Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Dead Poets & Talking It Out

If anything good can be said to have come out of yesterday's heartbreaking news, it's that Robin Williams has - once again - got us talking.

Because amid all the well-deserved tributes and expressions of sorrow, people are also talking about depression, and suicide, and the battle so many among us fight each and every day.

A few minutes after John and I heard the news yesterday, he came into my office.

"I want you to know," he said, "That if you ever feel like it's too much, and that you can't go on, you can tell me."

I was a little taken aback, to be honest, since depression isn't really something I struggle with. But then I realized: John doesn't know that. No matter how close you are, or how long you've known someone, you can't really know what's going on inside. The demons they're facing down. The wars they're fighting. Sure, there are symptoms, but at the end of the day we just. don't. know.

And that's why we have talk about it, guys. What's more, that's why we have to ask.

My friend Dr. Andrea Letamendi is both a geek girl and a clinical psychologist, and she had some useful insights on Twitter:

And finally:

Go ask your loved ones how they're doing today, guys. And remember, like the Bloggess always says: Depression lies.


  1. Thank you for posting this. RIP Robin Williams.

  2. I am grateful that you have such a sweet husband that cares enough about you to want to hear the bad with the good. I wish everyone out there had that sort of a wonderful relationship with a sibling or parent or friend. I'm also grateful that there are people out there willing to help complete strangers if they are missing those sorts of relationships. Thank you for reaching out to others and sharing. And God bless Robin Williams and his family right now.

  3. Lovely article. I never thought about that fact that it's better to discuss thoughts of suicide and depression with your loved ones instead of just never discussing it. Thanks for opening my eyes.

  4. Thank you, Jen. I've seen a lot of messages pointing people toward helplines in the last 24 hours, but not many recommending the help starts closer to home. My younger sister has mild depression and younger brother has tried cutting. I've told both I'm willing to listen if they need to talk it out. There will be no prejudice or judgment. Just compassion and whatever help I can provide.

  5. In my experience, suicide is often not a -selfish- act, either. In my case, all of my thoughts surrounding it have been entirely selfless. "Everyone around me would be so much better off if they did not have to deal with my stuff all of the time. It never ends. They -have- to be tired of it. -I'm- tired of it." Depression is insidious. It tells you that you are a burden on those around you. That everyone is tired by listening to your whining about "nothing". That no one's really caring, they're just providing you lip service. That secretly, everyone's just annoyed by your presence. You add that to the constant, internal streaming of every mistake you've ever made, any sort of anxiety you feel about anything, and the pressure to "suck it up" and "deal with it" because "everyone feels this way," it becomes such an overwhelming presence that it's more shocking that people -survive-.

    I've been saying this a few different places, and I want to say it again. If you are suffering from depression, if you are suicidal, do -that thing- that will help you. Whether it's a trip to the ER, whether it's calling up a friend, a family member, your church guy, -whatever it is-, do it. It is the hardest thing you will ever do. The whole time, your depression will tell you that you shouldn't do -that thing- because they aren't going to care. Do it anyway. -Defy- it.

    Because you, person struggling, are a warrior. You just don't realize it yet.

    1. Bethie, thank you for your comments about suicide not being a selfish act. I feel the same way and having survived 2 suicide attempts I can say your take is spot on. While I have seen much published in the last 24 hours on suicide prevention, I have not seen this point of view. I hope you don't mind if I repost your comments in a private message to a fb friend who was quite outspoken about having no compassion for the victim.

    2. Thank you for these words

    3. I do not mind at all. Part of my therapy is refusing to hide anymore. I refuse to internalize it. Not everyone "understands" but my refusal to pretend that my PTSD and my OCD -doesn't exist- has helped far more than it's hurt. People can't understand if you don't at least make the attempt to tell it how it is, bluntly.

    4. Thank you for this comment. It really means a lot to me.

    5. Thank you for reminding us that suicide isn't selfish. People need to hear that, and stop being so judgmental.

    6. "Not everyone "understands" but my refusal to pretend that my PTSD and my OCD -doesn't exist- has helped far more than it's hurt."

