Monday, August 11, 2014

Rage Against the Dying: The Tragic Loss of Robin Williams

My children did adorable things today. My dog barked and drove me crazy. My husband went to work, and he came home. I dropped my cell phone, and cracked the screen. Just one more thing that will have to be fixed.

But none of these things feels important right now. None of them open a door to humor and insight about every day life as a mother of a big family.

Because today Robin Williams appears to have taken his own life. 

Today, someone I have watched and loved my whole life, forgot for a moment, how much his life mattered, and he left us.

As a Pagan, I understand life as an endless cycle of life, death and rebirth.  Every end is a beginning, every beginning an end.  It's all connected, and it continues past what we can see and understand. But the belief that Mr. Williams' end was a new beginning, doesn't lessen my sadness that he is gone and that his friends and family, and we his fans, will miss him.

So many of us have been touched by depression and suicide. I thought in this post, I'd tell my story.

By the time I was 14, I was using my lunch money, to buy drugs. Classy, right? I made a lot of poor decisions, then. I loved to check out, to let go of my overwhelming anxiety. To forget, however briefly, that the world felt too bright for me. I loved deeply, and I felt things very acutely. Living, could be wonderful, but most of the time, it just hurt.

By the time I was fifteen, I thought maybe I was a drug addict.  I started attending NA meetings.  Then I saw a therapist, and a Psychiatrist.  Medication was prescribed and a diagnosis given: cyclical depression. Not the wild ups and downs of someone with bipolar, but significant and frequent swings that left me feeling like I was on an inescapable ride, both thrilling and terrifying.

When I was sixteen, the meds weren't working. A friend had just been killed. And I, in a very dark place, attempted suicide.

I sat down and took most of a bottle of my dads blood pressure pills.

It very nearly worked.

Terms like "organ donation" and "maybe if we put in a pacemaker" were thrown around the ER. My mother was terrified in a way I couldn't understand until I had children of my own.

I'm so sorry I did that to her.

Even today, I tear up when I think about what she must have gone through. I'm sure it scared my father, too. But he wasn't there when those frightening words were thrown. My mother was being asked to make decisions all on her own, and I can only imagine how that day must have felt for her.

I survived, clearly, but I spent time in-patient that year. Not for a whole year, of course, but was in and out a few times.  Life in the hospital was measured and easy, and I could immerse myself in the problems of others, which was something I was good at. Life outside took skills I had not fully mastered. And so, I longed for the ease of life behind safe hospital walls.

I did get my meds adjusted, and found some stability. When the depression was controlled, I had no real desire for drugs and alcohol. I wasn't an addict who was depressed. I was a depressive, who was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. It was a slow process to get to a healthy place. And I still struggle sometimes. Depression for me is a chronic illness. Currently I manage it with diet and exercise, but I have learned my cycles well enough to know now, when I need something more. And I am not ashamed to get it.

You have to understand, when I tried to commit suicide, I wasn't trying to be selfish. I thought my very existence was a burden on those I loved most. I thought that they would be happier and that their lives would be easier without me in it.

I know now, of course, that we are all connected, and that the loss of one of us, ripples through our fabric in ways we see, and sometimes in ways we don't even realize. But in those moments, those awful moments, in that dark place of despair, our innermost voice is profoundly dishonest.

I like to think that I'm a poster child for how early diagnosis and intervention, can make all the difference for adolescents struggling with depression. Even though I dropped out of High School, I got my GED. Aced it, too. I went on to learn a vocation. I became a nurse, and worked with the elderly and the sick. I got married and have had a family. I am happy with my life. Even when my phone screen cracks and my children are eschewing bedtime in favor of screaming fits.

Robin Williams forgot, for a moment, that his life was connected to all of ours. That his life made a difference, and touched others. And so, while I believe that he continues on, I am still sad. That anyone should face that point, of giving in to that voice that tells us the worst lies and makes them seem true, that makes us believe that we don't matter, is, for me, utterly heartbreaking.

Tonight I am thinking of his body of work, and the movie that touched me the most profoundly: Dead Poets Society.  And so I will leave you with this, as the instruction to "Rage, rage against the dying of the light" feels especially poignant to me tonight:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Do not go gentle into that good night Dylan Thomas, 1914 - 1953

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