Genie, You’re Out! (Or Reflections on the Death of Robin Williams


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I am devastated about the loss of Robin Williams, as are the millions of his fans, and more so by the fact that he took his own life.  Despite all of his money and all of his available resources, depression reached its bony fingers into his life and dragged him to an untimely death (as it certainly has for millions of others!)  Drugs and alcohol are certainly a part of his story, but make no mistake…this is a story about the savage blow of depression.  The pills and booze were only a symptom of Robin William’s sad demise.  Depression was the death blow.

If you have never suffered from the savage effects of deep depression, you might find it hard to comprehend his decision to take his own life. Depressed people don’t kill themselves out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life isn’t worth living. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. Depression is an invisible agony that for many reaches a certain unendurable level where life and death are near equal terrors and death becomes a lesser terror than living.

For those who decide to take their life, they spend their final days and hours in much the same way a trapped person eventually chooses to jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames.  For the depressive suicidal, it’s not the desire of death, it’s the terror of living. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

In this same way, a person who doesn’t suffer the agony of depression will never be able to understand the torments and terrors suffered by those afflicted. Never. Just as depression is an invisible agony, so, too is the understanding of true depression invisible to those who do not suffer it.

We can, and should, have a conversation about depression, but unless you’ve ever stood on a ledge with flames coming closer and closer, you will never truly understand the agonizing decision to jump.

Rest in peace, Robin Williams..Genie, you’re out!

18 thoughts on “Genie, You’re Out! (Or Reflections on the Death of Robin Williams

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, you underscore the premise of my article: that drug and alcohol are neither the solution our the problem. Depression, especially chronic, acute, and bi-polar depression are the nasty little societal secret that fuels all forms of self and substance abuse. And depression, with or without alcohol or drugs, can make life more terrifying than death.

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  1. Nicely said Genie. Depression isn’t something anyone can tackle alone, so if anyone is suffering from the painful effects of deep depression, reach out to those close to you. Together, the pain can be purged and you can find the strength to live and not jump from the window’s ledge.

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  2. An astute article with insight, understanding, compassion and truth. Depression runs in my family and suicide has impacted our lives, as well. Robin Williams spread light wherever he went. He already earned his wings … and now he can fly freely, without the pain of this physical existence.

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  3. As the parent of a 21 year old who has been suffering from depression since he was 17 I completely understand the desperate attempts to self medicate and the desperation when copious amounts of alcohol fail to curb the void. I only hope that having persuaded him to seek help and continuing to offer unconditional support he will develop some coping strategies. Robin Williams was one of my all time favourites and if depression claimed him it can claim any one of us. There’s still too much stigma, shame and misunderstanding of this debilitating illness.

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    1. I am so sorry for the continuing struggle with your child’s depression. Just know that there is hope. My article on Robin Williams was my attempt to reignite the national conversation on depression, which, to date, has been a topic much ignored and neglected. Alcohol and drugs, although deadly in and of themselves, is only a symptom of a deeper underlying issue….in many cases, depression. I hope you find the healing for your child you are seeking. Just know that you are not alone.

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    2. TW…I wanted to reach back out to you and inquire as to the health of your child’s you shared suffers from depression and more importantly, how you are doing with it all? Although it had been awhile since I wrote my article on depression and robin williams suicide, your struggle with the depression of your child has never been far from mike consciousness. I would like to reiterate that you are not alone and that many of us share your struggle on an. every day basis. If you ever need someone to talk to, to unburden yourself with, I am here for you.

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      1. Thank you for thinking of us Dennis. His depression comes in waves, a continual source of anxiety as we can never be certain how long the tranquil periods will last or when another storm will roll in. Often there’s no warning and once it’s upon him it’s very difficult for him to surface again. I hope with all my heart he’ll move from regular periods that can only be described as very bleak to something more akin to his placid and optimistic self. I would gladly take all his demons for my own if I could.

        We’re on the tail end of another episode right now. Some days are ok, others not so but there is no pattern or predictability. When I’m not with him as has been the case while I’ve had surgery I dread hearing the phone at night/early in the morning. Its always a call from some part of his abyss. My heart races and fractures momentarily while my head scrambles to come up with something – anything – that might help.

