When the perfect storm of depression, mental illness and addiction comes together, it takes you to some very dark places. It’s difficult to put the internal storm into words for those who have never stood in its eye. Even now, as I’m typing, I’m separated from my last storm by only a couple of months, but the memories of the feelings, both physical and emotional, are fuzzy and difficult to articulate.
What I can say is that I am not surprised by Robin Williams’ suicide. As tragic, unexpected and painfully sad as his death is, I understand it. I suspect he was in the center of his own perfect storm.
Depression, in its most insidious form, removes all rational thoughts and memories and replaces them with truly irrational stand-ins. During my most lucid, rational, depression-free days, I know that I have a wide circle of family that loves me. However, in stormy times, I feel completely alone and as though no one in this world think twice if I ceased to exist.
That loneliness and isolating sadness is not just a thought, but something I know and physically feel. It’s during these times, when depression replaces rational thought with irrational, that suicide is possible. If I feel it in my soul that I will not be missed, then suicide becomes a real option that otherwise wouldn’t be considered.
I’ve been suicidal since 13 and over the past 25 years, the definition of “suicidal” has evolved a few times. Today, what it means for me is that I consider it in passing almost every day. I know that I will not do it today, but I regret that I didn’t do it 20+ years ago. I have the best handle on my suicidal thoughts today than I ever have, however it’s always still on the edge of my consciousness.
On top of living through depression, Robin Williams was an addict. He publicly acknowledged relapsing after 20 years of sobriety. Active addiction, recovery and relapse are all such powerful forces that they change any person who struggles through them. I cannot imaging the struggle through relapse after long-term sobriety; that alone must carry it’s own set of self-loathing irrationality.
I hope that his death has a ripple effect throughout the population. Of course we mourn, but my hope is that we consider his life, angst, and death from different angles. For this recovering alcoholic, it’s a reminder that even in recovery, when mixed with depression and other forms of mental illness, addiction changes the brain, giving irrational thoughts a disguise of normalcy. It’s what allows a person with long-term sobriety to pour a drink.
If I can ingrain that reminder in my head, like spray paint on a brick wall, I hope to keep it in the light during the next perfect storm. At the very least, it’s now painted here.