-Objection: you were dismissive of depression.
How so? By calling it “deep” and “profound”? By saying it is a complex struggle that is rooted in both body and soul? By relating my own experiences with it? By speaking very vulnerably about my own disordered sense of unworthiness? Where was I dismissive? I said that depression is BOTH an ailment of the body and soul. If you disagree then, if anything, you might accuse me of making depression more complicated than it is. But I don’t see how I could be guilty of dismissing depression when I’ve painted it as an affliction that encompasses our brains but even stretches beyond our flesh and into our souls. Deny that if you like, but “dismissive”? I don’t think that makes a lot of sense.
-Objection: your post was cruel and lacked compassion.
If that is your perspective, so be it. I can only tell you that I wrote this entirely and completely from a place of concern and compassion for people coping with these issues. Plenty of people in that boat have, in fact, reached out to tell me they were touched by what I said.
I can’t make you see my heart and feel my true motivations, but I can ask you to look again at some of the things I wrote:
The death of Robin Williams is significant not because he was famous, but because he was human…
Happiness and contentment are not found in our talents, our money, our luxuries, or our reputations… We are all meant to lead joyful lives, and the key to unlocking our joy isn’t hidden under a pile of money and accolades.
…So this, for me, is always the most essential moral at the end of these kinds of sad, terrible stories: we are all meant for joy. We are all meant for love. We are all meant for life. And as long as we can still draw breath, there is joy and love to be found here. I believe that. If I didn’t, I would have left a long time ago.
Joy and love. There might not be much else for us on this Earth, but these are the only two things that matter anyway. These are the forces that brought the whole universe into being, and these are the forces that sustain it, and us, and all life.
Life. Life exists, and we are made to live it.
To quote Robin Williams playing a character quoting Walt Whitman:
“What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here — that life exists.”
…If you are thinking about suicide, don’t keep it inside. Tell someone.
Never give up the fight.
There is always hope.
Cruel? If I wanted to be cruel, why would I say this?
I was on the verge of tears when I originally wrote those last several sentences because they are the thoughts that keep me going. The fact that we are, I believe, meant for life and meant for love — this is the hope that comforts me in my darkest times. Maybe you found something to be angry about in them, but I can’t see it. I just can’t.
Throughout my life, people close to me have thought about suicide. I have sat with them and said these things. I said them in love, just as I wrote them.
Is there a hateful way to encourage hope and joy?
Objection: your post was too soon.
In the immediate aftermath of Williams’ suicide, thousands of people took to the internet, TV, and radio to express their opinions. Quickly, this became a conversation about the nature of depression and suicide. Strangely, none of the “too soon” criticisms are being leveled at anyone who expressed conventional, societally-accepted views on the topic.
I could have waited for a week and let marinate all of the troubling statements about how suicides are freeing and suicidal people don’t have choices, but I chose to engage. I chose to add another dimension to the discussion. I can’t simply sit around and let people — unintentionally, perhaps — endorse suicide. The damage that can cause will be too great.
Everyone is talking about this, so please don’t point to the one guy saying something different and try to guilt him into keeping his mouth shut. It’s not fair and it’s not honest.
-Objection: you’ve never been through depression or dealt with suicide.
I have. I have on both counts. I’m not going to go into detail because that is not my place and I am not going to play the game of competitive suffering. There is a sick and twisted arrogance and competition in the heart of anyone who stands before a stranger and says, “I have been through this trial and you have not.”
You can believe me that I have struggled profoundly with a certain pain and darkness that I can’t describe, or you can choose to call me a liar. It doesn’t matter. But don’t call a man a liar when he tells you of his struggles and then turn around and preach about compassion.
Just don’t do that. I can’t stomach it.
I don’t pretend to have the worst story or the most tragic tale to tell, not by a longshot, but how dare anyone make these wild assumptions about someone they do not know?
For my part, I made no assumptions. I never discounted anyone’s pain or dismissed anyone’s suffering. Not once.
It’s interesting that many objectors insisted that depression is different for everyone (I agree) but then went on to inform me that I’ve never been depressed, because if I had I wouldn’t hold these opinions.
So now you can declare unequivocally that anyone who has experienced “real” depression must automatically agree with you?
We have really taken the No True Scotsman fallacy to absurd and unseemly ends.
–Objection: you say that joy and love can defeat depression.
