Another. As a professional reminded me yesterday, it’s not the depression that’s the dangerous point as much as it is that moment on the way back up that they have the energy to act. And we cannot always tell when someone is struggling with mood and depression. Many have learned to hide it well.
Bourdain was open about his addictions and his dysfunction. Kat Kinsman even moreso:
But your customers, your diners, your readers — they can never know. It would ruin the illusion. Seeking help for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, OCD, addiction, not only is it a financial impossibility for people who often don’t even have access to basic healthcare — let alone mental healthcare — it’s stigmatized. We’re stopping each other from seeking help, and that’s got to change.
We don’t judge if a pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or if the immune system is dysfunctional. But the brain? Oh how we judge. And once again, the ignorant and self-righteous will take to social media to pronounce judgment and call suicide a “selfish act.” It’s not. Full stop.
As with so much other violence, how much will be enough for us to do something? We can start by ending the stigma once and for all around mental health. A talented psychologist told me if someone is determined to kill themselves, they will. That is true. It’s also true that those who have survived things like jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge said they changed their minds after they jumped. Let’s do everything we can to show that we’d like to keep them here until natural death. We can begin with understanding mental illness, destigmatizing it, and kindness… always.
Last days of crowdfunding to cover the post-production costs: an extra day of shooting and those crew members, insurance, camera rental, editing, color correcting, titles, score, film festival entry fees, etc. You may have noticed I have fallen down on the job a bit. Things like getting rear-ended and having to deal with reams of paperwork took up way too much time. Gah! Back to my point…. The anniversary of Robin Williams’ suicide is coming up in a week. Last year, it changed my life. I have been in and out of therapy most of my life. Turns out I have dysthymia, also known as persistent depressive disorder. So you see THE GREEN BENCH isn’t just some bit a fiction I wrote. It isn’t only about other people. I have a stake in this. Given the statistics, we all do really. I’m writing a memoir about it, particularly about its origins, but more on that another time.
Heather Gordon Young has a good piece about Cecil the Lion and her brother Jimmy’s mental struggles and why not only do we need to reduce stigma, but why we need all of us, including those of us who struggle with mental illness and depression. We grow poorer when we lose people like Jimmy or Robin Williams to suicide. I will say this much now about my own depression: I used the same reasoning Robin Williams did – I would never do anything to harm myself once I had children. I have two. He had three. And it didn’t matter. That woke me up and I went to a psychiatrist for the first time. I’m a textbook case. I told her what was going on and she read it right back to me out of the DSM. 2 of the 6 need to be present for diagnosis:
Poor appetite or overeating
Insomnia or hypersomnia
Low energy or fatigue
Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions
Feelings of hopelessness
I had all 6 including poor appetite, insomnia, and both poor concentration and difficulty making decisions. I thought that was me, but what a difference with an anti-depressant. Old obsessions melted away, I can sleep, I rarely skip meals any more, I don’t always feel hopeless and when it hits, I can fight it off and have healthy self-esteem for the first time.
If you want to celebrate my coming out of the mental illness closet, help us get to $12,000 by Thursday. Your donation is tax deductible. We have a ways to go, but I know there is a patron out there somewhere, an angel who will help this project get out to the festivals, then into the hands of the mental health community. Let’s stop the stigma.
When I was in grad school, Marcos McPeek Villatoro gave an amazing lecture on mental illness and creativity that I wish had been recorded. He’s talked about his own diagnosis on NPR. The room filled and soon overflowed and that was the moment I discovered that most of the people around me either had a mental illness or a family member with it. Quiet, hard-working creative people coping with various storms in their brains or those of a parent, sibling, child, or partner. My mother suffered from depression and, while I was a teenager, Valium addiction. I grew up with her threats of suicide, was the one who attended the family support group at the “pain center” (back then, a euphemism for rehab) that my father would not. When my then-boyfriend’s mother asked how she was, he later chastised my honesty in answering her, for drifting away from euphemisms and mentioning Valium addiction. Shame is the real killer. My grad school mentor, Rob Roberge, has written a brilliant essay on that subject.
We owe much of the arts and sciences to the mentally ill. Sir Isaac Newton was bipolar and one of the most influential scientists ever in the fields of physics, math and philosophy and yet said of himself: “I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
It’s not news that people write stupid things in social media. “How could Robin Williams be sad with all that money and fame?” We need to be better than that. “I can’t imagine the pain…” Well, lucky you, but you have no excuse. William Styron and others have written about it. And please stop with the gloved blame – would you blame someone who had a stroke or heart attack? Just as either of those are not entirely a matter of diet and exercise (see Jim Fixx), Williams’ (apparent) suicide was not entirely an act of will – this was a storm of brain chemistry. This was not sadness, but an abyss. Williams stated repeatedly that he battled his demons in large part for the sake of his children. He fought for decades while maintaining a career in the public eye AND being uncommonly kind. He left us some 35 years of performances of astonishing range and did it with grace, courtesy, and humility. He treated people very well, no matter who they were. That is a rare and beautiful thing. He encouraged actors, comedians and improvisers – including friends of mine. He showed up at hospitals to visit patients without publicity. He entertained the troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. And he could have said the very same words as Newton, that he was just playing at the shore, but we know they both plumbed the depths in their own very different ways. Very different!
Creativity is often accompanied by some form of mental illness. There are valiant battles waged daily that we never hear about. Robin Williams’ ultimate gift, the reason he was so loved, is that he was willing to share the struggle, his vulnerability, his humanity. Watch Good Will Hunting again and look in his eyes – that’s not only the pain of a character who’s lost his wife. He let his own pain shine through and touch us.
If you struggle with depression, with a mental illness, with an addiction, please seek help. Know you are not alone. Know also that we value you and your creativity. We know it comes at a cost. And let’s do better by those who wander our streets – that should not be part of a compassionate society. There is enough challenge in treating and living with these illnesses without fighting shame as well. Fighting demons is hard enough. And sometimes, God help us all, they win.
I like this clip because it not only shows his talent, but his regard for the troops and at the very end, his kindness