Captain’s Log 5,890
Everybody is writing about Robin Williams. I heard the news at work yesterday afternoon, and yes….it was shocking. It was shocking but not surprising. We all have a story. We all have a dragon. Sometimes, we have more than one. Sometimes, the dragon wins.
I have been around depression my entire life. My mother suffered from it. So did her mother. So did my mother’s siblings. Cousins too. Add in a big dose of alcoholism (grandfather and an uncle), and that’s what constitutes the 50% of my DNA contributed by my mother’s heritage. Not as much is known about my father’s side of the family. His father basically abandoned my dad (who was just 16 years old at the time) and his older brother after their mother died and he took off to live in New Jersey. That was a mess too for a long time. My father committed the big sin of marrying my Catholic mother, and he was not welcome in my grandfather’s house for a very long time. Religion and mental illness dividing families for centuries.
I grew up in a small town where suicide was rampant. I cannot begin to tell you how many people I have known who chose this path. I counted them up several years ago and it was 20 or more. From the neighbor down the lane to my classmate since kindergarten…..from my best friend’s nephew to the fellow I once thought I was going to marry….it’s been the choice of nightmares. As hard as it is for the person suffering, it is just as difficult for those who remain. Several years after my boyfriend killed himself, his father did it too. The suffering the family endured was pure hell.
There is no magic answer to stop this. But it’s important to know that this isn’t about being sad. This isn’t about thinking happy thoughts and it will go away. Depression is pervasive and cruel. It erodes self-confidence, desire, hope, and more. Nobody is going to “snap out of it” and just get better.
I consider myself so fortunate that the “black dog” of this disease has never taken up residence in my emotional home. Yes, I have suffered intense sadness at times, but it passes and does not impede my life. I am also fortunate that I am not an alcoholic or substance abuser. There are so many times I remember picking my grandfather up when he had fallen in the snow….or collapsed on the sidewalk on our way home from “getting the mail.” That was hit pet phrase for going to the bar. I often went along to guide him home. I was just a small child but I thought that was what kids were supposed to do.
And then I watched my very funny mother slip into times of intense darkness that frightened me beyond belief. My sister had already moved away when this all started, so it’s almost as if we were raised by two different mothers. Hers was carefree and fun-loving. Mine was carefree and fun-loving and punctuated with long spells of my mother sitting around in a Thorazine haze. It would come and go. The black dog made many, many visits.
I was frightened that the black dog would someday come for me. So far, I have been spared. But I know nobody is really immune. I do think about it. I don’t dwell on it, but it does cross my mind.
This is an excellent film about the black dog that won a victory over our dear Robin Williams. How dare I say “our” Robin Williams. But he was “ours.” He anointed our souls with his grace, giving us permission to claim him. I have never seen depression described so well. We cannot do any more for him, but we can certainly be supportive of our friends and family who deal with this very serious illness. Please watch it. Become more aware of what it means.