Cabot O’Callaghan ponders how Robin Williams’s suicide affected him and explores his own relationship with depression.
Last summer, Robin killed himself and it was a big deal to a lot of people.
I’m allergic to celebrity. The whole phenomena of celebrity is creepy. It’s too much focus, the worst way to perceive the world and ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I like Robin. I’m fond of his work. His work. I don’t know him so I didn’t mourn. Many other celebrities whose work I admire have died before him under similar tragic circumstances. Why was I upset beyond what I feel is rational this time?
Because I struggle with depression. My mother’s death three years ago, during a very turbulent time in my life, turned what was borderline manageable into a heavy burden.
I went to Facebook and simply posted, “Depression is serious shit, folks.”
And the likes poured in.
I’m often dark on Facebook, so I wasn’t expecting such a response. Facebook is all fluff and I’m the opposite of that. Maintaining a facade and censoring thoughts is exhausting.
Anyway, it surprised me. My expectations are low when I talk about depression. People don’t like to talk about it, especially those who suffer from it. Everyone is afraid of sadness. It’s a taboo in a world obsessed with defining and attaining happiness.
Kind of telling, don’t you think?
And how in the fuck are you supposed to talk about it? I mean, I don’t get it either. Depression is a heavy shadow cast over the mind, a psychic encumbrance. It’s a chronic deep dull ache. It’s running on knees. It’s an earworm hum. It’s a vampiric curse. It’s tying shoelaces with with fingers cut off at the first knuckle. It’s the constant smell of burning but the flames and smoke are nowhere to be found.
It’s the power to see sadness in a sunbeam.
See? Find sense in any of that. This is why when someone asks how we’re doing, we like to say, “I’m fine.” It’s easy. Safe. We get to dodge confusion and misunderstanding and harsh judgement and ignorant advice and “tough love” and pity-packed platitudes.
My uncle likely committed suicide by laying on the railroad tracks just outside the trailer park my mother and I lived in when I was young. Although we never knew for sure, he was a transient and traveled on the trains often. We never saw him again after the day I watched a decapitated body lifted off the tracks and loaded into a coroner’s vehicle.
My best friend’s alcoholic father shot himself in the chest in the living room of their home.
I tried killing myself passively. First with a motorcycle, then a couple more times by burning holes inside my stomach with the caustic nasal runoff of methamphetamine. And meth was great, man. I felt awesome. I would have kept doing it but my insides were scrambled after the motorcycle accident and couldn’t tolerate the industrial waste. I guess I could have graduated to smoking or shooting it. I chose sobriety instead.
Substance abuse is a symptom of illness, not an illness.
I wasn’t sober long before I realized that I was depressed. I went to the doctor, then the psychologist. “We don’t offer long-term treatment,” is Kaiser Permanente’s motto concerning mental health. However, they will gladly schedule you an appointment with a psychiatrist who will prescribe all kinds of pills for as long as you ask for them. Some pills make you feel worse. Some help in a half-ass way. I’d rather be unmedicated, but then the pain between my ears grows to a roar and I find myself calling for a refill.
For the most part, this is the state-of-the-art in mental health treatment.
It’s not enough. It wasn’t enough for Robin.
This begs the question, what is the illness? I think mental illness is just another symptom of some greater and unseen pervasive illness. Suffering plagues us yet we don’t ask why beyond the shallowness of the individual. Or even worse, we deny it altogether.
The worst part of depression is not the sadness. It’s the loneliness.
I’m not fine.
Originally published on Cabot O’Callaghan.
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