The recent death of Robin Williams hit me kind of hard. Here was someone whom I had never met, but somehow felt a loss at hearing of his death. From Mork and Mindy to The Fisher King, Moscow on the Hudson to Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire to Bicentennial Man, he made me laugh, he made me think, and he made me cry at times.
I read a post from Mike Rowe today, and in it he was asked to comment on Robin Williams. Part of his post really stuck out. He said “Some people enter our lives and become benchmarks in ways we don’t realize. Then they exit, and we struggle. Sometimes, those people are high-school buddies, and sometimes, they’re strangers who somehow felt like friends. Either way, it sucks when they go.” Very well put. It explains my feelings very well.
But I digress. What struck me was finding out about his struggles with depression. Depression is an illness that many people do not understand. Somehow they feel that all they need to do is yell at you to “snap out of it” and instantaneously you are cured. It doesn’t work that way. I know it doesn’t. It did not work for me.
Many of you that know me know that I used to practice law for many years. I was a prosecutor for several years, then went into private practice as a defense attorney, and served for almost ten years as a Municipal Court judge and night magistrate. Then it all came tumbling down in a relatively short time. It cost me a marriage, my law license, my ability to make a living, and then another divorce from an ill-conceived marriage to a friend.
Was it drugs? No, never tried them, not interested in them. Was it alcohol? Nope. After a short time in high school and part of college I realized that my genes would not allow me to be a casual drinker – I had too many alcoholics in my family, particularly my biological father. So I quit drinking when I was 20.
The plain fact of the matter is that I was suffering from clinical depression. There, I said it. Very few people other than my immediate family and close friends know about it. I went through some health problems, a divorce that I did not see coming, my ex-wife moved my kids 600 miles away, and I found myself horribly alone. Increasingly I found myself going home on Fridays, locking myself in my apartment with the blinds shut, and never stepping out again until Monday when it was time to go to work.
I lacked the energy and desire to do anything at all. That included the very thing that I needed most, which was contact with my family and friends. Add to that my reluctance at the time to ask for help with anything (a misguided sense of self-reliance) and it made for a perfect recipe for what became more than just sadness. I also quit doing the one thing that could have helped me a lot – I quit attending church. My faith had always been an important part of my life, especially considering that I made quite a change in my college years by breaking away from the faith I was raised with when I joined the LDS church against the wishes of my mom and my grandmother.
I could have very easily slipped back into drinking, or started experimenting with drugs, or even toying with the idea of just ending it all. Certainly I was ripe for that to happen to me. Luckily for me, I guess, I was hurt in a car accident. The doctor I went to go see for my neck pain was also trained as a psychiatrist. He recognized the symptoms right away. After a short trial of antidepressants (did not like them at all) he referred me to a counselor that I saw on a regular basis for quite a while. He made me think about things that I did not want to think about. He made me do things I did not want to do, like reach out for help from friends and family.
Little by little, I came out of a very deep fog that seemed to surround my life. I had a very good home teacher from church that would come by my apartment every Sunday, make me wake up and shower, and go to church with him. He kept me busy helping do service projects for others and would take me to Goal Oriented Leadership Functions. (GOLF). After a while I realized things were not so bad.
I was very bitter about life, did not trust people, did not want to show any sort of emotion or vulnerability to anyone except my daughters. Believe it or not, I learned how to trust and love again because I got a dog. That dog helped me through a lot of my down times. He was there when I was sick, when I felt low and when I was lonely. He never went anywhere and showed me unconditional love. That helped to start the turnaround in my life.
It was around that time that my wife came into my life. I had met her earlier when we worked at the same law office. We were friends for a long time, and that eventually led to what is now the best relationship I have had in my life. She helped me to go visit my daughters in Austin. She got me used to a day-to-day life of being around people and doing simple ordinary things that give your life structure and meaning. My distrust of others and fear of opening up my feelings gradually went away because of her. It took a long time, but we eventually got married. Molly is who encouraged me to teach, which has become my passion. It was because of Sam, Molly’s youngest son, that I became involved in Boy Scouts, Scouting has given me a multitude of great experiences and life long friends.
So I guess I can say I am lucky. Consider the following:
- Men with depression are more likely than depressed women to abuse alcohol and other substances, according to Jill Goldstein, director of research at the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
- Depressed men may also try to mask their sadness by turning to other outlets, such as watching TV, playing sports and working excessively, or engaging in risky behaviors, Goldstein told Live Science in an interview earlier this year.
- Men’s symptoms of depression may be harder for other people to recognize, and the illness is missed more frequently in men, Goldstein said.
- Men with depression are more likely than women with the condition to commit suicide, Goldstein said. Men with depression may go longer without being diagnosed or treated, and so men may develop a more devastating mental health problem. Copyright 2014 LiveScience,
So I dodged the perfect storm. I am alive today and very glad to be here. But don’t get me wrong, I am not bragging, nor am I putting down Robin Williams and others that were not able to overcome it, or who continue to suffer. Like I said, I was lucky. Keep an eye out for those you love. Don’t leave them hanging. Look for the symptoms of depression –
- Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
- Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day (called anhedonia, this symptom can be indicated by reports from significant others)
- Restlessness or feeling slowed down
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
- Significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month) http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/major-depression
If you are depressed, you may not know it. Even if you do know it, you are unlikely to reach out for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out. It could have cost me dearly if the right set of circumstances had not occurred that led me out of haze. This is not easy to write or to admit, but I hope that somehow it may strike a chord with someone who needs that extra push to get help.
I join the rest of the world in mourning the loss of a great entertainer. My hope is that his death may draw attention to this misunderstood illness. “There but for the grace of God go I”