Thursday, August 14, 2014

Hanging on for Hope

Monday night in America, the laughter left and the tears rolled in.

Robin Williams, the much loved comedian and actor of enormous talent, was dead.  The news hit social media sites and spread quickly with photos, film clips, and the repetition of "No!" or "Say it ain't so!"  A person, an entertainer, who gave us so much to laugh about, to think on, and to find joy in life is not the type of person you ever expect to die.  At least not so suddenly.  And then the added shock: he died because he killed himself.  Now his demise becomes even more complicated for those who knew his on-screen, zany, fun-filled, wise and wonderful personas, and all the amazingly compassionate ways in which he used his fame to work for a better world.  How could someone who is like Robin Williams commit suicide?

I've read the postings and the articles that have pointed to his battles with depression, and his struggles to remain sober and stay off alcohol and cocaine.  He apparently had checked himself into a rehab program when his latest TV series was canceled.  From all accounts, he struggled with addiction, sometimes winning and sometimes losing.  The depression seemed to go hand-in-hand with that.

I was deeply saddened by Williams' death, and his actions that led to his death.  I didn't know Robin Williams, and never had a personal encounter with him on a set, on a street, or anywhere.  But when someone commits suicide, and we learn of their wrestling matches with the demon of depression, it strikes a cord in me.  I may not have known him, but I know that fight.  I, too, was once suicidal.  And so I have an uncomfortable knowledge of what that level of depression looks like.  It is darker than a moonless night.  And it is physical.  I remember the time my mother found me in my parents bedroom, clinging and clawing at the sheets on the bed.  The sensation in my body was that I was slipping away into an abyss as my brain pounded me with messages about my worthlessness.  It was bad enough to have boys on my prep school campus bullying me; to have my brain join in the taunting was cruel and unusal punishment.  My mom recalled that day, too, and her realization of how terrifying things were for me.  Luckily, I had a ray of hope. 

The day that I came closest to actually killing myself, my prep school chaplain intervened.  Her class had ended, and I was supposed to be on my way out the door to Noyes Library for my second year German class.  Instead, I stayed in my seat, eyes locked on the table.  Darkness was descending in my head.  I had spent the last twenty minutes or so figuring out what I could do to end my suffering.  Fortunately, I had forgotten the small pocketknife I sometimes carried, so I could not cut myself.  Instead, I was ready to walk to a footbridge on campus, and jump.  But I couldn't move.  I was frozen in place and I felt heavy.  And I stared and stared at the table.  Ms. Cleghorn inquired as to why I wasn't leaving.

"Talk me out of suicide."

That's all that came out of my mouth.  We'd just sat through a presentation by our headmaster who had told us about how his brother had committed suicide.  And the sickness in my head had already twisted his story around to attack me and tell me that this is what I had already done to my family and my friends.  I had already left them with this heartache...even though I was still alive.  But my brain had already judged me guilty and was piling on the message that I was of no use to anyone.

Ms. Cleghorn didn't say anything immediately.  I felt panic rising inside.  She had made me promise her when she first became my advisor, and I told her that I was struggling with suicidal tendancies, that I needed to come to her first if I ever wanted to kill myself.   She was my hope.  She broke her silence and spoke in words that I don't rightly recall any more.  But her anchor was in God; hence her grace-filled words began to break through the darkness.  Time was suspended.  My ears had a ringing sound.  But I do remember, in the course of all of this, she told me we would get me to someone who would give me more help.  That happened.  I began seeing a psychiatrist outside of Boston.  I was put on medication.

Then another medication.

Then a third and final medication to deal with chemical imbalance in my brain.

I had so many blood tests that, to this day, I look away at the sight of a needle.  The medication stabilized my moods and kept me from teetering on the egde of self-destruction.  I stopped having the nightly dreams of the sensation of hanging myself.  I survived one of the most horrible times of my teenage years.  I'm lucky.

Every time I hear of a completed suicide, my heart sinks.  I know that the person who killed him or herself did not do this act as any kind of deliberate offense to anyone because I have been in that sinking pit of depression which feeds all the wrong messages to the person.  They wrongly have concluded that somehow their existence is the problem.  Without someone who is able to pierce through that darkness, it is a mighty struggle to hang on for hope.

If there's anything I feel we can take away from the death of Robin Williams it's the realization that even those who seem to be having fun and are making us laugh are just as likely to be dreading the day as they are ready to seize it.  We may be called upon at some point to be the one who helps to guide the depressed person out of darkness and into light.  All the more reason for us to act and move from a place of compassion rather than malice because we have no idea what tricks the brain may be playing on the other person to make them believe they are unworthy of Love.

I'm so sorry that Robin Williams was unable to find that Hope which I feel certain has found him and invited him to have a seat at the table, even with tears in the eyes.  May his family and all of us who will miss him be blessed with the memories that he made for us, both on and off-screen.

"All-knowing and eternal God, come to our help as we mourn for Robin, dead by his own hand.  We know only in part, we love imperfectly, and we fail to ease one another's pain as you intend.  But you are the God whose property is always to have mercy, and so we put our trust in you and ask the courage to go on; through our Savior Christ, who suffered for us, and whom you raised to new life.  Amen."--EOW 3, pg.55

(If you or someone close to you is thinking suicide, talk to someone first.  Please call 1-800-273-TALK(8255) and let another person guide you out of the dark.) 


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