For Robin Williams, and all of us

Written immediately after his death by suicide.

Nanu nanu. Carpe Diem. It’s not your fault, Will.

We’re all going to miss Robin Williams. Aside from the obvious shock and sadness, there are also expressions of dismay at his apparent suicide, and messages of outrage about the stigmatization of addiction and misunderstandings around depression and mental illness. I’ve even seen messages like “He must not have known how much we loved him.”

No one can know exactly what he was thinking or feeling in his last days. His family and close friends may all be experiencing some level of survivor guilt, the sense that they should have could have would have done more, if only… I pray for their healing and consolation as I remember my own private what-ifs.  It takes some doing to make peace with those.  This is how it is with every loss, with every puzzle of disorder and grief. At some point, we just have to accept that there are pieces missing, and that the picture is too big and complex to see all at once.

From 2001-03, I was depressed. I’m not entirely sure about the nature of clinical versus incident-specific depression, but I was diagnosed definitively at that time with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, and was offered medication (that I didn’t take). I don’t remember laughing at all that whole time. Things that I used to live for were suddenly burdensome and I resented that I couldn’t enjoy them anymore. I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, such that I was incapable of making plans more than a day or two in advance— the future was too uncertain, you see, so why look forward to anything? I had no libido, no real appetite for anything. I drank a lot. I ruminated on dark things of every description and prepared myself for fights and confrontations that I always expected would happen. I felt veiled, muffled, surrounded by dense fog that was exhausting to move through. And no matter how I tried to give myself pep talks, they always fell on deaf ears.

This is the thing about depression: I knew I needed help. I knew I wasn’t feeling the way I wanted to. I worried about myself. I also had some shame about feeling so shitty when I “have everything” and “I’m really so lucky” and “what about having some gratitude and working on manifesting good things, Mik?” But pain isn’t relative: it’s just painful. It didn’t matter how I thought I should feel, or turning the frown upside down or whatever bullshit clichés people use when they have a bad day. Taking care of myself was a Sisyphean task that required huge amounts of energy and wherewithal, even when I tried to tell myself otherwise. And people would tell me they loved me but I couldn’t ever really feel it. I didn’t think they were lying but there was numbness where my heart should have been.

When I was prompted by a friend to see a therapist, I was surprised and relieved that she mentioned it.  I got my diagnosis and went home and never went back to that office again; I just accepted what seemed like fate (which meant I wasn’t really ready for healing). A year later, I met David Grand at a 9/11-related work function, and he invited me in for a session. It seemed unprofessional to refuse, so a week later we sat down in his Manhattan office, and in an hour my life was different. The fog lifted. The feeling started coming back into my heart. I noticed energy and will I’d forgotten I possessed.

Had my friend not listened and encouraged me to ask for help, I know for sure that I wouldn’t have had the initiative to see a therapist at all. Had I not been approached and invited by David, I would not have gone in for those sessions. I needed help and I couldn’t help myself.

There have been other bouts of depression since 2003, but I have a toolbox to work with now. Shamanic healing has been a necessary part of my spiritual evolution as well as a brass-tacks way to navigate hard times. (And if you’re struggling today, please know you can call me for a session. I mean it.) It focuses on the root causes of imbalance and has the added function of bringing ceremony, ritual, and a sense of the sacred into the work of healing. Estrangement from Spirit, however you define that – nature, love, sweetness, God, higher self – is part and parcel with depression. Shamanic healing is an access road back to that feeling of connection.

I have several good friends who would physically pick me up and carry me to a ceremony if they knew I couldn’t get there myself. And that’s what it takes sometimes. If you’ve never experienced it, you may not know that depression is wholly debilitating and scary, such that it’s hard to even change the channel on the TV let alone make a healthy decision for yourself. If you saw someone you loved crawling on the floor, wouldn’t you offer them an arm to help them stand?  That’s what it might take to start healing through some of the layers of grief, anger, and trauma that get superimposed onto otherwise vital people. We need to take care of each other.

Perhaps that’s one of the gifts of depression: in that horrible, isolating pain, we learn we simply cannot live alone. We are equal in our need for each other, for healing, and for a sense of connection and hope. And each of us has some capacity to pray, to make the phone call, to check in on that friend who’s been struggling lately.

So please, go do that.

Let’s also send a collective prayer out to Robin, wherever he is now, and to his loved ones. And to all of those who are pushing that boulder up the hill, may they receive the help they need. May there be grace and strength enough for all of us, to help ourselves and each other as we walk the road home.

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