It was recently revealed by Robin Williams’ family that he was in the early stage of Parkinson’s Disease when he took his life. Yet despite this, there are still people claiming that he was “selfish” and “cowardly” and that “suicide is never an option.” They think that people who commit suicide have the same frame of mind as a melodramatic teenager. “They’ll appreciate me when I gone!”
Williams battled depression and addiction for most of his life, and one symptom of Parkinson’s is depression. Whether that is a physical part of the disease or an emotional reaction of hearing you have a long-term degenerative illness, I’m not sure. What I do know is that it sure as hell didn’t help. On a personal level (his youngest was only 13, can you imagine how he felt, knowing that his children were going to watch him decline, be forced to help take care of him?) and a professional one (much of Williams’ comedy was physical, and facing down losing that could only have been shattering).
But even without the Parkinson’s in play, most people who commit suicide don’t do it to make a statement. They don’t do it because they are scared. They do it because, to them, there is no other way to cope with what they are dealing with. There is only the hole they are in, and getting out entirely.
I can’t tell you what was going through his head last weekend, but it sure as hell wasn’t the attention-seeking self-pity of a drama queen, it wasn’t the fear of a coward. I can only tell you what I felt the times I considered suicide.
I was worthless. I had irredeemably failed myself and others.
I was not loved, nor had ever been because I was unworthy of love. I had only been pitied and tolerated. I was a burden on others.
Life had no joy, no savor, no goals. There was nothing to look forward to. It was just an endless rut of survival on the lowest tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Robin Williams was not thinking only of himself. He probably did not believe he was hurting his family and friends, but helping them, sparing them. He was not running away from his problems. He probably believed he was dealing with them in the most constructive way possible.
And that is the thing about depression: Those suffering it can’t see life or possibilities any other way. A suicide leaves devastation in its wake, not the least symptom of which is guilt. But to those families and friends who have lost loved ones this way, please understand that no matter what you did or think you could have done, when someone is that deep in depression positive things simply *can’t* sink in. Hope and support roll off them like water off a duck. You tell them you love and support them, that they are a wonderful person and that life will get better some tomorrow, and they smile at you and say “Thanks.” But deep in their heart they can’t accept that. They don’t believe you love them because they feel unworthy of love. They don’t believe life will get better because they simply can’t see any way it could. So they humor you as they think you are humoring them because they don’t want to be hammered and taunted by platitudes of a good life they can’t access. Because they don’t want to hurt you and make you sad.
It wasn’t your fault. The only thing that could have helped someone who had sunk so deep was medication and professional therapy. And sometimes even that can’t get through.
It wasn’t their fault. They were suffering in what they saw as an endless road of emptiness and misery and they took the only off-ramp they could find. And they probably thought they were sparing you from their pain.
No one is to blame. It’s just one of those things. One of those tragic, heartbreaking things that we should not judge people for.
Only miss them and remember how special they were and what joy they brought to our lives.