I’ve been pretty gobsmacked by the news of Robin Williams death by suicide. It seems impossible that the mind that produced all that wonderful talent also held such darkness that ultimately he could not see to the other side of it.
At first I felt a little angry at him. How dare he throw his life away like that. What about his wife and children. Why was the thought of them not enough to keep him from putting that belt around his neck and pulling it tight? How could he be that selfish.
Then I felt like a hypocrite. Because I know what horrible illnesses depression and addiction are. I know how they can get the best of you. I know that they make you do and say things that you would never do if you were in your right mind.
I also know what it is like to live with an illness that carries such a stigma. It’s hard. It’s really hard.
So I’m going to tell you my little story. I’m not trying to compare myself to Robin Williams. I don’t pretend to know what led to that terrible decision for him. But if we want people to get help and not feel shame in doing it (in general–again, I know only what has been reported about what help he sought), then we have to speak out.
Leading up to Thanksgiving of last year things appeared to be going great. I’d been off chemo for several months and my scans remained clear. I was back to work full time. The kids and JD were all well and happy. Life felt completely normal.
The almost part was the heaviness that I carried around in my chest all the time. It rarely ever went away. It was worse in the early morning hours when my head would spin and my heart beat fast. I felt anxious all the time. There was always this feeling of impending doom that had no basis in reality.
I tried all kind of holistic things. I did acupuncture, yoga, meditation, prayer, vitamins, exercise and none of it worked. I gave myself a severe talking to. Telling myself that all was well and there was no reason to feel anxious. I gave it to God. I gave it to God again. I gave it to God a third and fourth and fifth time. I tried all kinds of exercises and mind tricks that my wonderful integrative medicine doctor (Dr. Steve) suggested.
I felt like a failure. I’d made it through so much. The hard chemo, the loss of my hair, the feeling tired and sick and sick and tired. I was perky cancer girl, for Pete’s sake! Why now, when everything appeared to be going so well, did I feel myself falling apart? I felt like a failure.
Finally, one day, Dr. Steve came in the exam room, asked me how I was, and when I replied in a tiny little voice, “Oh Good! I’m fine!!!”, he turned to me and said, “Just stop.”
“I can feel the anxiety jumping off you from across the room. It’s time for some pharmaceutical help.” And when I protested he just gave me that look over his glasses and wrote out the prescription.
I burst into tears. I felt so relieved. I knew it was time, but I just couldn’t make myself ask for the help I needed. I don’t know if it was my pride, my performance issues, or just general pig headedness, but I couldn’t do it. If I’m perfectly honest, I felt a little bit like a failure because in this instance my faith didn’t seem to be strong enough to pull me out of this thing that was sucking the joy right out of my life.
Within two weeks of starting a low dose of an antidepressant, I was feeling better. The pressure in my chest was gone. The feeling of impending doom was gone. I felt like I got my life back.
I took the help that was offered even though it was really hard. In fact, it was one of the hardest but ultimately best decisions I’ve ever made. The joy returned to my life. Sure, I feel like a total cliche–middle aged suburban housewife on an antidepressant–every time I pick up my bottle from CVS and have to stop myself from launching into an explanation to the poor soul behind the counter, it is worth it.
Sometimes you need help. Even if it’s hard.