Robin Williams: Questions About His Death and the Resiliency of the Human Spirit

08/14/2014

Impromptu posts are the worst but I wasn't going to allow time to get away from me on this one. I'm sure many of you have heard about the tragic loss of well-known undefinedcomedian, Robin Williams. It was just like yesterday that I first remembered him on Mork and Mindy. Nonetheless, some may say that he "chose" to take his life and I would like to say that depression and alcoholism took his life from you, me, and the world. Depression is a disease and has to be treated in a similar fashion just like any other disease. I didn't know Robin Williams personally, although that would've been one for the books, but I wonder in what way(s) he reached out to obtain help for his depression and alcoholism. Stories say that he was in and out of treatment a couple of times throughout his life; however, he reported to have struggled with depression and alcoholism from a young age. Some of my patients and people I have spoken to are confused and wondering how someone could be so happy on the outside but is so tortured on the inside. It's got people talking because the world has recognized how the use of humor is a great way to cover-up, cope, and hide from our problems. Unfortunately, many of us know all too well how to cover-up how we "truly" feel. How did we learn this? Why would we need to use humor or some other form of denial to cover-up how we truly feel? What's wrong with having feelings, and more importantly, what's wrong in expressing our feelings? Are we scared to be vulnerable? Does shame keep us from being vulnerable? Is the shame just so strong that it's debilitating and life threatening? Are these some of the very things that were obstacles in Robin Williams's life?

I sometimes think asking for help is like a faux pas, at least in the U.S. There are constant messages that we receive from the world and possibly from our parents and friends that we can do it on our own; that becoming independent is a milestone and it's one of the signs that we've made it in the world. For me, being independent seemed ingrained from an early age; I conquered many of my motor tasks earlier than most children my age. I remember when I began riding a bicycle that I didn't want anyone's help; I wanted to do it on my own and that's just one example of many. As an adult, I'm much better in asking for help when I need it. The problem is that life is like riding a bicycle, which as you know can be pretty messy, especially at the beginning. But, this "life is like riding a bicycle" analogy has gotten me to think about the resiliency of the human spirit. I suppose lucky for me, I never really knew the resiliency of the human spirit until my post-doctoral training at a Level 1 Trauma Center in Florida. It was then that I understood that the human spirit desires to live and will do whatever it takes to accomplish this. During this brief one year experience, I worked with patients and families who endured and witnessed some of the most horrific tragedies that anyone could experience; however, I saw these same patients and families fight for their life, heal, recover, and for them begin a new life. I was amazed to see this unfold. On the other side however, I saw patients and families give up and give up easily. It was as though hope and determination didn't exist; as though things wouldn't get better. I ponder what makes some human spirits endure longer than others…why some are more hopeful and determined than others. I wonder at what point Robin Williams lost all hope and determination; why his spirit didn't want to endure. As someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, I honestly believe that until we've been in a place like Robin Williams and countless others, we can never completely understand or fathom what that would be like because our psyche can't handle a place that is so dark, hopeless, and painful. This is the hardest for most people to understand especially for those who have lost a loved one to suicide because we're never fully able to understand the "Why." So instead, we are forced to accept and make some sort of meaning out of the death of our loved one.

As a psychologist, I try to look on the bright side of things usually, go figure right. But honestly, it's like music to my ears hearing people talk about depression and suicide. Why is it that we have to lose a wonderful and loving person before people start talking? A way to destigmatize mental illness is to talk about it until we're blue in the face! Well okay, maybe not that far, but I think you get my point. I want to encourage you too, that if you struggle or suffer with a mental illness, find someone you trust and talk about it. Start sharing your story…it could save a life. And I can't end this post without bringing back the analogy about the "life is like riding a bicycle." I know it's a bit cheesy and clichéish, but when you fall down get back up. If you keep falling down, ask for some help, there's always someone who can pick you up and place you back on your bike. You might suffer some injuries along the way, but the most important thing to know is that you never have to endure them lone.

* Check out the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website for all sorts of helpful information about suicide, prevention, research, and education.
* Also, check out the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance support group in Indy.

In remembrance of Robin Williams and the countless others that sadly we've lost to suicide but who have taught us so much about life. Thank you!



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