The death of beloved Robin Williams has touched so many of us because his humor reached into our deepest souls and helped us laugh at the ordinary, the profound, the tragic and the absurd. He magically unraveled the common threads between us all. From Facebook to Twitter, network news to Internet insiders, the plaintive call is to pay attention to those who suffer from depression, as he did. It is a worthy cause, to incite compassion to those who are thus afflicted.
My question is though, how long will that empathy and compassion last?
I'm a funny gal. I am not a professional (anything), but I've dabbled in stand up and I write humorous essays. I crack people up. And for the past 15 years, I've taken an anti-depressant. Am I depressed? No, I'm over anxious. My body chemistry is such that when confronted by uncertainty or overwhelmingly dire circumstances, I can fly into great despair and I have suffered more than my fair share of debilitating panic attacks. The anti-depressants have smoothed out those rough edges and brought me back to a more centered place. I can cope well now with crises.
When I've told people I take these drugs, some have responded with, "Oh, well, you take happy pills." As though that's cheating. As though, if I was really of strong mind and character, I could accomplish the same thing without drugs. It happens over and over and over. I stopped telling people (unless I thought they might identify) that I take the medication. The implication is I'm not really a genuine person, that my reactions are fake.
But I am real! I wear glasses, too. I wear them because there is a deficiency in my vision. If I didn't, I would have to squint like mad to see what I see. It's the same thing, people!
I lost my husband last year to cancer. He was the love of my life, and I was his beloved. From the minute we got his diagnosis, I know that the strength I was able to provide, (that and my humor), was bolstered by the medication I took. I was able to stay positive until the very end. I was able to keep us grounded in the present until we had no more present. It didn't keep me from being afraid, or sad, or despairing, but it allowed me to refocus my energy on what was possible, and what was real instead of being anxious about what would eventually come to pass.
I hope that the compassion people feel towards Robin Williams will extend to those of us who are a little impaired. For those of us who suffer more than our share of anxiety or depression, for those kids who are truly out of synch and need to take medications to help them concentrate in school. Instead of shaming them (or their parents) for taking the "evil drugs," how about we support them in their efforts to address their own issues and the steps they take to correct them? If you haven't walked in my shoes, please don't revert to the mentality that says just a little elbow grease or mind over matter will solve all our problems.
I know that Mr. Williams had at various times sought treatment for his depression. And we can't always ease the pain. But I urge you to let the increased level of awareness that may result from this tragedy extend past the current headlines. Let his death be a reminder that we don't know the demons that lurk, but we can be compassionate and understanding in that great unknown.