I wanted to write something eloquent and moving this week about the death of the great Robin Williams, perhaps making a connection with my own life-long struggles with clinical depression and creativity. Unfortunately, I find that I am too damned depressed to go there, too weary, too sore, too angry; all I can do is write through the pain. I am hurting physically, frustrated, moods on a hair trigger, pissed off about all the thoughtless, cruel, clueless pronouncements from the pundit-sphere concerning the death of this beautiful, remarkable, loving and beloved, extravagantly gifted, and deeply, profoundly tortured soul; sick of these unethical, overpaid, sub-moronic, shite-stained bullying bastards who know not one fucking thing about creativity or depression, sensitivity or kindness, yet blithely make their flippant armchair diagnoses of all those who suffer as “liberal sissies” or “cowards”, going on to tell us that we should all just simply “man up” or “snap out of it” or “surround ourselves with positive energy” or “find God”, usually by embracing their particular perverted form of religion. (Been there, done that. I can tell you conclusively; it doesn’t work.) As far as I’m concerned they can all go fuck themselves or burn in that hell in which they claim so vehemently to believe. (Does this seem insensitive or “not nice” of me? Too bad.)
Where depression is concerned, reticence kills. By this I mean the culture of reticence that discourages people from recognizing or acknowledging or even talking aloud about their own suffering, let alone seeking help for it. No one should ever be ashamed about what they feel. No one should ever be afraid to ask for help. Yet, too often, we’re told that we have to be “nice” at all costs; that we mustn’t “inconvenience” or embarrass others with our concerns. Well, you know what? Fuck nice. If my life is on the line I will be blunt, damn the torpedoes and whatever the hell the neighbors think.
I was in my early thirties when my depression became acute. One day I was hired to sing at the funeral of a man about ten years older than me, who, it turned out, had committed suicide after suffering in silence for some years. This guy had people who loved him and cared about him; he had a good job and, by all appearances, a great life; on paper it certainly looked a lot nicer than mine. Almost immediately upon learning the circumstances of this man’s life and death, I understood that I would end up like him if I kept to the path I was on. Back home that afternoon I called up a local mental health organization and asked for help.
Unfortunately, their idea of “help” was to send me to see a psychiatrist for fifteen minutes once every six weeks in order to “manage” my medication levels. For a time I was sent to a quack who was later arrested and indicted for insurance fraud—this after losing admitting privileges the two local hospitals. This asshole would get “touchy” if I asked the “wrong” questions, and I have no doubt he ruined many lives while amassing a huge pile of illicit cash. He might well have ruined mine, too. Ultimately, I told the people in charge that meds were not enough. I DEMANDED something more, something better, insisting that I needed someone to talk to—really talk to—about the things that were troubling me.
It took years finally to find a competent, honest professional therapist who actually listened to me and helped me. I was finally—after nearly twenty-five years—diagnosed with Bi-Polar II and PTSD, and given some practical advice for dealing with those concerns without resorting to medication, which had only dulled my creativity and dampened my libido—the two are closely related, in fact--without doing much for the depression itself. In lieu of "wonder drugs" I developed daily habits and routines—including a writing schedule—to help me cope and keep the “black dog” at bay; developed a dietary regimen, and tried my best to get a reasonable amount of exercise each day. I avoid all fast food, drink alcohol very rarely if ever, and never drink coffee. (In spite of this, amazingly, I am a morning person. Who would’ve guessed?) For a few years I kept a list of my achievements from month to month so that I could never again lie to myself and say that I “never get anything done”. I have identified the things about which I am deeply passionate, and have embraced them, as if for dear life. At the same time, I have jettisoned many of the things that were a source of pain or irritation—marriage, religion, commercial broadcast media. I always endeavor to have a “project” or two or three so that my mind is always occupied. And though I still find myself slipping into that dark place from time to time, I have kept well for the most part, live quietly, simply, and, mostly, in solitude. I am physically healthy, and consider myself content. But all this, only because, somehow I found the strength to ASK FOR HELP.