      I've found this, too. In my case people have often seemed to feel that there is something not quite right and knowing what it is has been a relief for them. Which is not to say everyone shows signs when they're not feeling ok, of course, just that I hadn't realised just how bad a job of hiding it I personally had been doing. Some people are much better at it, which is probably not a good thing.

      To me, choosing to talk about my conditions when they are relevant to the situation or conversation is not a choice to discuss them, but a choice to not hide them. For me, not talking about them is the active decision and talking the default, and some people don't seem to understand that, but I hope that as more people talk it will be easier to understand.

    7. The problem with saying "suicide is not a selfish act" is that the antithesis is "suicide is altruistic" and the problem, as you say, at least a few people commit suicide because they think the world would be better off without them, so let's not confuse the issue and enable that line of thinking...the message is simply, I'm selfish, I love you, I need you, please don't commit suicide, I need you in my life.

  6. Thank you for posting this! I struggled with clinical depression and a doctor recommended I take some medication. I kept in touch with my doctor, making sure that I followed her orders and closely observed my symptoms. I had suicidal ideations, and being able to call a suicide line and talk to a therapist really helped! The doctor told me if I ever felt that I was on top if the world and tempted to discard my medications, then I may have manic depression. Fortunately this was not the case and the symptoms greatly subsided in 9 months. I know Robin Williams struggled with this insidious disease. It's a very challenging and hard one to manage, since moods vacillate greatly. My heart goes out to him and his family. He was a brilliant and talented man who struggled with crushing depression. Mental illness is a serious problem that deserves more attention.

  7. My sister is bipolar, and I'm not sure how compliant she is with her meds. Ever since I can remember I've been her verbal punching bag; right now I'm going through one of those times, and I'm not talking with her much. Your post reminded me to check in on her. Thank you.

  8. A thing to add whenever people mention the suicide prevention hotline: imalive.org - it's basically the online chat version.
    Useful for people who don't like making phone calls, or for whom hearing a voice is just too much human contact right now.

    1. I, luckily, do not seriously struggle with bad depression (i should add "yet" as my brother, father, and sister all have developed it in their 40s+ and I am TERRIFIED of things getting worse then they are now) but the online chat should DEFINITELY be shared every time! the few times that i have gotten bad, i, luckily, had my husband who i was able to just dissolve into a puddle in his lap but there was no understanding what i was saying so the phone would NOT have helped. also, i am borderline terrified of taking on the phone for NORMAL things so i know i would never be able to call for something like that. "i don't want to bother them"

  9. There is not a more horrific and terrible feeling in the world that knowing your parent has chosen not to be with you. (And, yes, I'm aware the crowds will roar at my use of the word "chosen." You can't decide to have a mental illness anymore than you can decide to have a physical one, but you can choose to seek out professional help.)

    People are saying things like, "he's in a better place" and "he's free now" and "he's finally happy." No one is saying, "he left behind three gorgeous children who will be reeling from his actions for the rest of their lives."

    So, I agree, talk to your loved ones. And if you are depressed, seek help. No one would expect you to walk with a broken leg, and no one expects you to deal with mental illness without medical intervention. BUT SEEK HELP. Suicide may not be selfish (a word I've heard thrown around a fair amount), but it's pretty damn unfair to everyone left behind.

    1. It's that unfairness that has kept me alive. Knowing that I'd be causing that much pain to the people who love me is almost as unbearable as the struggling, sometimes. But I also realize that sometimes you reach that point where you honestly, truly believe that you're doing them a service in the long-run. It's never clear, in that moment. That's the worst part. The 'clarity' of the 'decision' is tainted by an illness you can't do anything about.

      It's why there needs to be more discussion. More open acceptance. But all of that is more difficult when you can't see the symptoms and when no one's depression is the same. What Mister Williams was suffering was unique to him alone, and that makes it exceptionally hard to treat.

