A friend of mine posted a statement this morning, in reference to the article “Being Suicidal: What It Feels Like to Want to Kill Yourself“, which said simply “Honestly, cannot comprehend.”
This was before the more vivid picture arose of Robin Williams’ passing. We were left with so many questions, but this is one I had experience with, and could answer with some authority.
“The closest example I can give you, … , is that one time you were so tired that your chest aches. All you wanted to do was close your eyes, and the very act of being upright and awake seemed like a Sisyphean task.
In a suicidal depression, your heart hangs like a heavy weight and it is almost impossible to lift it off the floor. At that point, every error and failing comes swooping in like a vulture, and even stupid things gain a soul-crushing gravity. The errors and sins pile in, more and more, until the idea of laying it all down sounds so sweet and peaceful. The self-preservation mindset is overridden with the idea that killing yourself is not nearly as scary as facing tomorrow. There is a gasping relief in the idea that it is almost over, and a peace that it is all in your control. The act gains urgency as the realization settles in that it had always been in your power to end it and there was really no need to suffer as long as you have already.
That is the tipping point. Sometimes, it can be held at bay with goodbye letters as you struggle to explain why this course makes the most sense, and the unexpected return of a close friend or a well-timed phone call can make all the difference. Even then, though, the sirens’ song of self-destruction lures you back to the rocks and it takes continued, pointed resistance to stay focused on staying alive.
When you are self-destructive, killing yourself is the easy part. Staying distracted enough to keep going is an almost impossible task.”
His reply is typical as a normal person, with a genuine love of life, grapples with this issue. He compares it to the most awful thing he can remember, but finds a way to hit the nail on the head with the following statement “Maybe I haven’t been miserable enough for long enough…. Even with that, I knew that things would improve, or that, at the least, I could manage to tolerate them. If I couldn’t, who knows what I might miss out on…? You can always kill yourself tomorrow, and I’m a bit of a procrastinator anyway…
I don’t seem to have the psychic makeup to be suicidal, too much curiosity, maybe. I mulled it over when I was younger — don’t all teenagers at least mull it over at some point? — and dismissed it when it realized that what I _really_ wanted was to both be dead and somehow get to stick around and see just how put out by the whole thing everyone was.
That clearly is unfeasible.”
That’s when it came back to me. I was horribly suicidal for a long stretch of my young adulthood, but there was a point when I suddenly got it to stop. The stupidly simple epiphany that lead me out of that particular darkness, and I haven’t returned for 14 years.
“That was when everything changed for me. A local evening radio show (back when they were still competing with Howard Stern’s all-day radio stuff) played a comedian with music in the background. He started off by stating all the really good reasons for killing yourself before shifting gears and listing everything you’d miss. “You know how the Beach Boys say ‘Two Girls for Every Boy?’ That means that there will be four for me. A job would open up. An Apartment. Yet, you won’t get to see what the next marshmallow for Lucky Charms would be.” His list went on and on until I was weeping with the need to see what was next.
I gave it up then. I realized that, if I was willing to make such a drastic change, a less drastic change was to simply change everything. I still made a lot of bad choices and felt a lot of pain, but goddamn it, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, because I was still alive. I packed a bag and walked out on life. I joined the carnival, of all things. Anything, just to get away from that life that nearly drove me to suicide. Sure, I still packed the biggest problem I had, which was me, but I learned to make peace with it.
You’re right. Curiosity is the perfect foil to suicide. Learning that depression is your psyche’s way of dealing with too many emotions at once is another.
I have spent 14 years searching the internet for that recording and I have never found it. I am starting to wonder if it even existed outside of my sad, dark little psychosis.”
The Professor has deep understanding. “Doesn’t matter. Clearly, it’s what you needed to hear at the time.“
“There have been times when I wished I could share it with someone else who needed it. It worked for me. I have become desperately, painfully alive, and I am going to live forever if I have anything to say about it.“
… and that is one thing I can say is an “Absolute Truth.” I want to see where this thing goes. The world is full of awful and things seem at their absolute worst, but then something amazing happens, and you’ll want to be there for it.
