Suicide has touched my life personally through friends and acquaintances - and through my own attempts at suicide. I have often heard the discussion in the aftermath of how suicide is cowardly, and selfish because of the hurt it leaves for survivors.
Yes, it does leave hurt in the aftermath. But sometimes, such as in the death of Robin Williams, I think we should look beyond the immediate fact of the suicide and celebrate the courage of the person who fought for so long before succumbing to the forces that drove him to suicide.
I am bi-polar, and believed when I first wrote this diary that Robin Williams had admitted to having the same condition. After further research, I know he was believed to be bi-polar, but may never have stated that. It really makes no difference to my views on his death. He suffered from bi-polar or depressive disorder. I am writing in admiration of the courage it took for him to battle his condition for probably 50 years before he finally lost the battle.
This will be personal, because the struggles to deal with the bi-polar condition are personal to me. I didn't write immediately after news of Robin Williams' suicide because it took time to organize my thoughts and feelings.
Robin Williams and I were born only a few months apart. Bi-polar symptoms usually occur with adolescence. I was about 13 when I started hearing the music (I have some schizoid aspects), and Robin Williams was probably about the same age when his symptoms, whatever particular form they took, began for him. That means he successfully battled his condition for 50 years. FIFTY YEARS. That is a very long time to fight.
Those who are not bi-polar, or afflicted with pure depression, probably can't understand what was happening in those 50 years. I have heard family members, spouses, or friends tell me, or my family members who are in the depressive phase of our disease to just "snap out of it" or "stop moping around." They have absolutely no idea that what they are advising is physically impossible. A bi-polar family member once described it to me as waking up each morning of the depression and saying, "Oh, God! Why did you let me wake up for another day just to hurt like this?"
To someone on the outside, we may have everything to live for. From the inside of the maelstrom of the depressive episode, however, there is nothing to live for and no end in sight. No, we are not "sane" in those periods in the sense of being able to accurately evaluate our lives. That's why it is called mental illness. It just hurts. Sometimes it hurts too much to bear.
To some on the outside, such as those posting cruel comments about Robin Williams being just another druggie, our behavior may seem self-indulgent at times. However, one of the diagnostic symptoms of the bi-polar condition is overindulgence in pleasurable activities such as sex, alcohol or drugs. We self-medicate. We drink to come down. We take drugs to go up. No, it is not the best way to cope, but sometimes it seems the only way. And so, we struggle, as Robin Williams did, to overcome the addictions that come from those activities even as we struggle with our mental health condition.
The courage it takes to keep going, even with the overwhelming pain, even with our mind telling us that the pain will never end, is tremendous. It is not one day at a time, or one hour at a time. It is minute by minute.
I have always watched Robin Williams with the knowledge of his condition and a great appreciation of how he had the talent, and willingness, to take his condition and transform it into comedy and drama we enjoyed. I don't mean that he always was manic when he performed comedy or depressed when he performed dark drama, although I'm sure he was at times. I mean that I could see the "thinking too fast to process it all" manic energy which we have in the manic phase in his brilliant comedy. I think he was an intelligent, self-aware man who used his experiences to craft his performances.
Of course, not all bi-polars can do anything like the brilliant performances of Robin Williams, and not all comics are bi-polar (though many others, such as Jim Carrey, are). But, I could see Robin Williams using both his tremendous talent, and what would otherwise be seen as an affliction, and combining them to produce something extraordinary.
As I watched Robin Williams' career, I often thought of the toll it must take on him. As bi-polars, our condition is easily affected by disruptions in our sleep patterns and stress. Even those of us who are very stable on our medications can be thrown completely into manic or depressive swings by sleep disruption and/or stress. All those years, he managed the long hours necessary for television or movie production. He traveled around the country giving live shows, hopping time zones. All of those things were additional strains on his condition.
Since I first posted this diary, his wife has announced that Robin Williams was suffering from early stage Parkinson's disease, a terrible diagnosis for anyone. For him, it probably had an even greater impact. Robin Williams stated in interviews that he used cycling and exercise to deal with the stresses of touring. Exercise is something that helps many of us with conditions like bi-polar or depressive disorder. Parkinson's was going to steal that coping mechanism from him, leaving him to face his demons without that tool.
So, I'm back to where I started. I'm writing this in admiration of a brilliant man who had the courage to fight his condition for approximately 50 years before he lost the fight. I'm writing in admiration of a man who did things to allow him to share his brilliant performances with us, even those things would likely aggravate his condition.
I can't know the particular form of the darkness that he fought. As I said, this diary is personal for me. But, I know the nature pain involved when the darkness closes in. Even though I experience times of great joy and my life is good, in those periods of pain and darkness, I can't even remember the good things in my life.
I wish he could have continued to hold off his personal demons longer. I wish we could have had more years to enjoy him. I wish his family did not have to endure this. I wish so much that his children could have had more years with their father. But, I recognize that he fought a good and courageous fight.