  10. Good reminder. I always try to be the one people can come talk to, but I don't always think to find someone to talk to, even when I need it. I tell myself it's not a huge deal, that my problems aren't that big and that my friends probably have more important things to deal with. Big mistake. Talking with someone who cares always helps.

  11. In addition to the suicide prevention hotline and the internet chatting there are texting programs because some people can't get to a computer but have their phones with them.

    I used to volunteer at a crisis center and worked with their texting program in Minnesota. It was a grant that funded the program for just MN teens but we took texts from anyone that texted in and we recieved texts from all states and ages. I also used to help with the suicide prevention hotline calls as well so it's staffed by the same trained professionals.

    Anyone would only need to text "life" to 839863 to get ahold of a counselor. I know there are other programs for texting but unfortunately do not know their numbers.

  12. I'm becoming a volunteer at crisistextline.org for this very reason. People need to get it out, and need to feel someone's listening. If I can help even one person, than I am more than content.

  13. Thank you Jen for this post. As someone who has suffered severe depression for half my life and now anxiety, I greatly appreciate it. I am not one who seeks out people to talk to, I tend to bottle it all up until it explodes and then I might talk to a family member. Remember, when we are feeling this way, alone in the deep dark well, we can't see the light. Yes, I know tomorrow could be better, but my mind doesn't allow me to believe that. I withdraw inward and become silent as the depression and anxiety sinks it's claws into me. My one hope from this is that it will get people to talk to their loved ones who suffer as not all are willing to reach out. Robin Williams was a great man. I'm sorry he felt that this would make it better, I'm sorry for the family and friends he left behind; but you have to remember, he wasn't thinking clearly. His mind was too clouded with depression and he could see no light, no end in sight. Rest in peace Robin Williams, you will be greatly missed.

  14. I lost my brother to suicide 17 years ago. I miss him every day and wish I'd been able to help him make a different decision. If you need help please ask. The people around you want to help.

  15. I have been there. I spaced out and whispered something in class and a classmate heard me. All he said was i wasnt stupid enough to do something like that. It rang in my head the rest of the day and I wasnt able to go through with it because of those seemingly meaningless words.

  16. WARNING---Very trigger laden account ahead:

    It's hard for me to talk about this. Bear with me guys. All of this has given me the need to share this with somebody.

    When I was 17 and my older sister was 23, she attempted suicide by trying to cut her own wrists in the middle of the night. I found her blood all over the bathroom we shared . I'd unwittingly interrupted her very first attempt.

    Our family was extremely dysfunctional (read as---'much alcohol and history of mental illness' ) and our mother was a survivor of a sibling suicide herself. Her brother's suicide was sometimes alluded to, but always in hushed tones and we never discussed it amongst myself and my siblings. The topic was sort of treated as taboo. In hindsight, I wonder if that was a big part of the problem.

    Anyway... My mom's reaction to my sister's attempt was startlingly horrific ( and uncharacteristic). In a rage' she essentially told my sister that she was just attention seeking and to go ahead and kill herself if that's what she really wanted to do. She didn't--at least not just then.

    I was thrown for a loop. Since neither of my parents seemed able to cope, I spent the next two years on high alert, The stress and worry was unbelievable. Waking throughout the night to check the bathroom, running home from where ever I had to go, to be sure that my sister had not harmed herself in my absence. An aunt helped me to get my sister to a public mental health clinic and get her seen on a sliding scale fee schedule. It was the best we could do.

    I remember one afternoon when I got home from work and I found a note on the stairs leading up to my sister's bedroom. Thankfully, It was a false alarm, but I can tell you that I aged a year for every step I climbed toward the door (where I was sure I'd find her dead)--only later realizing that my sister had hoped out mother would find the note. Did I mention the dysfunctional thing?

    Eventually, my sister moved out of the house to live in a 'group' of other mentally ill young adults. She continued seeing someone who supplied her with medication as a condition of living in a reduced rent apartment. There is a story in that which I won't even go into.Just a mess.

