Like everyone else I’ve just heard the sad, shocking news about Robin Williams’ suicide. He was brilliant and I feel lucky to have gotten to meet him on a couple of occasions… Obviously I didn’t really know him but (maybe since I knew some people who did, for whom his death is personally significant and tragic) the news is kind of haunting me right now… And maybe it’s this coupled with the fact that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about mental illness—depression, anxiety and suicide in particular—and dealing with it myself. I say this not to co-opt someone else’s tragedy and make it about my own shit, but rather just to contribute to a conversation that I think really needs to happen early and often whenever someone—anyone—is depressed and suicidal.
It’s an impossibly huge can of worms and I don’t really know how much to say here. There’s the damaging depressed artist cliché, but, you know, well-poisoning (e.g.: “Hitler loved goat cheese, therefore anyone who enjoys a good chèvre must be a Nazi.”) goes both ways. Like, just because any number of artistic “role models” have suffered (and died) from depression, personality or mood disorders, addiction and suicide, doesn’t mean we should glamorize these afflictions as beneficial or somehow integral to the creative process.
I say this as someone who wound up in the ER less than a year ago for doing something which wasn’t attempted suicide as such, but which could have killed me, as a result of my untreated depression, and who spent the better part of a year not creating a damn thing because of it.
I normally don’t talk about this because frankly I’m embarrassed by it.
(What role does shame play in suicide I don’t know, but I imagine there is a significant one.) Talking about depression can be risky. It can invite criticism, incredulity and, maybe worst of all, silence from someone who feels awkward about it and has no idea what to say.
The phrase “untreated depression” makes it sound oversimplified and anyone who has dealt with it knows that—it’s hard fucking work. And knowing you have to do the work and actually doing it are light years apart. You can be smart and lucid enough to talk about it, observe it, even function enough to hold down a job, but that doesn’t necessarily mean shit, and it certainly doesn’t mean it goes away when it’s ignored.
Depression stifles creativity. And suicide kills creators. This has been said more eloquently and by many other people, and I don’t even know if anyone reads this thing anyway, but I guess I just wanted to add my two cents and to say that I am sad and sorry to read about this brilliant, bright, complicated, imperfect, pained human being leaving us. And about all those we don’t and never will read about. Sometimes I guess all we can do is talk and listen, so thank you for listening.