This is a really rough week for death. Actually, it’s been over a week. Israel and Gaza are killing each other. ISIS is exterminating people in droves in the Middle East, one NASCAR driver accidentally killed another just yesterday, and then a police officer gunned down a young, unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri.
I was already feeling pretty sad, given that I keep seeing all this, and meanwhile, in my little corner of reality, my mother’s health is declining from cancer and Alzheimer’s, and it’s kind of a race to see if I get to say goodbye to her at Christmas or if she’ll have lost the battle by then.
And then today. Depression killed Robin Williams.
That’s right. I’m not going to make the victim the subject of that sentence. I’m not going to accuse this actor and comedian we all love of committing murder of self. Because depression is the killer.
If people want to say that a person who commits suicide is weak, then fine. They’re weak in the same way a person in the final stages of cancer, or ALS, or multiple sclerosis is weak. If they’re selfish, fine. They’re selfish the way a person in the final stages of a torturously painful disease begs death to end the pain.
If you’ve never struggled with depression or addiction, then please: count yourself lucky and SHUT. UP. You really have no idea. If you have had to spend some part of your life battling one of these diseases (that’s right; I said it), then you know. It could have been you.
It could have been me.
Now, granted, the only thing I’ve ever been addicted to is nicotine, for that brief period of a few years when I smoked maybe half a pack a day at most. It was a rough time. I quit. It wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t impossible for me. I guess I’m lucky that way.
But I know depression. I spent years on medication, and I was hospitalized once for a week. I know what it’s like to really believe the horrible, crazy things your brain tells you about the world, about reality, about your worth as a human being. Thank God I recovered.
Depression is a disease.
Cancer is a disease. We all know about that. Who among you has never known a person who has had cancer? Cancer attacks the body by dangerously multiplying diseased cells at a quicker rate than the body creates normal, healthy cells.
Heart disease is a well-known scourge as well. Many of us have it in our family tree somewhere, what with high cholesterol and a tendency toward heart attacks coexisting in a society in which our increasingly sedentary lifestyle (guilty as charged) is conspiring with genetics to kill us early.
Multiple sclerosis. Stroke. ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Diabetes. Alzheimer’s. Parkinson’s. You know their names. We all live in fear that they will strike those we love. Or ourselves. Something happens in the body that isn’t the way it’s supposed to. Illness ensues. The sufferer has a decreased quality of life, is less able to move, and/or experiences pain.
I could be describing depression there. I typed those sentences and it wasn’t intentional that I was also describing depression. Addiction. These two diseases, often found hanging around together, happen in the brain’s chemistry.
Something happens in the body that isn’t the way it’s supposed to. Illness ensues. The sufferer has a decreased quality of life, is less able to move, and/or experiences pain.
When depression or addiction claims a life, where’s the compassion? So now we’ve somehow decided that there are acceptable diseases and shameful ones? Why do you think so many people don’t get the help they need? Why do you think they’re afraid to seek treatment?
No one chooses emotional illness or chemical dependency. Robin Williams didn’t start using cocaine back in the day because he thought it would be great fun to be a drug addict. He didn’t replace that with alcohol after finally cleaning up because he thought “everyone loves a drunk.” He was self-medicating. He could make you laugh, cry, love him, and idolize him. But he couldn’t make you help him. And he couldn’t make you stop him from succumbing to a disease any more than you could have cured someone of cancer.
So if you’re the person who says, “what a waste,” or “how selfish,” or “how could he do this to his kids,” then please move along. There’s nothing for you to see here. Depression, addiction, and suicide are not choices any more than cancer is a choice.
It’s been said all over the place, and I’ll say it again: Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind.
Even after they’re gone.