Much has been made in the media and on Social Networking Sites about Robin Williams’ long battle against depression and ultimately, his suicide.
There have been high profile cases of abuse against his daughter as well as the usual gang of opinions coming from all quarters, both religious and secular.
The fire and brimstone types must have dived immediately to their keyboards when the story broke to decry his suicide as a failure to accept God into his heart and that now, as both an atheist (which wasn’t certain) but also as a suicide, he was going to spend an eternity in Hell. Kind words that I’m sure his family delighted in reading.
The media loved it as well and seeming couldn’t wait to air his dirty laundry in public, such as it was. Eager to speculate on the reasons that he decided to take his own life.
Much as those two groups could have been pretty much relied upon to thoughtlessly cause extra grief to his bereaved family, I was surprised to discover that some quarters of the secular community were equally guilty of such cruel wordsmithing.
Step forward PZ Myers.
He crawled out from under his stone to declare that he had no sympathy for Robin as he was a wealthy, white male. Robin’s ethnicity, gender or bank balance should have no bearing on levels of sympathy. He was first and foremost a human being. Beloved of many as a bringer of laughter, pathos, sadness and joy. But also as a family man.
On the positive side, almost immediately after he published his hateful article, there was a backlash against him from both secular and religious people. And rightly so!
But they are not who I wish to discuss here. I am currently looking at an article by Matt Walsh, entitled “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice”.
The title alone shows a complete lack of knowledge or understanding of Depression. But lets look at what he had to say:
The death of Robin Williams is significant not because he was famous, but because he was human, and not just because he left this world, but particularly because he apparently chose to leave it.
It’s a tragic choice, truly, but it is a choice, and we have to remember that. Your suicide doesn’t happen to you; it doesn’t attack you like cancer or descend upon you like a tornado. It is a decision made by an individual. A bad decision. Always a bad decision.
No, we are more than our brains and bigger than our bodies. Depression is a mental affliction, yes, but also spiritual. That isn’t to say that a depressed person is evil or weak, just that his depression is deeper and more profound than a simple matter of disproportioned brain chemicals. And before I’m accused of being someone who “doesn’t understand,” let me assure you that I have struggled with this my entire life.
Initially I agree with what was said, but I do have a problem with the final line. Robin Williams did not choose to do anything!
Imagine a man hanging by his fingertips on the edge of a cliff, below him lie jagged rocks and certain death. The only thing keeping him alive is the strength in his fingers. But finger strength is finite, and after a long struggle to keep his grip, his strength fails him and he falls to his death.
Did he choose to die?
I knew a man who in early 2000 was a healthy and fit individual, he was a soldier in the British Army, newly promoted to Staff Sergeant and just settling in to his dream job as a military computer programmer/systems analyst.
Within a matter of weeks, that had changed. A chemical imbalance in his brain caused the onset of a very serious bout of depression. Not sadness, not feeling a bit down. Clinical Depression!
Within three weeks he lost nearly six stones in weight (84lbs or 38Kg) simply because he was unable to face the prospect of eating food. It was a struggle to get him to take sips of water and at more than one point he became dangerously dehydrated.
His mood swung from sombre to suicidal almost constantly. And the overriding emotional state was despair. Deep, black despair.
At times he would burst into tears for no reason he was able to explain and would be inconsolable for hours at a time, crying himself to exhausted sleep.
In the beginning, he resisted taking drugs as his only experience of anti depression medication was what he had learned from watching television dramas about the subject, as I think most of us can identify with.
At times, when his black moods were at their worst, he contemplated suicide. He genuinely thought about walking out of the house and straight in front of a car. More than once, he ran a warm bath with the intention of sitting in it, before slitting his wrists with a bread-knife.
Thankfully, he was able to pull back at the last moment and didn’t commit suicide.
He, after many sessions with a Community Psychiatric Nurse, he was persuaded to start taking the medication that would eventually start to correct the chemical imbalances in his brain and bring him back to normality.
The whole experience lasted just over ten months.
Ten months of swinging between feeling sad and down to the darkest depths of despair you could imagine. The feelings of hopelessness were palpable, the thoughts that he was such a burden to his loved ones. A failure. A nothing of a man who would never amount to anything and always be the grey man stuck at the back of the crowd.
But he was one of the lucky ones, his strength didn’t fail him. He kept his grip on the cliff face. It wasn’t a choice to resist suicide, it was simply that in the end he was strong enough to keep his fingers from slipping or that the chemical imbalances were not as out of control as they might have been.
How do I know such details about this man and his struggle?
It was me.
Robin Williams did not choose to commit suicide, he was simply not strong enough to keep his grip on the cliff face.
My thoughts are with his family.