        They say cancer is the emperor of all maladies and physically it is. Psychologically I think depression might take that title. I wouldn’t wish either on another living thing. Thank you again for your kindness and understanding, it is very much appreciated as this situation with no obvious ‘cure’ in sight can be incredibly worrying and emotionally draining. Tracy ⛅️

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      2. Tracy…for what it is worth, I send you, and your child, all my positive energy and love. My world is no stranger to the insidious fallout that envelopes people locked on either side of this battle with chronic depression. Since I was a child, I have battled depression with little respite. The only way I can describe it is to imagine yourself caught in the ocean getting pushed under the water as a giant wave hits you. Just as you break the surface, another wave strikes and pushes you back under. Over and over again, as you panic, struggling just once to pull a breath before the next wave pushes you back under. But there is no break. Last year, my wife, who loved me and loves me with all of her heart, finally gathered the courage to ask for a divorce. It hurt so much to see her struggling to live with me through the darkness. I had no choice but to let her go because, I, too, loved her with all of my heart and could no longer bear to see such a beautiful life stunted by my depression. I want so much more for her, and I would never be able to promise her that this would ever end. I am alone now, and she has moved on as best she could…but at least I don’t begin and end my days witnessing my pain reflected through her tears.
        I have written several books on how depression affects not only those who suffer from it, but those who love those who suffer from it. I learned a long time ago that as a nation, we are not truly able to tackle this issue because it’s a one sided conversation. It is impossible to talk meaningfully about this disease with anyone who has never had it. There are no words, no matter how well you express yourself, that can ever fully capture what it means to be depressed. Or what it means to love someone who suffers from depression. The pain of the dialogue is too much for the average person, so we go on averting our gaze from the topic, partly because it is too ugly to face, partly because we don’t speak the same language.
        I share this with you because I know that you, at times, feel like you must be trapped in an endless struggle to help your child cope. But from my point of view, and I am sure I speak for your child, what is most important to us trapped behind that veil of darkness is to be able to see you care for yourself and not let our depression destroy you. We don’t love any less…or feel any less. If anything, we feel exponentially more, and if we find any joy, it is usually when we see those we love find an avenue to care for themselves and to love themselves as deeply as we know they love us.
        I share this because I need you to know that even in the midst of our darkest moments, we feel your love and take enormous comfort in it You child does. I don’t know what illness brought about your surgery, but I have no doubt that this battle has taken a physical toll on you, your heart, your mind, your body. Please, don’t think your love goes unfelt or is un-needed. And don’t give up. And don’t give in. Find laughter and joy enough for both of you. You may not understand this fully, but the best hope for your child is to see you live a life as fully and wonderfully as you can.
        Sorry if I have intruded on your personal life. I just feel your sorrow and pain and can not just let you go another day not knowing how much you are appreciated and loved. Even if your baby can’t always show it.

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  4. I suffer from depression, right now it is not too bad, but that doesn’t mean it won’t come back. It is an important discussion to keep ongoing. I am deeply saddened by the loss of Robin Williams, he was an amazing person and I think the world is less wonderful for his absence.

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    1. I hope, by relating to this article, that you know you are not alone in your struggle. I will keep you in my thoughts and hope you can find the strength within you to share your struggles with others so that you may all lift each other up. Hang in there. Feel free to email me at dennis.l.mchale@gmail.com if you need someone to listen.

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      1. Thank you, that is completely sweet of you!
        I have had depression on and off since I was a teenager. I am one of the lucky ones because I am very good at picking up on little red flags that happen when I am starting to have problems. I think knowing these things about yourself and being honest in recognising them is a big part of getting ahead of the problem.
        Everyone is different and many people wouldn’t be in a place to see what I have about myself. Everyone needs different treatment for this issue, the best therapy for me I have discovered is helping others. I get great joy out of helping other people, whether it be packing their groceries, helping to build a deck, cook for a party, babysit, etc. it is very therapeutic for me.
        I hope everyone that suffers from depression has someone as caring as you in their life (or on their blog :))

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  5. This was a great post, Dennis. Nothing like an insightful post about suicide for bringing out the ignorant, malicious comments in people. I wholeheartedly disagree with SalvaVenia’s comment & post.

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