The news of Robin Williams’ suicide rocked me yesterday, as it did so many others. Facebook and blogs filled up with remembrances, and reminders of the importance of mental health treatment. My Twitter feed was full of personal memories, favorite movie roles, and retweets of suicide prevention hotlines. Some of the posts choked me up, some made me laugh, but one set me on fire. It was one little comment on a Twitter feed. Less than 140 characters, said by a total stranger, in regards to the death of a man I’ve never met. One question soaked with blame that went straight to my heart.
“Where were his family and friends when he needed them?”
The answer to that question is “Right there.” I would brave to guess that his wife and his kids and his friends were all right there with him. And like so many of us who do watch from the side lines, they were hurting right along with him. To believe that the effects of depression are only felt by the person with the diagnoses borders on delusional. The tentacles of depression are far reaching. Anyone who cares for a person with this disease understands this. In our house, my son’s diagnoses came at the age of six, shortly after the first time he vocalized thoughts of suicide. And for the twelve years since, we’ve watched his battle and done everything we could think of to help, all while mostly feeling helpless. I imagine this is a feeling Robin Williams’ loved ones were familiar with.
The worst part about watching someone you love fight against depression is that, as the one on the outside of their brain, you don’t always know which side of the battle they’re on. If he comes to dinner with us and smiles it could be that he’s winning for the moment. Or it could be that he’s trying really hard to convince us he’s winning for the moment. And there’s only so many of those days he can get through in a row. More often than not, stringing together those fake good days ends badly. I have no way of describing what those dark days are like for my son. I can tell you that they are heartbreaking for the rest of us. But we don’t give up. We hold on and fight forward, and on the days that the disease really has a hold, we drag him kicking, and hope we can convince him not to give up either. I know we’re not the only ones who do this.
There are days – spans of days, even weeks – where we feel like we’re on calm seas. The tension eases and we all go about our lives with the depression just being part of the backdrop. Other days – or spans of days, at some points even weeks – the depression is front and center for all of us, and we jump around on egg shells and hold on. And unless you’ve experienced the fear of opening a door to a quiet room, or had a knock-down, drag-out, scream-fest with someone you love more than life, over whether or not they need to stay alive; you have no idea where Robin Williams’ family and friends have been. But many of us do understand. And our hearts go out to them as they face the nightmare the rest of us selfishly hope to never have to face ourselves.