when I was younger, was how traumatic it was to watch someone battle something so awful and feel helpless because to everyone else, he was just in a “bad mood”.
As sad as Robin Williams death is, maybe there will be some greater good to come out if in the conversation about depression and there can be an increase in support for those suffering and a lessening of the stigma attached to mental illness.

avatar Scooze August 12, 2014, 4:09 pm

Anyone who is suffering from depression, bipolar, or other mental illnesses can get help from NAMI at http://www.nami.org! NAMI is a national organization that advocates for, and provides services to, those who suffer from mental illness.

There are NAMI chapters in all major metropolitan areas as well as many smaller cities and towns. My family and I received excellent support to deal with my mother (who is schizophrenic). If you also have a family member that suffers from mental illness, I strongly suggest that you look into a Family-to-Family class in your area. They generally run once a week for 12 weeks. It is absolutely the best thing you can do to learn about the causes and treatment of brain disorders as well as coping mechanisms, boundary-setting and general empathy for your loved one. I taught the class myself for five years.

And for those who are suffering themselves, NAMI offers classes for you too. They call people with illness “Consumers” because you consume their services. The term is meant to help defray the stigma of mental illness. Classes for consumers are also offered. All of NAMI’s services are free of charge.

NAMI also does many other wonderful things like train police officers in how to de-escalate situations to ensure safety for all involved, they advocate for better resources and laws that allow for better care.

Please don’t hesitate to find your local office and learn about their services.

possumgirl possumgirl August 12, 2014, 4:26 pm

I’m bipolar and struggle with the stigma a lot. It’s hard to know who to trust and who merely finds gossip material in the sensationalism of my status as a certified nutjob. (FYI- I like being a nutjob). Being diagnosed and starting meds was the best thing that ever happened to me. 7 years later, and I cannot imagine being that person whose life was always spinning out of control, up or down, back to front.

For those of you dealing with a diagnosis and new meds, I have to recommend the crazymeds site. (not putting the link so it doesn’t get spammed out, use the googs). There is a lot of GREAT information about all the different meds available, including side effects and ways to cope or mitigate them. The forums are packed with people dealing with similar issues who can provide support. Navigating mental illness and the medication roulette is hard, but there are resources to help. Find them and use them, it’s what they’re there for.

possumgirl possumgirl August 12, 2014, 4:33 pm

In case it makes it through the spam filter:

“Crazymeds is the site for the obsessed and depressed, the manic and the panicked, the schizophrenic and epileptic, the migraineurs and bipolar, those with GAD, SAD, OCD, PTSD, in pain or have an otherwise non-standard brain”

avatar missliss August 12, 2014, 8:28 pm

What a powerful read. I empathize with everyone suffering from depressions and/or other mental illnesses. There are a number of people in my family who have also suffered from depression among other things, and boy is it a tough position to watch. I had little bouts of what I thought was depression in my adolescence but it came and went. Then, last year I was suffering extreme chronic pain, and I experienced what clinical depression is. Studying psych, I always understood what it is intellectually, but wasn’t prepared for it in my own life. It was so consuming, I didn’t get out of bed for 2 months. I had zero interest in anything life had to offer. I had suicidal thoughts that were so matter-of-fact, like “of course I won’t live in this much pain forever, I’ll figure out how to end it.” In fact, that time was so dark I don’t even remember it all now. I guess what I’m saying is for me depression was way beyond sadness and such a pure lack of interest in life. I have such an appreciation for anyone battling that. Please seek help anyone still in that darkness.

Miss MJ Miss MJ August 12, 2014, 9:29 pm

Work kept me away from DW since this morning, but this essay and the comments really resonated with me. Robin Williams’ suicide has unnerved me so much. I have battled serious depression for the last 20 years. I’m functional on the outside, but on the inside – yeah, no. My husband and my mom’s side of the family really don’t understand it. They love me, they want me to be happy, but they don’t “get” it, you know? My dad’s side understands it all too well. I’m not as bad off as some of them, but mental illness runs in his side of the family. The genetic factor is one of the reasons I chose not to have children. It’s hard enough being this way and being able to function (or “function”); I couldn’t bear to watch my child go through the same thing or worse. What finally helped me is that after years of racing thoughts, self-hatred, panic, mood swings, depression, eating disorders, thoughts of harming myself (and, yeah, attempts) and after countless years of therapy, daily meditation and yogaing until I ached to no avail, I finally gave in and sought actual medication. Very recently, in fact. I should have done it two decades ago. So, to anyone who is suffering and hasn’t tried medicine, or hasn’t tried a different medicine, please do. It’s been a godsend. I’m still “me.” I’m not numb or a zombie and I still feel. I still have emotions. But, they’re balanced and (I hate this word, but it can’t come up with another one) “normal.” The constant refrain (or buzzing, as Wendy put it), has stopped. And it’s wonderful. It took some trial and error to manage the side effects, but they have been managed well. I haven’t gained weight. I still have a sex drive. Nobody ever posts online that they had no debilitating side effects, because why bother, right. Point is, there is a solution out there. Maybe not a perfect one, but it can be better. Reach out, talk to someone, even if they don’t know what to say, they can still help. We’re not really alone, even though we feel like it.

Nookie Nookie August 13, 2014, 8:00 am

I think the one positive out of all of this is the fact that so many people are talking about mental health now.. I can see Mark’s point about media’s quick attention span and how callous it can be, but isn’t the point that we are discussing it? How many people are better off from knowing that they’re not alone and that there can be other options if they can see them? That there is help and they can grasp for it?
Count me in the numbers of people who suffer. It’s not an easy thing to talk about even with all the support in the world but it helps me (and I’m sure all of you) to know that I’m not alone in it. Sometimes it feels like a huge weight that crushes me but I can see that it doesn’t have to isolate me if I don’t let it.

avatar d2 August 13, 2014, 8:59 am

One of the best general-audience books I have read is Richard O’Connor’s “Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You”. He is a psychotherapist that has suffered with depression all of his life. In his introduction, he suggests that even mental health professionals cannot fully grasp depression if they have never experienced it themselves. As someone who suffers from depression, I found his descriptions to be right on, and his advice to be helpful.

avatar Sue Jones August 13, 2014, 11:03 pm

My stepson suffers from bipolar disorder, pretty severely. Meds control it, but he doesn’t like to stay on his meds because he likes the mania. He is 22 so as parents we can’t do anything to force him to stay on his meds, yet everytime he goes off them he suffers a bad depression each winter and we have to spend $$$$$ to get him out of it. I see the writing on the wall, sadly, that without sticking with proper treatment he will most likely succumb to his illness. We try but it has been very difficult and he shuts us out when he is depressed. The only way to force treatment is if he is in imminent danger to himself or others at that very moment. Mental health laws are inadequate, to say the least.