Nonjudgmental awareness on mental illness (Robin Williams RIP 2014)


We lost a great actor, comedian and person this week, Robin Williams. He was always upfront and honest about his struggle with depression and in the end he chose to end his own life. News and social comments were quick to fill the air with sadness, anger and judgment; making it clear that we still have so far to go at understanding mental illness.

First off depression isn’t something you get over or heal from. You learn to live with it for the rest of your life. Here in the US there are many people on depression medications, millions, and yet I’m not writing this to go over the stats. (I don’t feel the survey’s taken are reaching the entire population so probably not accurate). Yet I feel that in today’s society we brush over it quickly with judgement. The commercials for medication are just one example; show those suffering with depression on black in white screen, looking sad and down. Then they take a pill and colors appear, they are tossing a ball, running in a field or planting in their yard with loved ones. Problem solved!

Unfortunately I do understand this all too well. I grew up in a home where both my parents were depressed and later my Mother would be diagnosed as Bi-Polar. She has and still continues to spend her life on prescriptions. I find that the word depression is a secret that we like to keep hidden from the world to see and yet each of us knows someone who is suffering from it. Of course we all suffer from bits of depression but it takes a lot just to admit that. Often the average person may manage to come out of it naturally and had a very good reason for experiencing it; major life changes and losses can take us down that path. Therefore we associate our personal experiences to that sense of reasoning to an entire population. We try to rationalize why someone would kill themselves over depression and therefore make comments like ‘selfish’ individual. Assuming that all depression is the same.

You have to stop and pause for a moment and get outside of your train of thought to understand that someone else is going through a tough journey – one you may not agree or understand. Removing yourself from the judges box, can you allow for differences and admit that maybe you don’t have all the answers?

As I grow older I admit that all I thought, believed or knew has changed. Things I was sure about I see differently; there used to be black and white but along the way there are many more grey areas. I’m not saying I surrender or give up but I don’t feel it necessary to reach conclusions. Especially as I found most of that was just trying to elevate myself by comparing myself to others beliefs, feelings, choices or thoughts; I am not better than others just because they are different.

Another common step to dealing with grief or change is that we try to rationalize and even believe that there is something “I” could have done or said that could have changed the outcome. We may even judge or punish ourselves for a long time in this way; making our blame a part of our story. Thinking that if we change something it won’t happen ever again. That feeling is very real but not true. Fact is it may have helped and then again it may not have. Can we let go of that and allow the experience to just be?

For example, can we accept that Robin Williams suicide happened, feel the sadness and accept that we will never know the depths of his choices? Can we see that he suffered from depression but he himself, as a man, was so much more than ‘mentally ill’. Would we be willing to admit that although we grew up seeing him act and perform for us, that we did not know his true self – the deeper sense and workings of his mind?

As I mentioned earlier I know about depression all too well. As a child I
was raised in an abusive alcoholic household. Later I would learn that being an alcoholic and depressed often goes hand in hand. Yet even today, I find myself talking to my Mothers doctors as her POA and finding out they are giving her daily pain medication which counters the depression medication. I’ve grown used to the blank stares and no solutions offered by both doctors and nurses. It is a constant struggle to get the medical field to understand this. When doctors prescribe medication they often just keep doing that. It is a job for them so I do understand that they too are human. Yet there is no talk of long-term plans of transition or using other tools such as therapists, talk groups, meditation, nutrition, exercise etc.

I was fortunate myself to discover at a young age tools that helped me; that is why I believe in teaching kids meditation as well as learning to describe their feelings more. I remember growing up with the fights my parents would have from a young age. There was one time when I was about 12 years old where my Mom kicked me out of the house at night and I was outside without a jacket or shoes. I was often trying to split up my parents fights, hearing horrible things and found myself in the middle. I stood in the cold wishing this would end. I had little care for how it ended and if that meant dying that was ok. I stood there holding myself in the cold – unsure of what to do. I remember I didn’t feel like crying. I just felt nothing. Then I reminded myself that this time, place and moment would pass. I stayed still, paused and started to feel everything around me. I managed to stay out for about an hour. I waited and found that the door was now unlocked and things had changed/quieted down. I snuck back into my room and tried to go to sleep. The fights continued for many more years. I recall this moment specifically and have never shared with anyone till now. I have looked back on it and wondered how I chose life vs suicide, drugs or other harmful actions as I grew up. All I can point too is that early on in life I attended talk groups and discovered meditation while learning to talk about my experiences. Being around others who could share similar situations was helpful but they also just listened.

I didn’t know it then, but I was learning more about nonjudgmental awareness; with all that was happening to me, in my home then, it didn’t mean that was all of me. The true self is so much more. Yet it is quite normal for us to rehash the same stories, hold onto that identity and keep repeating it. It took time, but I was learning that I was more than just the teen of an alcoholic. Letting go of the roles and conditioning that each of us play. It is a scary place to be because we often feel that our identity is like a warm blanket – what else could I be if I let that go? Would others accept or like me? Quite risky.

My Father also suffered from depression, as I mentioned earlier. It took me many years to see that although he had died from a heart attack, he went years with high blood pressure and we begged him to seek help. He denied it though and we watched him slowly give up on life. He just didn’t care any longer. I would tell him I loved him and he would push me away saying “no you don’t”. My actions and words didn’t save him no matter what I did. It took me years to come to the realization that blame, anger or judgement didn’t help. The day he died he looked up at me with tears in his eyes and simply said “I’m sorry”.

Sorry – such a small word with so many meanings. Areas where we are asking for unconditional acceptance, forgiveness, to be loved just as we truly are – faults and all. Allowing the person to be themselves. Therefore having deep mental depression doesn’t equate to being rich or poor; happy or sad. One could have all the riches in the world and yet be deeply depressed.

Since then many phases have happened in life. I have always felt we each experience phases or acts which have only helped me see the impertinence in life. However the mentally ill don’t observe it this way. Therefore the best solution they can find, that is helpful to themselves and others, is to just stop right there; end their life. Therefore from their way of thinking, this choice of action isn’t coming from a selfish place. I certainly don’t agree with it, but I can understand and be compassionate.

I want to finish here by saying at first I wasn’t sure about sharing my words and exposing myself to the critics out there. After careful thought, I feel it is only right to share some of my personal story and trust that my honest intension is coming from a good place. It is just my opinion and the question becomes can you allow for it? Can you look beyond it and see that within each of us is a very complex person? We may want to summarize someone as stupid, silly, selfish etc but that is often to make ourselves feel better about who we are. It exposes the hurt one must be feeling about themselves if they have to resort to name-calling.

John Lennon once said “Being honest might not get you a lot of friends, but it will always get you the right ones”. So I will trust in my intension as well as gut and hope that if my story helped anyone, then I’m happy that I shared this story.