    . I met someone and got married ( at 21--and I've been married for 30 years-believe it or not) moving a few states away.

    A year after I'd left home, my sister succeeded in taking her own life. She'd hoarded her anti depressants and overdosed. I was told that she changed her mind at some point and asked her roommates to take her to the hospital (across the street from their apartment, ironically) and after a while they did. But she had taken too many and the pills were sustained release which further complicated things. Her stomach was pumped, but it was too late.

    I'll never forget the moment I found out. Our telephone had a distinctive ringer. For years afterwards I would want to be sick when I heard that phone ring. Took me forever to figure out the connection.

    My heart is with Robin William's children today. The pain of this is something that never quite goes away.

    I spent years with survivor's guilt and still have bouts of it to this day. I have panic attacks when I see certain patterns of old bathroom tile. Being a survivor of a loved one's suicide also puts you in the not so enviable position of being considered more likely to kill yourself. Isn't that a great thing to contemplate in the wee small hours?
    Anyway, sometimes when this kind of thing happens with a well known person and suicide is discussed so publicly, it can be overwhelming. .

    It helps to off load these awful memories before they suck you down.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. It's totally understandable that such grief would cause survivor's guilt; who wouldn't want to believe that they could somehow stop these things happening? But of course it's not so simple. I wish you peace and healing.

    2. Thanks .It's not something I talk about, generally. I'm grateful to have been able to share that here, where it feels safe. : )

      Thanks, too, for the kind wishes..I work towards peace and healing everyday
      Some days the work is harder than others. A kind listener lightens the load, Here's hoping that the William's family have some measure of healing and peace soon.

      I suppose it hurts this much for me again because, as silly as it might seem to some, I adored Robin Williams. His comedic generosity and the sharing of his immense gifts helped me through some truly dark times.

      Maybe this is just more survivor's guilt but I wish I could have returned the favor.
      I would give a lot to have been able to sit by his side, held his hand, and to have assured him that the dark clouds would thin out and to please, please, just hold on 'til they eventually parted enough to make life bearable again for him. I know a lot of us would.

      Peace be with you. Consider yourself hugged.

  17. Jen, it seems as though your tight-knit geeky community just got a little closer with this topic. We all have our own hells. I hope that anyone who feels this way has a friend, or a safety, they can run to or count on. And those who don't feel this way, please listen to those who do. Just because you don't understand doesn't mean it's not a legitimate issue.
    When I heard about the passing of Mr. Williams, I cried. Not becasue the world lost a beautiful soul, but because no matter how many people he helped, he never felt good enough for himself or those around him. People need to take the time to appreciate those we love. Tell people how you feel about them; as they probably don't know.

    I have witnessed my best friend attempt suicide more times than I care to count. I remember many late night hospital trips and staring into the vacant eyes of someone who used to be. I've spent hours standing by her side just so she didn't feel so alone. I've spent words reminding her that people love her and need her and care. But those words get broken and fizzle before they ever reach her.

    So many things can be contributed to suicide and/or depression. We all deal with emotions differently. Depression has been apart of me since for 15 years (I'm 30). Some days are better than others, but some days are just too hard. There's no explaination for it and for anyone who says, "just get over it" needs to be punched in the face. My depression has sent me into fits of self-hatred that resulted in bucket loads of pills and therapists. I have attempted suicide plenty of times, and the scars on my wrists and thighs will always remind me of darker days. But my mind and body just wouldn't give in. To this day I still struggle with myself and the judgements of others, but I'm stronger.

    Sometimes all we need is a hug.

    --Piper P from Washington State

  18. You don't have to suffering from clinical depression to consider suicide. I think if you make it to 40 without ever having seriously considered it, then you are truly blessed. So thank John, because sometime, somewhere, that admonition may save your life.

    Even in our outrageously prosperous times, life can hard, sometimes the blows come too swiftly and too hard, and then death seems to sing a sweet siren song. THAT'S when you may look back on that moment and run to him for the help and support you need. You don't need to be 'mentally ill' to hurt that much. Sometimes things just hurt.

