Depression: When Hollywood meets reality
“Genie, you’re free,” tweeted The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Aug. 11, 2014, the day Robin Williams died.
Most people knew Williams for his legendary stand-up routines or his roles in movies like “Mrs. Doubtfire,” – my personal favorite – “Good Will Hunting” or “Dead Poets Society.” But not everyone knew that he was a recovering alcoholic, addict and had depression.
Exactly three weeks before the shock felt round the world, on July 21, I was committed to a psychiatric hospital for observation. Upon admission, I was diagnosed with suicidal ideations. I could just have easily been found alone in my apartment.
That morning, I woke up and knew something was wrong, but I refused to admit it and went about my day normally. I made it out into the world one forced step after another; I was determined to push my troubling thoughts to the side like I’ve done so many times before. However, only a couple of hours into the morning, I knew that this wasn’t just any other depressive episode. I called my counselor and booked an emergency appointment.
As I explained to her how I was feeling, she responded with her typical redirecting tactics. Thirty minutes into the session, I finally bowed my head and said, “You don’t understand.” At that moment, she knew something was wrong unlike it had ever been in any other emergency session before. Her response, “What do you think about going to Taliaferro and seeing what they have to say?”
When I got out of bed that morning, I think I knew where I was headed, and the voice in the back of my mind that for years had been wondering when I would end up in a psychiatric hospital was saying, “Today is the day, Casey Girl.”
Looking back, I’m thankful that I have a relationship with a counselor who understands me well enough to know what certain body language and one sentence means. I have been seeing her for almost two years. I have a wonderful and huge support system full of people who understand that I am mentally ill and struggle with suicidal thoughts. I have a long, long list of fail-safes in place, as I’m sure Williams did. I refuse to consider what might have happened had I been without the many resources I have at my disposal. I am a member of the lucky minority of mentally ill who are willing to get help and that have found quality help. It has taken me years to find my help, but regardless, I have it.
Those people who may be wondering why Williams did it, despite his fame and fortune, truly do not understand that depressive thinking does not follow logic. They certainly don’t understand that money and mental illness have no inherent relationship. Money can’t buy a cure for a chronic disease like depression. Money can’t buy us out of those times when we are huddled in our darkened bedrooms, hiding from the world we fear and our resources or safety nets, because those things, for no logical reason, are just as frightening as the alternative.
I checked myself into the hospital because I was tired of hiding my pain. It was a point of pride for me to finally be well enough to ask for help with the memories and emotions that lock me in my bedroom with my blankets fashioned into a cocoon that is never quite tight enough. I am not ashamed that I am mentally ill, as so many of us are conditioned to be.
The only logical thought that ran through my mind when my counselor mentioned Taliaferro was something I had once heard Dr. Drew Pinsky say on “Loveline” or on his podcast, “The Dr. Drew Show”: “Suicidality passes within three to five days.” He urged people with suicidal thoughts to check in to a hospital in order to get through those thoughts and then figure everything else out. I heard his voice and knew he was right.
For some reason I listened to that sound clip’s worth of advice. I say for some reason because I can understand that, if in the moments before he hanged himself, Williams might have considered what actions to actually take. I know for sure that many different possibilities played through his mind on repeat for countless hours before anything happened in the real world. He might have considered whether to check himself back into rehab – as he had done just a couple months before his death – go to the hospital, call a friend, or do something else. Maybe he had none of those thoughts and instead was singularly focused on his plan. I have been in both places before. Then again, he could have been thinking something else entirely.
Point being, I can understand if in those moments he was simply too tired to carry on. I can’t judge him or be angry for the decision he made. I’m certainly not condoning suicide; I am just saying that I’ve been pretty close to that precipice, and I understand what it takes to not only get there but also what it takes to get back. Perhaps our darling Robin fought his way back from the precipice too many times and simply didn’t have the strength to do it one more time.
I reposted The Academy’s tweet on Facebook the day it was sent and said: “This tweet opened up a flood of tears, but it sums up what I think when someone with depression commits suicide. Yes, a part of me is sad but another part of me is relieved to know a fellow suffering soul suffers no more.
“Good night, Robin. Thanks for helping me through some of my own dark times. I mean this from the bottom of my heart, brother: rest in peace.”
When I got home from the hospital, a friend and I had a great conversation about depression during which he told me about a sad man who went to the doctor for some advice: “A sad man goes to the doctor and says, ‘Doc, I’m depressed. What do I do?’ The doctor tells him, ‘The circus is in town, and they have a Great Clown. Go see the Great Clown; that will cheer you up.’ The sad man says, ‘But, Doc, I am the Great Clown.’”
Robin Williams was the greatest clown most of us have ever known, and I cannot imagine how humongous his demons were in order for that to be so.
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