On Life, Death & the Reality of Depression -- My Story
The death of Robin Williams has opened eyes around the world about the horrors of depression -- including my own.
Please note -- this article is not related to hockey or the Dallas Stars. This is a deeply personal piece that may be uncomfortable for some readers. -- Ed.
When news broke that Robin Williams had died via suicide on Monday afternoon, the world suddenly cried out as one in anguish and mourning and sadness and anger at the loss of one of the more beloved entertainers of our time. This was a man who had brought so much joy and happiness to so many these past 30 years or so and yet his life ended in such absolute tragedy and despair. How had such a warm and generous man ended his life in such a way and what led him down this dark path?
This is the first time in many years I've seen such a public reaction to a celebrity who has unexpectedly passed away; Robin Williams was revered by so many and since his death countless stories have come forth of his incredible heart and generosity and how he touched so many people throughout his life with laughter and joy.
For myself, I reacted to the new of his passing like I had been hit in the chest with a sledgehammer -- I had never felt such sadness and grief over the death of someone I never met and yet I felt like I had lost someone I had dearly known my entire life.
I grew up with Robin Williams as a beacon of what I always wanted to be: an actor, an entertainer, a man of many faces and voices who only wanted to make those around him laugh and smile. While I ultimately never followed that path my outlook on life never changed -- I was always that guy making people laugh at parties and at work and mostly making a fool of myself in the process.
I guess I never really understood exactly how I felt about him until he was suddenly gone but I look back through my life and I realize how his earnestness, energy and love touched me from so very far away.
Depression is a deadly, silent killer that those that suffer from it fight such a solitary battle that sometimes the war seems completely lost. We don't talk about these things or address them like we should and too many are afraid to reach out when they absolutely need it the most. There are resources available for those in need but too many times they aren't used; it's only when a tragedy like this occurs that we are suddenly made acutely aware of just how serious this disease can be --- and how many of those around us are suffering from it without ever taking the time to get help.
I am one of those people. I just didn't know it.
I guess I never really understood exactly what I have been going through until the past few days, when this news broke over my head like a ton of bricks and I found myself locked in despair in my apartment. I couldn't stop thinking of all the times I've laughed and cried with Robin Williams on my screen or on the radio or on a podcast or on the stage, and I couldn't stop thinking of how utterly alone and despairing he must have felt at the end and it made my own grief even worse.
For those that know me, the past few years since I left the Navy have been incredibly up and down. I've gone through my own personal demons and have seen my own life torn apart twice in four years, telling myself I just need to start over and everything will be fine and I can leave all of my troubles in the past.
I've struggled with finding my own identity in society since leaving the military, a struggle many others have gone through as well. I've questioned that decision nearly every day since then, especially given the rash of poor decisions I've made since then that have had such a negative impact on my own life and to those around me.
The recent move to Dallas has led to the hardest three and half months of my life. I find myself buried in my work and unwilling to head home to my empty apartment at the end of the day, since as soon as I am alone I feel absolutely debilitated and alone with no desire whatsoever to engage in any activity other than to just...do nothing.
I tell myself I'll need to cook, to go shopping, to run errands, to decorate my new apartment, to exercise, to get out and meet people -- yet no matter how much I try I never have the actual desire to follow through. Not doing anything at all only makes these feelings worse and then I see everything that is going on in the world -- how so many others have it so much worse -- and I am wracked with guilt over my own feelings of despair that to me are unwarranted in light of the actual suffering so many others are going through.
How can I feel like this? What right do I have? While family, finances and life itself seem so bleak to me in the big picture I am incredibly privileged and should be more than thankful for what I do have. So why do I feel this way and why can't I make myself stop? Why can't I just break out of these walls that are closing around me and push forward like I've always done?
It wasn't until these past two days that I finally realized just how dark things had become in my mind.
I have isolated myself completely from those that care the most about me, and there have been times where I just sit and wonder how in the hell things will ever get better. The past four years my life has not progressed like I had imagined it would. Once again I am starting completely over, and despite the "fresh start" everyone says it's supposed to be it feels like I've been locked inside a cell where the walls are steadily closing in on me until I can no longer move or breathe.
Outwardly, I try to be the same light-hearted and joyful person I've always been in the past yet I find it more and more difficult to hide the emptiness I feel inside. I don't want people see this "weakness" I have, I don't want them to see the sadness I know is in my eyes -- so I avoid them. I avoid the ones that love me because the last thing I want is for me to burden them with my own troubles.
I should be able to fight this myself, right? This is what I thought until Monday afternoon, with I learned that Robin Williams had lost his own battle and I realized exactly how bad things have become in my own head.
Yesterday, I made an appointment to reach out and speak to someone who can help. I had tried this a month ago and abandoned the effort, and things only became worse -- now, I am committed to seeking the help I now know I need.
You feel like this is something you should be able to beat yourself -- after all, this is a battle in your own head. Yet what we've learned in the past few days is that this is not the case at all, and there are so many around us silently crying out for help that never receive the care and attention they need.
The most important thing that I have learned the past few days is that those of us that might feel the most alone and think that there is no hope and no way forward, just need to know and understand this is far from being reality -- and that there is nothing wrong with seeking the help we so desperately need.