Addiction and Suicide

So, yeah. Robin Williams died, and appears to have committed suicide. The Twitterverse is in mourning, myself included. He was…well, there won’t be another one like him. But I find myself sadder than I typically am with a celebrity death, even one where I really admired the celeb in question. My afternoon and evening were…dark and sad, no matter how much I told myself it was silly, I didn’t even know the man.

I did meet him once, maybe 7-9 years ago. As I recounted on Facebook, he walked into Borderlands Books in San Francisco one night while my book club was meeting. I don’t remember what book he was looking for. I do remember that he seemed very surprised at the small crowd (there were 8-10 of us), and very shy. Smaller and hairier than I had known – sort of hobbit-like. In typical San Francisco style, we pretended we had no clue who he was, and I know we recommended books other than the one he came in for. Hey, if you walk into a science fiction bookstore and a science fiction book club is meeting there, take advantage of the geek squad, right?

But, back to the topic: the reactions of the internet include sadness, and a lot of shock and surprise. Again, it’s always sudden (thank you Joss for that phrasing – it comes in so handy), but in this case it seems that the way he died is the biggest shock. But…while for a couple of minutes that was the case for me, I quickly transitioned to, “No, of course. Makes sense.”

Because, in my world, addicts kill themselves. More to the point, I think that many addicts start their addiction as self-medication for this deep, dark sadness that they can’t shake. So I connect addiction with depression, and a part of me expects the addict to commit suicide.

It doesn’t have to be active. My sister and mom know what I mean. My dad died…gosh, ten years ago this month. Officially, he died of cardiovascular disease brought on by alcohol abuse. Unofficially, he let himself die. Or at least, that’s how it feels to me. He knew he wasn’t well. He missed doctor’s appointments. He didn’t take prescribed medications. He ate like a college student when he was a 55-year-old man. He LOOKED unwell. And he didn’t do anything about it.

Because he couldn’t. He had fought depression and drug addiction/alcoholism for as long as anyone can remember. And, like many people, he was good at hiding it. In retrospect, I can see my dad’s depression going back at least 40 years, on and off. And the substance abuse almost that long. He knew there was something wrong with his brain. He sought help – but he never stuck with it. Antidepressants and therapy “didn’t work”. Alcoholics Anonymous wasn’t for him…he never found out what WAS for him.

So he died. Slowly AND suddenly, both. And I’m still angry. He missed out on my kids. He missed out on my wedding. He missed seeing me become…well, the super awesome college professor/mom person I am today. I know it wasn’t deliberate. But I’m still angry.

Again, though…he couldn’t help it. Couldn’t help himself. If you’ve never been depressed, then you probably have no idea what it’s like. To be so sad that you just can’t make yourself get out of bed. To be incapable of caring about anyone else because you can’t feel anything but your own pain. I’m sure it varies…but I do have some idea what it feels like.

I’m not sure how many people I’ve told this to (not many, but not none), but I was briefly, situationally, depressed once. In graduate school, after my boyfriend left me. He was the love of my life, and I knew it, and I had screwed it up somehow, and I just couldn’t see anything other than the pain and sadness. I was sad. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep, but I also didn’t want to get out of bed. And, for me, there was a profound…boredom. The world was an incredibly gray, boring place. Nothing was interesting. Or fun. Or anger-inspiring. There was just sadness that seemed to never stop.

But I knew depression when I saw it. When I felt it. I wasn’t “really” depressed – it was new. I had just been “normal” a week before. The feeling scared me. I could still feel fear. I’m a geneticist. With a depressed, alcoholic father. I knew how this ended. And I got help. I only needed it for a month, but I found a professional to talk to and some drugs to take the edge off – prescribed drugs, at a prescribed dose. They probably didn’t really do much (a month isn’t very long for antidepressants to take effect), but the placebo effect is incredible.

At any rate, today I am sad, because I wasn’t all that surprised. He was an addict, and he’s gone now. But the grief is real. My first reaction was textbook. “No, wait. Don’t go.”

Denial.

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