  19. Back again. Wow. This is affecting me in a large way. Sorry for taking up so much space on this thread,
    (I'm the one with the long drawn out post above detailing my dysfunctional family and my older sister's eventual suicide after a number of attempts.)

    I am seeing a lot of people dance around the 'selfishness' angle of all this. As a survivor, I can tell you that there was a huge wave of anger and resentment in me that continued to ebb and flow over a number of years after her death. On days when my compassion levels were highest, I would realize that when a person is in such a state of illness and despair and who are bent on self destruction they simply can't foresee the damage their particular means of dying will bring to those who love them. On my bad days...well, that brand of anger is a hard thing to put behind you.

    Now I know that there is no real linear reasoning when you are suffering from depression like this. I've had my own moment of utter despair when all that saved me from stepping in front of a moving vehicle was the simple fact that I was wearing my daughter's socks. Not that I would be making someone else kill me and/or that some random person would have to live with that knowledge or potential guilt (horrible to contemplate that now)--nope--not even that my child would have to live believing that I had left her by choice. No, in the moment the only thought that really got to me was the idea that I could not die wearing my girl's socks. That she should not have to forever think of my dead body wearing her socks. And I stepped away from the curb.
    I wake up shaking sometimes, thinking that my brain could veer so drastically off course this way again.
    On bad days?
    Well, I make sure that I wear my daughter's socks.

    1. I know how you feel. There have been times when I've just wanted to drive my car over a cliff. Various things have stopped me. One time it was because I didn't want to get blood on my best friend's sweatshirt.

      It's funny though. I've talked to various therapists and various psychologists and because I was so "young" at the time, it's almost as if they didn't believe me. One "doctor" gave me anti-depressants that kept me awake at night... so she gave me sleeping pills to help. SLEEPING PILLS to a DEPRESSED PERSON. I stopped talking to her. - Another doctor told me I was being immature. - Another doctor thought I might have a brain tumor. Just because I was younger than the average doesn't mean it wasn't true. It doesn't matter what age you are, depression hurts.

    2. I hear you. After my sister died I started having some weird physical symptoms as a result of the accumulated stress/trauma/grieving. My husband took me to our GP (whom I barely knew) and the guy at least had the decency to merely 'offer' (not insist upon giving ) me some meds to help with the resultant weirdness, depression, and sleeplessness. To say that I declined his offer is an understatement.

      Mind you, my sister had just died after ingesting about 170 prescription antidepressant pills a few days before. At the time, I was appalled that he offered me pharmaceuticals .I hope the man has since recovered from the blistering look I must have given him. I wasn't in my right mind. In hindsight I know he was trying to offer me all the help he believed he could.

      But I was vehemently anti-psychiatric pharmacotherapy in those days just following her death. I saw it as a haphazard 'hit or miss' treatment plan that could have potentially deadly side effects (like my sister's death). Truth be told, my sister was actively avoiding having her blood work monitored to see if she was complying with her medication dosage recommendations (obviously, she wasn't).Had she been on the correct medication--who knows?
      That was back in the early 80's. There have been some changes in medical research and practice since then (or so I'm told). I'm more open to the idea now, but have not taken that (medication) step yet.
      Hell, I've never even gone for counseling. Go figure why I'm still having issues lo these many years later,, right?
      I'm sorry you've had to deal with the same disease. Stay as strong as you can and I highly recommend that you find the socks of someone you love more than yourself and wear them like a shield against the dark. Like I said--it helped me.

  20. I loved Allie Brosh's descriptions of depression as well. It is really difficult for the people left behind to deal with the aftermath of a suicide but I found a very comforting blog post here: http://eatthinkbemerry.com/2014/06/a-perspective-on-suicide/

  21. So I've tried to make it through all the comments, but they keep making me cry, but I just wanted to tell you how much I love your relationship. You guys seem really normal, with lots of love, and that makes my heart happy. :)

  22. I love Jen and I love John.


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