Robin Williams didn't kill himself. Depression killed him.
His lightening fast, facile brilliant brain ultimately became his worst enemy and finally, in the end, outwitted and finally defeated him.
Depression is its own monster. It has its own identity, its own zip code, its own army that invades your heart and turns it soot black with scorched earth. It numbs your nerve endings and makes it impossible to feel any kind of love no matter how hard you try, and that is a huge part of its personal torment.
It's a pervasive force that comes at you like a transparent twister, and one day you wake up to nothing but inner devastation. Everything is gone. Everything that you love has been obliterated, and you no longer want to live. You want to hibernate.
The commercials says depression hurts, and they are right. But not in the way that you think. It hurts both mentally and physically. You feel sadness in your elbows and shoulders while your actual sadness has somehow flown up into the angry dark clouds that now envelope you like a dust storm.
You live in confusion. You have gone backwards. Evolution has gone terribly wrong somehow, and now the simplest task seems both impossible and exhausting. You have no spirit. No energy. You look at pictures of your children and all you see are objects. Strangers.
If you live alone all you hear is the echo of your own tragedy, which seems to announce itself by the minute.
It took me four years to get through mine. I spent a good portion of it surfing websites that instructed you on how to kill yourself. I once shaved by pushing the razor deeply into my skin, just to see if I was still capable of feeling anything. Music was unbearable. Films and TV were taunting.
I was often narcotized and spent 20 hours a day in bed. Possessions mean less than nothing and in my case, I started to get rid of everything, irrationally. Christmas was its own form of hell. You see the joy but to touch it would mean annihilation. You cower and hide instead.
For me, personal loss out of nowhere became an epidemic. My best friend died from pancreatic cancer. My mom died. And then my therapist, the magical Mike Gold, died.
It was so unbearable that all I could do was think about joining them all.
And then a friend, a genuine angel of the moment with the improbable name of Susie Sugar (who is thank God an artist) offered me a change of pace. I was invited to stay with her in Key West. Break up your pattern, she said. Do something profoundly different. So I went. Despite my fears and reticence and apprehension. I went.
Before he died, Mike said to me: "You don't kill yourself: That's murder." (He called me every day at home like clockwork to make sure that I wasn't successful at the one thing that I wanted to be successful at). And then he said, "You have to symbolically die." I had no idea what he meant. And I never got an explanation.
He also said that I would return; everything will return but nothing will be the same. And when I understand why, the clouds will part.
One overcast day in Key West I was sitting in my friend's garden that had been devastated by the recent hurricanes, and I communed with it. Surely it was me and I was it. I casually noticed that new growth was coming in; new flowers, new grass, new life. And suddenly it hit me -- like an avalanche of gold. I knew what Mike meant. But it was even deeper than that. The garden wasn't simply coming back. It was being reborn. Resurrected. But it was not the identical garden. It was it's own second chance. I had been getting rid of all my earthly possession because in my way, I was letting myself -- my former self -- my former life symbolically die. I just didn't know it yet.
And in that moment, after four years of endless torture, I swear to you the clouds began to part both in me and above me too. Whatever ghosts of David past that I was holding on to, packed up and finally left and I was free. But best of all the mourning period was over. I was able to let go of my even the bread crumbs that constantly lead me back to the feeling of being who I used to be.
Who I used to be was gone. Forever. But the Phoenix had risen from the literal ashes and a rush of pure, unfiltered feelings came re-surging back into me.
And then it began to rain.
Next door lived a poor, black family who lived in a battered trailer with a snarling, barking dog chained nearby. The youngest member of the trailer clan was an adorable, scrawny little boy, maybe 6 or 7 who wanted to be of all things, a ballet dancer.
Just as I was beginning my ascent back into life, he suddenly appeared behind me, wearing nothing but a pair of tattered shorts held up by a thin rope, and he was dancing, dancing like a Feiffer cartoon: full of impulse and pure giddy joy. And then I realized that's all I need: the soft, gentle rhythms of rain and the simple, primitive desire to dance.
I was lucky, and my dance card has been filled ever since. But I will never forget my ordeal. My parade of loss. My moment of being reborn.
Not everyone is so lucky. Not even comedy superstars.
Laughter can get stolen, taken right out of you, and whatever is left can choke the living life out of you as the glimmer light in your eyes disappears behind the horizon of who you used to be.
It is not fair. It is not even rational. It just is. But death and depression are not who anyone is. They are nothing more or less than accomplices, the low-rent architects of your self-destruction and despair.
But they do not and should not define anyone.
Emotional hurricanes happen. So do tornadoes and tsunamis. They happen.
Take it from someone who has been in their path and survived.
It was not their fault.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.