Creative People and Depression

(I both did not want to write this post, and couldn’t not write it…)

I don’t talk about celebrity suicides very often, let alone blog about them, but I was incredibly surprised by my reaction to the passing of Robin Williams. Often, with suicides, I’m left feeling kind of angry. I don’t apologize for that because it doesn’t mean I’m not also sad. But I feel so badly for the people left behind and the people who have to clean up the mess. Just the other week a friend of mine watched a woman commit suicide by train and it devastated him. It was a total stranger, but he had to bear witness to it. He saw the moment in her eyes when she might’ve put the gun down or not taken the pills, but it was a train barreling down on her and it was too late. Later I heard about the kids nearby who saw it, about the crew that had to clean her off the tracks, the conductor who couldn’t stop the train in time. This is why I get angry.

But when I heard about Robin Williams I was just so, so sad. It didn’t take me long to figure out what it was though. Robin Williams was completely wrapped up in my childhood, just like anyone my age, because of Hook, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji and Ferngully (I have but one claw, but beware! Damn I have to watch that movie again). Then, when I was a teen, I found Dead Poets Society and he gave us The Birdcage and Good Will Hunting. And that’s just a drop in the bucket. But those are the ones that stuck with me and the ones I still watch on a regular basis.

I can’t count how many times I watched, rewound, and watched again “You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me” from Aladdin.

Robin Williams was part of my childhood and now he’s gone. I feel like part of my childhood is gone.

When I heard the news it hit me like a punch in the gut. My throat swelled and, when I went to Twitter to express my feelings, I found it full of the exact same reaction from nearly 90% of my Twitter feed. And you know why? Because I follow mostly writers, readers, artists, and the occasional celebrity. Creative people.

When I heard that he had been suffering from depression it didn’t surprise me at all. I remember I just sort of nodded and said, “Sure.”

I know a lot of creative people and I can honestly say that a good majority of them suffer from some sort of depression, anxiety disorder, or social disorder. This is common among my people. Even though we’re always smiling for fans or readers, even though we’re always striving to put something creative into the world, even if we are as successful as we always hoped we’d be, we are often suffering. David Wong, over at Cracked.com, put it better than I could in this post.

O Captain, my Captain, I hardly knew how much you meant to me.

Depression runs in my family. It’s like any other genetic trait that can be passed down. I am very lucky that mine is no where near as severe as it is with other members of my family. I haven’t had suicidal thoughts since I was a teenager. And every day, even on my “blue days,” I am grateful that my fear of death was greater, louder, than the depression making me think those black thoughts. But the key word is “lucky.”

Famous Tracy (@tracyvwilson) on Twitter said it quite well, in my opinion, yesterday: When someone dies of cancer, the refrain is “fuck cancer.” But when someone dies of depression, it’s “get help.” Well. Fuck depression. And in that same vein, when someone survives cancer, “they beat it” or “they won their battle.” I am lucky enough that today my depression is quite minimal. I mentioned my “blue days,” those are the days when my depression slowly sneaks up on me, like a monster in the water below me, wraps a tentacle around my ankle and pulls me down. I recognize it now. I have the ability to talk about it and tell my husband what is going on. Not everyone can do this. Much like cancer, depression is different and special for everyone.

A lot of people are telling others to seek help if they’re suffering depression. That seems so easy. And maybe that’ll help someone, but it won’t help everyone. Robin Williams proves that depression doesn’t discriminate by success or how strong of a support group you might have. We even know now that he was seeking help for his depression before it got the best of him. I don’t know what the right thing to do is. Be there for someone who needs it, yes. Share the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, yes (1-800-273-8255). Be there before the depression, during it, after it, yes. If you have depression, seek the help you need, yes. All of this, but sometimes it’s not enough and that’s the sad truth.

It’s been a lifetime since I had those thoughts, I am literally twice the age I was when I thought about it. The things I would have missed out on. Just that thought brings me to tears again. And I know my life is worth something. The first time a reader reached out to me to thank me for my books because they helped them escape a dark time in their life — to know that I’ve helped people without even realizing it — how could I miss out on that? Yes, there are MANY other things besides that (not the least of which are my husband and my writing career), but sometimes knowing you’re important outside of your own little universe can be life-altering.

But Robin knew how loved he was, is still. He knew. But Depression lies. Depression is a cruel, conniving, convincing bastard. Don’t let it win. Argue. Fight. Rail with all your strength. Find something that will help you win the battle because you are important. There is only one you in this whole messed up world and there is someone, somewhere, who needs you in it. We will never hear your YAWP, you will never find your verse, if you let it win.

The world is a little quieter, there is a little less laughter, and I will miss someone who never knew who I was, but was important to me.

Fuck depression.

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2 thoughts on “Creative People and Depression

  1. So true. Although it’s not something I struggle with, my best friend in college struggled with clinical depression for years. He was a brilliant photographer and a gifted writer. He had been diagnosed in high school, was on anti-depressants, did therapy, the whole nine yards. He had friends and family who loved him. And yet. He killed himself before he turned 21.

    It’s so hard to understand the “why” of something like this. But you’re right–sometimes with depression and suicide there is no why. There was just an infinity of sadness that one person simply couldn’t bear anymore.

    I hope, Robin Williams found the peace he was looking for.

    • Oh, Lyra, I’m sorry for your loss. It’s difficult to understand, even if you have depression. Just because you can understand what they’re going through, doesn’t mean you can understand why they couldn’t hold out. But it probably goes back to dealing with our own grief over the loss. I hope your friend found the peace he needed.

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