From there, the best part is the sharing, as we spin the legends of our specific tribe. They grow in the telling as you realize that the listener is hooked so you had better make it good. Maybe I cannot make people laugh anymore, but I can still spin the lights of the universe and leave them in the dreams of children.
I had had a long dark winter that year. I had gone completely insane the year before, and I was having trouble putting that back together. I was writing goodbye letters and listening to the radio, every song a personal reminder of some failing. At the time, the evening show DJ’s were doing their best rip off of Howard Stern and played that piece I mentioned. The timing was perfect and I realized that I ran the risk of missing all the wonder that life promised.
I still lived a completely haywire life. I have been in fear for my life and have felt like the world was shitting on me and me alone. I have been the Atheist who prayed in the foxhole. I have made awful decisions and left destruction in my wake as I burned bridges.
… but I never considered suicide again. When all is lost, suicide is a drastic change. It is less drastic to just drop everything and leave. If everything is lost, then everything can be changed.
What if Robin Williams had simply said, “Forget this,” and went to work at that Dairy Queen in Lindstrom, Minnesota? What do you think would have happened? I believe he would have been inundated with people who love him. I can see people driving across the country just to meet him face to face. Shake his hand. Tell them how much he meant to them.
I would have been one of them. Without a father, I imprinted on Robin Williams, using him as the model for how I interacted with the world… and it worked. I did not find fame with it. I was not expected to always be the funny man, and did not alienate anyone when I couldn’t make them laugh anymore.
It was easier for me to walk away from who I was. I could find my way out of the darkness because there was no one demanding that I go back to retrieve any of it.
My wife is facing a second brain surgery for Geniculate Neuralgia, and my spinal bone spurs have to take a back seat until that is done. This leaves me in twisted pain as I try to find anything to make the pain stop. Sometimes I am left panting and weeping in misery, and I wonder if I am dying.
… but I can’t die yet. I have two daughters to give away if they decide to wed. Someone has to make sure to hold a shotgun and put the fear of the Godless into their Prom Dates. I have rediscovered old friends I had missed dearly and discovered new friends that fill my life with joy and love.
There is also my wife, who I first stood in the cold November rain for three hours with, just talking. She’s the cohort I always wished for, and the co-conspirator in so many good memories. We know each other’s humor and share each other’s dreams. I met her four years after I was going to kill myself. If I hadn’t heard that recording that night, we would have never made the connection that saved us both. We’ve broken each other’s hearts, and thought that all was lost, but as soon as we are together again, the bonfires blaze and we can’t stand to be away from each other, even for an hour, our heads bowed together as we snicker at the world that we hide from together.
I think Robin Williams felt that he had drifted away from too many of the people that he shared that with. In 2009, we heard that he was trying to reconnect with his first child from his first marriage. His failed TV show recently repaired him with Pam Dawber from the original series that launched his career. He was newly remarried, but so much of his life was behind a wall of pain and constant apology that he felt was impenetrable.
Why didn’t you just run off and have a crazy religious experience somewhere, Robin? Grow your beard out and become a rapper or wear a bag on your head and claim to be no one?
Just tell us that you quit, Robin. We would have preferred that to this.
So if this is some twisted version of the Celebrity-Protection-Program, when a star drops off of the map to hang out with Andy Kaufman, Tupac and Elvis, you win. My sappy farewell will be added to the clamoring and weeping that would make us all feel foolish if you poked your head up again to say, “Just Kidding,” but I deserve at least a post card one day, OK?
Otherwise, farewell Robin Williams. If there is more than this, I’ll look you up when I get there.
To contribute to my wife’s second brain surgery, here is the link: http://www.gofundme.com/likeaholeinthehead
For The Sad Clown, part 1: https://grimmjest.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/the-sad-clown/