The Perfect Storm

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.

Mental Illness in Silence

A woman committed suicide this week.  I did not know her, however family members did.  Through Facebook, I put together the pieces of a somber puzzle.

I first saw the status update of someone who witnessed her death.  They did not know each other, she didn’t know her name.  It was happenstance that put my friend in front of the building when this lady jumped.

Hours later, there were vague posts from others saying “so sad about” and “RIP”.  By connecting the nameless, vague dots I realized that the woman that these people were mourning killed herself.  But no one’s talking about that.

Everyone’s words are carefully crafted to avoid suggesting that it was suicide.  Her obituary has the typical scrubbed language: “died suddenly”.  But that’s not even true.  Suicide is not like getting hit by a bus; it is not something that happens in an instant that ends a life.

When someone dies from cancer, the obituary will read “after a brave battle with…”.  Isn’t suicide also the end of a battle?  Setting aside the common “selfish” argument, a battle with mental illness is not unlike a battle with cancer.  In both cases there is something wrong with your body’s function.  Whether it’s a malfunction of the brain or a growing tumor, it is something that needs treatment.

A battle with cancer is talked about.  Women who beat breast cancer row boats and run marathons to publicly and proudly boast their victory and to support other women who are in battle.  No one talks about the battle with mental illness.  I’ve never seen a 5K for depression.

I’m certainly in no position to judge.  I silently struggle with mental illness from the safety of this anonymous blog.  I presume the woman who killed herself this week also battled her illness silently.  It’s a reminder to us all that the silence is deadly.

Young Businesswoman with Her Finger on Her Lips