Saturday, August 16, 2014

Contemplating Suicide & Robin Williams

"To be or not to be, that is the question"

Life will be better when I'm dead. This thought has crossed my mind, from time to time. And I know I'm not alone. With the recent suicide of Robin Williams, which has left many in shock, sadness, and disbelief, a new light shines on that darkness that leads so many to implode. That darkness works by whipping our thoughts into a hurricane, and dropping us into the middle of it. It's like having a little homunculus inside your head that reminds you that only the worst awaits, and all attempts to escape it are futile. Indeed, for many who have stood on the edge of that abyss, the powerful allure of the gaping maw below can seem like the only cure. But it isn't. And the thoughts that whisper to us that it is, are a lie.

Depression is a cancer of the mind, and while the effects of both depression and cancer are the same for those they attack directly, people's reaction to each can be very different. Cancer can have the effect of drawing people closer together, for example, but depression, because it is so emotionally contagious, tends to drive people away. Indeed, the very act of talking about depression can be like blowing oxygen into a fire. Worse still is that, even when someone has not actually been abandoned by their friends and family, their depression often leads them to believe and feel like they have.

Also, although cancer can take a person's life quickly, depression steals the mind and leaves the body behind. Like the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it turns a person into a mere shell of their former self. The only way to stop the spread of this mind-snatching mental mold, the person then comes to conclude, is by trying to inoculate everyone around them with deception while immunizing them self from its affects with drugs, be they legal or illegal. In fact, combining the two helps to mask the pain that depression can inflict from even the simplest interactions. 

For the person suffering from depression, for example, interactions can grow increasingly painful  as they see the happiness of others as something they think they will never be able to obtain, leading them to sink only deeper into their despair. Other people's joy, in other words, may only remind them of what they want but feel they can never have. In reaction, they may start to self-isolate and avoid social environments altogether.  This includes avoiding Facebook and other social media, as such, because they can seem like digital torture chambers as the person's mind turns against itself and becomes a virtual cyber-bully operating within their own brain. 

In addition to its ability to vanquish even the closest of friends, a person who dares to speak about their depression often ends up being labeled. Such labeling is not limited to describing someone as simply "depressive," however, but more often than not, it comes in the form of the many symptoms that such depression can produce. Many people fail to realize that addictions of every sort - such as addictions to drugs, food, and even pornography - often grow in the damp, solitary darkness of depression. Many who end up in prison, in other words, may be just as much a victim to their depression as Williams was to his, yet we tend to think of one as a criminal and the other as a tragedy.

The inevitable and increasing isolation that results from all of this only serves to compound the spiraling effects of the depression, making it all the more difficult to escape.  And it is in this isolation that the mind becomes a place where, as one rather morose poet once mused,

 The soul is but a phantom limb
and we the disembodied twin
of that emptiness we stare in

which swallows everything within
and makes a coffin of our skin
filled with all that might have been

Like Gethsemane without end
our thoughts kiss us like a friend, 
before they tear us limb from limb 

Like Ahab, depression sets us adrift on a tumultuous sea of reason that breaks the bow of every belief.It is a place where those beliefs become the broken branches reached for by a mind in a perpetual state of free fall, and where every thought mercilessly attacks its host. Indeed, it is where the mind caves in on itself and looses all ability to understand or be understood. In this respect, suicide is not intended to cause pain, but to end it. And the diffusion of pain that can spread like a supernova after a suicide, may be simply the ripple effect from the implosion caused by an increasing density of pain that one mind could no longer endure.

Of course, the nature of depression is as varied as all those who have it,  with the slightest cell anywhere in our anatomy of ideas being capable of spreading like a cancer across our whole mind. In fact, depressions can probably grow in our mind in as many different ways as cancer can develop in our body. Yet the similarity of all forms of depression may come from understanding that it is not always something that a person can escape, any more than a person can escape any of their infirmities, but something to recognize, understand, and try to overcome or adapt to.

Since depression may have as many physiological causes as psychological ones, rather than trying to escape it, we may need to learn how to weather it instead. Much like the Halloween Nor'easter of '91  that befell the Andrea Gale, depression is a maelstrom of thoughts and emotions that can swallow us like an elephant inhaling an insect. Finding the way out comes in part from understanding that, in many ways, it isn't real, but more importantly, it comes from knowing that we are not alone. And in those times when we feel like we are, having a friend can feel like a hug from the whole world. 

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