I’ve been meaning to update this blog (said everybody ever).
From the Independence Day cooking accident that gave me second-degree burns to participating in my first international theatre conference, there’s been a lot to share. But there’s also a big exam coming up and I’ve been trying to reduce distractions, such as the Internet.
And then I casually check in, and see that this terrible thing has happened to a man, to his family, and to almost everyone who has been a pop culture consumer for the past several decades.
There are accolades everywhere. But my Twitter feed is also overflowing with variations on “Get help. Get help. Get help.”
This is a valuable entreaty, to first-time sufferers and chronic ones alike.
But let’s be clear: suicide is not a failure to get help.
I could describe the struggles and triumphs of a person living with PTSD and chronic depression since pre-K, but like Jenny Lawson has pointed out, talking too much about depression and suicide is a pretty powerful trigger.
But I will say that when Jonathon checked off “in sickness” four years ago, he did so with the full weight of experience, and unfortunately, he’s had frightening opportunities since then to prove he wasn’t just temporarily blinded by my bridal radiance at the time.
As I waited up for him to come home from rehearsal last night, I kept thinking: if suicide gets me one day, Jonathon might feel like he didn’t do enough to help, or like he didn’t help me in the “right” way, and I wouldn’t be around to set him straight.
So I want it known—to him, to my family, to my friends, and to people who might misunderstand this fucking illness—while I am healthy enough to articulate it: asking for help is the best thing a depressed person can do, and being a friend to someone in need is an important intervention…but depression kills, through no fault of your own. It just does.
Look. Maybe I’ll be a casualty of some kind of uprising, be it the warming seas or sentient robots. Or, since I live in New York, violent crime and/or the Chitauri, if the media is to be believed.
But so many parts of this mind/body have it out for me. My appendix tried to kill me once. I can’t digest gluten. And I’ve spent several weeks being suicidal over the course of my short life.
I know depression is coming for me, just like the cancer we may or may not be getting from cell phones.* All I’m trying to do is keep depression in remission long enough for my organs to deteriorate first.
This isn’t some kind of fatalistic pessimism. Family, friends, medical professionals, and even people in administrative positions at school always do what they’re able when I need them to. Nobody’s throwing their hands up and saying, “Well, you’ve had a good run.”
But sometimes people don’t outlast depression, and at a certain point “help” isn’t that huge a factor. At least not compared to the fucking magnitude with which depression fucking fucks with a person.
There are scores of tributes and remembrances and career retrospectives for a man who earned worldwide admiration. At least one asserts that “[w]hat hurts the most about the apparent suicide of Robin Williams is that as much as he achieved, he died in his own mind unfulfilled.” Forget the wild romanticizing speculation contained therein. I’d like to suggest that what hurts the most is that he was receiving help. And he (and his family) still lost. Does anyone seriously believe that a career filled with more consistently suitable vehicles for his unique talent could have saved his life? That misunderstanding hurts too.
Anyway. Get help. Give help. Please do. It makes a difference.
But let’s be careful of conflating suicide with a failure to get help.
I’m going to sign off with this excerpt from a Lucille Clifton poem:
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
*I see one study, then a counter study…I honestly don’t know what to believe anymore, except that we are all participating in an unprecedented longitudinal experiment. One thing I do know for sure: vaccines are harmless. Okay, I take that back; my grandmother died from a rabies vaccine, but it was the 1950s and she had a weakened immune system. But she didn’t get autism, so, there’s that. Wow I'm failing at keeping this light.