Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Thursday, August 14, 2014

There's Probably Poison in the Glass

The game of life is hard to play
I'm gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I'll someday lay
So this is all I have to say
That suicide is painless
     --Johnny Mandel - Michael B. Altman

Robin Williams seemed always on, always manic and everyone laughed. And he couldn't sit still long. The TV Talk Show host or another guest would say something and Robin would be in flight again. The slightest word could send him bobbing down some abstract path of off-beat observations and myriad accents. But sometimes, when perhaps it seemed no one was watching, he would sit a moment quite and go to what I call his normal face.

I thought for many years catching a glimpse of that normal face that this was a sad man.There were not laugh lines in that face, just a mouth that fell into a deep frown and eyes that my wife calls sad. I saw his eyes more than sad; eyes distant and fearful. 

This look was always brief, a mere flicker of a shadow between bouts of kinetic mania and a flood tide of words.

Perhaps then there is some irony in Robin's choice of inspiration, Jonathan Winters.
Jonathan Winters was a favorite of mine in my youth as well. He had a quick wit and fertile imagination that took flights of fancy at the drop of a hat, much as Robin did. But maybe that wasn't the only thing that drew Robin to Jonathan, for Jonathan Winters suffered from Bipolar Disease and now they tell us Robin suffered from Clinical Depression.

Bipolar and Depression are mental disorders I know something about. It's not that I suffered from either, but let's just say I have had a close relationship to them for several decades.

People without these problems are often stymied by those who do. We all experience bouts of depression over the course of our life. The difference for most of us is we get over it and the cause is justifiable most of the time. We lose a job, we lose a friend, we have deaths, illnesses and sometimes disaster. I've been through that whole list, sometimes more than once. The thing is that I, and most of us, get past the depression. We get up, dust ourselves off and get on with life. We put our potholes behind us and don't dwell upon them and we find the positive things of life to focus on.

And when a Robin Williams hangs himself we are often mystified, sometimes even angry. He had everything, money, fame and admiration. He wasn't washed up; he had four movies in release and one in post-production planning. He would have been welcomed hardily on any talk show on TV and if he had decided to go out on a stand-up concert would have probably filled any theater. "So what," we say, "if he had his TV show cancelled after one year. Yeah, he'd had heart surgery, but he survived it, didn't he?"  Now we are told he had the beginning  stages of Parkinson's Disease.

So some may say he was a coward who couldn't deal with that. 

Well, perhaps if it were I, you could say that. I am one who tends to find joy in living, even when there may not be much joyful at the moment around me. But you see, as stated, I don't suffer from Clinical Depression. 

A person who has Bipolar and/or Clinical Depression (and remember it is something they have, not who they are) is trapped in a strange prison. The windows of their prison filter out the good and most of what they see is negative. And if there really is a negative that happens to them, they never forget it and they dredge it up and chew upon it like a cow with its cud. They don't absorb compliments, but will hear a criticism, sometimes when there is no criticism intended. 

I can best explain it this way. You know the old question when presented with a vessel filled to the halfway point: Is the glass half full or half empty? We might expect the depressed will say, "Half empty." Chances are they won't even take note of that question.

They will say, "The glass will leave a ring on the table."
And you may tell them, "No, it won't. It's on a coaster".
But this will not comfort them. "I think the glass has a crack. It's going to break and stain the rug."
"No," you say, picking up the glass and tapping the bottom, "it is solid."
And they will say, "Don't drink that. It is probably contaminated."

People suffering from this kind of depression are not going to see they have admiration or money or fame or a career or friends or anything else when the Black Dog stands before them. I speak from long experience.  Whatever door of escape you open to them, they will find a reason to close it. Or perhaps for someone who does what Robin did, they only saw one open door and it was unfortunately the one they chose to enter.

What can be done? One thing is to be more open about these mental disorders and understand what you sometimes see is not who the person really is. We must remove the stigma of having such a disease. There are medications that help control it, though as of yet there is no cure. We can treat the person with respect and love. We can hold them when they need it. We can understand them even when they aren't likable. And we can keep our eyes open and watch them. Perhaps if we are diligent we can keep them with us.

Lets speak of one more thing. The word selfishness is being debated right and left in the media. Is suicide selfish? Yes, it is, but with those who suffer from Bipolar and/or Clinical Depression it is not done with self-awareness, not the way we would count self-awareness in ourselves. It is the disease that is selfish. I think most professionals who deal with these diseases, at least those I have been in contact with, will tell you that those who suffer these diseases are selfish; perhaps self-centered is a better word, but it is all about them. You may not like anyone saying that, but it is true because that is what the disease does, it makes you need to be the center of attention. You don't believe me? Then tell someone with these diseases your pain and see how quickly the conversation turns to their "worse" pain.

You have to recognize that selfish goes with these diseases or you won't survive dealing with those who have them. 

It is a cruel disease, for it not only imprisons the victim in misery, it often drives away those who love the victim because they can no longer stand both the negativity and the self-centeredness. Many marriages crash on the dark shoals of depression. To sail your ship of relationship you need to see the real person beneath the shroud of the disorder and you yourself must be selfless.  I'm not saying it is easy; I am saying it is worthwhile being their support system.

I really don't know what support Robin had, but no one should feel guilty about the outcome. Depression is a dark and dangerous swamp that no one chooses to enter, it just takes you, and it is very difficult to escape and sometimes it simply sucks you down to the damp and deathly depths.

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