Robin Williams and the Brutal Fight Against Suicidal Thoughts

I posted this on my Facebook page last week and decided to share it.

I haven’t written about Robin Williams, but I saw an article and thought about how clueless people are about suicidal ideation. RW admitted to having bipolar depression. It is very likely, given his history, that he started having symptoms in this late teens or 20’s. He was 63 years old, so he has been plagued with this cruel disease for 40+ years. Alcohol and cocaine didn’t cause his depression; they were coping mechanisms for the depression and anxiety.

In major depressives, suicidal thoughts are not something you get when you had a bad day. They just linger in your brain for days, weeks, and sometimes years. Fighting these thoughts everyday slowly strips layers off of you, so that even if you seek treatment and the thoughts stop, you are a shell of your former self. It’s like you’re holding up something heavy, then someone comes along to take over the load. You are no longer holding it up, but your arms still ache.

A few years ago, I watched his interview with James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio.  He would talk seriously for just a minute and then launch into his one-of-a-kind improv.  I felt like I could see something in him that day—a deep sadness.  I was concerned about him, knowing of his issues with depression.  When I read that he had died, I was shocked.  I just kept seeing that interview in my head and remembering him.

Depressed people are very good at wearing masks.

If you have a troubled friend, ask them privately if they are having suicidal thoughts. They will likely say “no” many times before saying “yes,” but you have to keep asking.  It gets easier when you admit it aloud and can speak frankly about it.  After a while you can have the conversation without tears. That’s how you help someone. Talking about suicide is beyond difficult, but it’s so important.

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4 thoughts on “Robin Williams and the Brutal Fight Against Suicidal Thoughts

  1. So very sad. It is a dark place to be and when you can’t see a sliver of light, you’re options seem slim. It takes a lot of work and soul searching to find a way out. And even when you do, it’s like a cancer in remission. When you feel a symptom, you’re wondering if it’s coming back. And you’re right…those who have suffered from depression take on the same role as Robin Williams…actors, trying to keep it together for everyone else, hiding in shame of something they themselves don’t have the ability to articulate or explain. May his journey prompt discussion to help people understand more about depression so that something good can come from something so tragically sad.

    • I suffered with it for years after childbirth. I would have never made it through without my sister. My doctor would ask me if I was having suicidal thoughts, which freaked me out. I said “no: a few times, then I expected the question and admitted it. Thankfully, I was never close to attempts. Then one day, years later, I started taking a different medication and the suicidal thoughts just disappeared. I was so shocked, happy, and a little pissed, because I realized it wasn’t me, it was my brain. One day, my Mom took my face in her hands and told me, “This is not who you are.” That really helped me. I have had some major revelations lately as to why I started having depression and anxiety issues as a child. I am seeing things in panorama across my life. It feels good to know why, but I am glad that I learned a long time ago to not hang on to things I cannot change–the past. It would be easy to mourn all the years I spent suffering, but that would keep me from moving forward and living a “knowing” life.

  2. Ah yes, letting the past go. It’s a hard thing to do, but when we do, life can open up if we don’t get in our own way. I’m so grateful you are here and blessing us with interesting and uplifting words. As always, I love reading your insights, and as usual, you are spot on and very relatable.

    • Thank you. I appreciate your comments and having a dialogue with others. Letting go. There’s a blog post. Everyone has some sort of “letting go” moment in their life. Then there is the Big Letting Go, where you are so shocked that you’ve moved past something, all you can say is “Whoa! I can’t believe that happened!”

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