I, along with millions around the world, was saddened to hear of Robin William’s death this past week. It was both stunning and not that surprising. Robin Williams struggled with addiction and depression and had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
None of these is a recipe for suicide but left untreated or inadequately addressed, all have the ability to hold the spirit hostage. I suspect this had been the case for Williams for some time.
For those that suffer from depression or bipolar disorder, news of a celebrity suicide can be a huge trigger, and it’s my foremost hope that everyone is taking care of their own emotional and physical needs right now.
Because here’s what’s even sadder than William’s suicide—the thousands of suicides that occur every day as a result of untreated dis-ease in the mind and body.
In the throes of untreated alcoholism or an abusive relationship or online bullying, it’s hard to remember there’s a way out: the pain feels permanent.
Sometimes I want to scream at my television, WHY? But I know.
I know what it’s like to lock yourself in the closet and want to never come out.
I know what it’s like to spend days…weeks…months wondering if you’re ever going to feel better. Or different. Or anything other than the excruciating emptiness.
And I also know how hard it can be to ask for help, to say “Hey, I’m spinning over here and don’t know what to do anymore.” I’d sooner sit at home and suffer alone than risk telling anyone I’m hurting.
But that never really works and only sorta works for so long. Eventually, we have to get honest. We have to tell a friend or family member, see a doctor (or shaman or healer or whomever), and subscribe to a treatment plan. Sometimes treatment includes medication. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of more meditation.
It’s also important to remember that mental illness has a strong hereditary component. Some are genetically predisposed toward manic episodes the way others are predisposed to heart attacks. And all the yoga and positive psychology in the world won’t change that.
Rather than deny our depression, let’s get to know it better, ask it what it has to teach us. If we can be open to the message, the messenger won’t seem nearly as scary. We can allow the sadness to come and go, without controlling or condemning it.
In time, the depression lifts. But the stigma will remain until we give this issue our loving attention.
We must talk about it if we want to make it better. There needs to be a growing dialogue among community members, politicians, physicians and families. We still suffer from a lack of understanding in this country regarding the severity of mental health issues.
There’s more resources than ever and yet the problem continues to grow. More suicides, more school shootings, and more human on human brutality.
It’s not something we can medicate or legislate away. No, a spiritual crisis requires something more.
And while I won’t pretend to have all the answers in this blog post, I know we must learn to look at mental illness with renewed compassion.
Not everyone will experience clinical depression or a cocaine addiction, but we all know what it is to be sad. Heartbreak is universal and so are our tears.
What if we stopped condemning ourselves for being made of flesh? What if we made peace with our sensitivities and space for our brokenness? What if we could be truly present in another’s pain, meeting it with respect and compassion, instead of fear?
What would our world look like if we respected our most basic human predicament? Life hurts.
Yes, there’s puppies and peonies and moments of pure ecstasy, but life is also incredibly difficult. We come into this world a while, age, wither away, and die.
Before you accuse me of being morbid, consider the following: the Buddhists believe suffering to be a natural part of life. We have to watch those around us get old, become sick, and ultimately die. And then we ourselves age, deteriorate, and pass away.
That whole western notion of needing to be happy? Nowhere to be found. It’s about finding ways to be okay with the suffering; adjusting ourselves to what is.
We can gain freedom from suffering by accepting a few basic truth, the first being that nothing is immune from change, including our physical shells. We must accept life’s implicit limitations, namely our own mortality.
But we can also embrace life’s transitory nature. We can laugh at ourselves, forgive quickly, and get on with doing exactly it is that we want to do.
It’s all vanishing one molecule at a time–why wait?
Don’t let your deepest desires die with you. Take the trip. Go skydiving. Tell her you lover her in the most maddening way.
And on days when it feels like the depression or addiction or anxiety or whatever is in control, I urge you to remember the following:
~Everyone is hurting in some way. Talk about your pain and deny it power by silence. There’s massive power in sharing our pain with another person and it’s pretty much vital for ongoing growth.
~It’s impossible to be enraged or embarrassed or amused or aroused forever, so don’t be afraid to feel. Our emotions are only here to teach us how to love ourselves and one another better.
~Breathe the moment in, in all its frail, fleeting beauty, and be thankful. Some days it’s good just to be here—alive, present, and aware.
And the lesson Robin Williams lived best:
Smile, even when it hurts, and if you can help someone else smile in the midst of their pain—that’s nothing short of magic.