I’m sad about Robin Williams. I was also a little bit angry with him. In much the same way, I was sad about and angry with Chloe Weil when news of her suicide reached me.
Yes. Angry. It took some time and help from a friend to work out why: because Kat and I just spent most of a year doing everything in our power to save our daughter’s life, and now here was someone just throwing that away.
Here’s the thing: they did not throw their lives away. Both of them were suffering from a disease: depression. That disease made them feel unloved and worthless despite any and all evidence to the contrary. And they each eventually, despite years of trying to treat and deal with it, died from that disease.
I know this because I have a milder form of that same disease, one that rises and falls in slow, multi-year-long cycles. I have spent time on SSRIs. There are times I have gone to counseling. I have contemplated ending my own life, though only abstractly, never in a detailed or direct manner. I’ve never in my adult life had suicidal ideation and a plan. Robin and Chloe did. They had a disease much, much stronger than I do.
But that’s where my anger really came from: my own depression. The same lying impulses that sometimes, not often, but sometimes make me feel worthless and unlovable also pushed me to be angry at these people who had the same disease, and died of it. It lied to me that they had failed. And for a little while, I believed that lie.
That reaction made as much sense as being angry at Rebecca for having cancer, as thinking that she failed to fight hard enough to live. It was not their fault. I know this first-hand… and yet, I believed the lie.
This is another sign that I have it much milder than they did: I could eventually, with some self-inspection backed by decades of experience, recognize the lie for what it was, and dispose of it. Not everyone has that ability, no matter how much self-inspection and experience they may have. Not because they are weak or foolish, but because they literally cannot do it, any more than a cancer patient can verbally order the tumors to leave them alone.
I have been lucky. The disease is mild enough in me that I am still here, and have only sometimes needed pharmacological and psychological help. That is not because I am strong. That is because my disease is not strong. I have still needed and obtained that help, and I feel no shame for that. If you need help, please get help. There is no shame in it, no matter what the disease tells you. If it tells you that seeking help is failure, it is lying. If it tells you that being sad is weakness, it is lying. If it tells you that death is preferable to life, it is lying.
It is not shameful to feel depressed. It is not weak to feel like you want to give up. It is not failure to ask for help. There are resources in almost every city of every advanced country — not enough, to be sure, but they are there. Please use them, especially if you already have a plan to end the pain. In America, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at (800) 273-8255, or (800) 273-TALK. You will be connected with a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, any hour of the day or night.
If you know of a similar resource in another country, or other resources in America, please leave a comment with the details. It could help someone right when they need it most.
Update 11 Aug 14: here’s a list of suicide prevention services throughout the world from the International Association for Suicide Prevention. If you know of one not on the list, the comments are still open (and you should also let the IASP know!). And information about depression treatment services, not just suicide prevention, is also welcome.