A Selfish Debate

So it begins… A famous person takes his life. Cue the spotlight. Dialogue begins. Has this death added something new to the discussion? Will we take this as an opportunity to review health-care policy for those suffering the very real illness called depression? Or will the conversation drag down, into the great abyss of misunderstanding?

It’s almost too close to home. I’m unable to read all the Facebook posts and memorials. It hurts. Why should it bother me on such a level?

I didn’t know Robin Williams much beyond some of his dramatic roles and his hilarious turn as the animated blue guy. I didn’t know him as a person or father or husband. But now, in his death, we can all see him for what he was: human.

The rich and famous are put on such a pedestal in the US and around the world. Comedians perhaps are given a special place in our hearts because they open up about their home lives and personal experience in their stand up. We feel close to them because they open up and turn the every day into something fun and exciting. For many, this suicide is a harsh reminder that depression is universal. Even funny, successful, and yes — famous people that we admire, can have a secret pain that is too much to bear.

People either understand what that feels like or they don’t. People who have battled depression can hopefully remember that pain and feel compassion for a funny man who was obviously in a desperate state to make such a decision. Those who have not experienced depression might mention the S word. Selfish. Those of us still down in the trenches are left to read the postmortem character assassination and feel even weaker knowing that is what people will think of us if we talk openly about being suicidal. I DO understand why people say suicide is selfish but I can NOT agree.  The mind is powerful and capable of inflicting agony. The S word adds nothing positive to this discussion except an even stronger stigma that will silence people who need help. 

So what can I, as someone who grapples with the will to live quite often, add in the wake of Robin Williams’ momentous decision? Empathy.

Goodbye, Mr. Williams. I’m sorry you were in so much pain. You were not alone.

Sense Memory and Houlihan’s Baked-Potato Soup

A June of 2013, I decided to halt ECT treatments. I had at least 19 treatments in about 10 weeks and it seemed it wasn’t really working. I would go back to being suicidal after a few days. It also seemed like it was negatively affecting my memory. I wasn’t really sure how bad it was, but my husband seemed to be concerned. After a month or so, it became clear my memory was decimated. I had huge gaps going back to high-school and college. I couldn’t remember much of my younger daughter’s life. She was two and a half at the time it ended. I couldn’t remember places I had been, people I had known, and a very awful truth – I could not remember if certain people were still alive or had passed during my fog. I also forgot how to do my very complicated, technically precise job. I was left feeling very hollow, a shadow who walks, talks, and takes care of kids.

The doctors said it should come back within 2 months. It didn’t. I was even more depressed and 13 months later, I’m still putting my life back together. Things do come back now and then and when it happens, it hits like lightning and then sort of a short movie reel on each particular topic follows. Maybe I’m watching Orange is The New Black and I’m reminded of my college girlfriend. Or I see a Facebook memorial post and I remember someone died, the funeral, the sadness. It’s really hard walking around not knowing what you know. I’ll say, “I’ve never done that before” and the room goes quiet, awkward glances all around. Then I realize, I have done that and everyone knows it but me. It’s pretty embarrassing and very disheartening. I feel good these days but am still constantly reminded that there is a loss lingering there. Our past experience is an enormous aspect of our identities.

The other day we went to Houlihans for the first time in…. a while. (I physically can’t remember when I was there last and I refuse to constantly view my life through my husbands eyes. I am ME. His memories are not me so I’m not going to ask.) I recognized the sign and the inner decor looked familiar. I didn’t know if it was family friendly and we had the kids with us so I was a bit nervous. I looked at the menu and nothing really triggered. Then the waitress mentioned the soup of the day. And it hit me: the movie real of going to Houlihans with my husband and, more often, with my best friend flashed through my mind’s eye. I got so excited. I could smell the deliciousness and taste it in my mouth. I ordered it and waited for it to arrive, all the while remembering more clearly. A fuzzy picture in my mind of life in our last town and how that was my favorite restaurant began to come into focus. I used to go there because it was close to my house and my driving anxiety was very bad back then. I started to feel the connections blending in my brain, remembering a bit of who I was before, how it felt, fundamentally to be inside myself back then.

The kids were misbehaving and we were talking about something shallow. But inside, I was getting a piece of my mind back. The soup came and it was all that I remembered… and so much more.