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Robin Williams and Mental Illness

Tsirtn
The world has lost one of its great artists, and most famous creative talents, which means everybody is talking about it.  On the news last night, I heard someone ask if perhaps Robin Williams was unfulfilled in his work.  My cousin said he was battling demons, and asked what terrible thing had left its mark on him and made him do this.  My mother’s friend asked why a man who had so much and was so talented would kill himself.  These are all people who are mentally healthy and who are trying to understand what happened in the only way that people who only know of emotional anguish as something with an outside source can, which is why they won’t find the answers they are looking for.  There is no fulfillment in mental illness. And for many people with mental illness, there is no horrible situation, nor past emotional injury to explain their illness today.

I am currently recovering from a several year long depression.  Only recently, were we able to determine the cause of this depression, an autoimmune disease that had flared up and interfered with the chemical balance of my brain. Once we found homes for our birds, the trigger for my recent immune symptoms, the depression evaporated like fog burned off in the sunlight.  The anxiety has been slower to dissipate, but it too is subsiding.  I am lucky. I am very very lucky.

I had reasons to be depressed and anxious.  It’s hard to describe how terrifying having a severe, life threatening, and obvious illness but no diagnosis, and no one with an idea of what is going on is for a child, but I can tell you it understandably left a mark.  I was also badly bullied, and was stalked by two different people for a total of eight years. These too left their marks.  I guess you could  call these my demons.  Dealing with these “demons” made me emotionally stronger, but it didn’t cure my depression and anxiety, just as eating well and exercising makes me physically healthier but doesn’t cure my immunological diseases.  During my depression, I also figured out what I am born to do, what would fulfill me like nothing else, yet even as I set out on the journey to become an early childhood teacher, I still woke up in the mornings and wanted to die.

There are people who become situationally mentally ill.  Depression, even psychosis are natural reactions to certain forms of stress.  These people often even recover when the situation that caused their mental illness is gone. There are people who are mentally injured, for example people with PTSD, who though they have left the situation that caused their illness, that illness remains like a broken leg remains after falling off a cliff.  Then there are people for whom there is no rhyme, there is no reason, and there is no cause to their mental illness except their own biochemistry. This is what happened to me, and this is almost certainly what happened to Robin Williams.

His brilliant wonderful, beautiful brain was sick, for a long, long time, maybe even his whole life.  There was nothing to look for in his life to explain his illness, only things to look for in the biological, chemical, and physical reality of his brain.  People live with this kind of mental illness every day. They manage it, they fight it, and sometimes they lose to it, just as some people lose to cancer.  The chronic illness Robin Williams suffered from for many years killed him.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
ljlee
Aug. 13th, 2014 01:31 am (UTC)
I heard from a Catholic friend that the Catholic church also takes this position with suicide--that the deceased succumbed to a disease. Most people who haven't been depressed, or have only been situationally depressed, can't fathom the idea of being pulled down relentlessly by a sadness that has nothing to do with what's going on in their lives. It's a transitional step while the scientific understanding of mental states and mental illness saturates through the public, I guess.
attackfish
Aug. 13th, 2014 03:23 am (UTC)
This is the Catholic Church's position, and it's a recent position. Used to be, Catholics who committed suicide were unable to get a Catholic burial, and were believed to be condemned to hell as unrepentant murderers. Judaism likewise holds that committing suicide is proof of not being in one's right mind, and therefore not culpable for wrongdoing, but it's mostly semantics, given the lack of afterlife.

Most people who haven't been depressed, or have only been situationally depressed, can't fathom the idea of being pulled down relentlessly by a sadness that has nothing to do with what's going on in their lives.

Exactly.
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