Yes. Yes, I did. Let me explain.
I never said that “happy thoughts” or “laughter” could permanently cure depression, nor did I say that anything could permanently cure it, nor did I rule out medication or psychological treatment, nor did I present any either/or scenarios at all.
But I did say that we must always try to see the joy and love in the world. I did say that everyone should have hope. I did say that we shouldn’t give up. I did say that we should fight. I did say that love is the greatest power in the universe, and it is the life force which creates and animates and gives purpose to everything.
And I did say, most especially, that we are all meant for joy. We are worthy of it. I did say that I often feel like I am too terrible and sinful to experience happiness, and even when I am happy sometimes I feel a guilt because of it. This is one of my deepest struggles, and one that many, many people mocked me for after reading it. But I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way, and so I don’t think I’m alone in needing to hear that, yes, we are all meant for life, we all have a reason, and we all are made for hope and happiness. We may never sufficiently attain it, but the point is important nonetheless.
Not just important — crucial. Essential. Lifesaving.
That said, I never claimed it was easy or simple to attain joy or see hope. Not only is it an enormously difficult task, it is never, in this life, completed. I know that I’ve lived a good portion of my life waiting — though I knew it would never come — for that magical moment when something happens, or an epiphany occurs, or the heavens open up and suddenly I can think clearly, definitively reject my despair and misery, and move forward into an eternal dawn. On Earth, this will never happen. Joy and hope are felt in flashes, grasped for moments, and then they slip away. But our job is to always walk ever in the direction of true happiness and love, and to trust that God conceived us before time and formed us from the dust because He loves us and has designed us for joy and filled us with potential.
This is not easy. I never said it was. It’s not a cure-all. There’s no switch to flip. It’s a battle, and we must fight. We are running towards the light, and if we can’t run then we should walk, and if we can’t walk then crawl, and if we can’t crawl then cry out and let someone carry you for a while. But we can’t stop or give up. That’s all I’m trying to tell you, and I want nothing more than for you to believe it. There is no hate behind these words, friend. None at all.
I’ve seen so many people on social media speak glowingly about the positive message in many of Robin Williams’ movies (for good reason, he did make some uplifting films). The one that’s possibly been mentioned most frequently is Patch Adams, a movie that encourages hope and happiness as a treatment for purely physical ailments. How is it that someone can admire the message behind Patch Adams and then condemn the notion that joy and love are important in the battle against depression?
Joy and love are indispensable in the battle against any bad thing, any pain, any misery. I am stunned that such a statement is controversial. It should be the least controversial thing anyone can say.
-Objection: you said suicide is a choice.
I did. Yes.
There is no doubt that suicide, by definition, is a willful act. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be suicide. It is a choice. That’s why we call it suicide. Suicide: the intentional taking of one’s life.
There is no debating this. To say suicide is not a choice is to speak nonsense. It’s to say suicide is not suicide.
Now, do I call it a choice in order to “shame” the suicidal? Do I say it to “blame” the dead? No, I say it because those on the brink need to be empowered, not told that they have no chance and no choice. I say these things for the living, not the dead.
Many intelligent folks have pointed out that suicide is a choice, but one made by a mind submerged in an unspeakable darkness. Suicide is a choice, but one chosen under great duress. To these people, let me offer this stipulation: of course. Yes. I never said otherwise.
But ALL destructive choices are made under these circumstances. ALL. Every single one. The more destructive the choice, the more troubled the mind.
We should realize this, certainly, but should we then deny the will itself? Should we tell the destructive man that he has no power and no options?
If suicide is not a choice, why do we tell people not to do it? Why do we tell them to get help? Why do we try to stop them?
Even if they take medicine, they have to choose to take it. If they talk to someone, they must choose to speak. If they seek help at a facility, they must choose to go. In some cases people are committed against their will, but eventually they also must choose.
What would you say to someone who tells you they are suicidal and they feel they have no choice but to kill themselves? What do you say when confronted with that specific statement? Have you been confronted with it? I have.
And do you know what I said?
Yes, you feel like you have no choice — but you do.
You feel like you have to leave — but you don’t.
You feel like there is no help — but there is.
You feel worthless — but you aren’t.
You feel like nobody can love you — but they do.
A cancer patient might be told by her doctor that she has one month to live. She will die, and it can’t be stopped. Is there ever a time to give that diagnosis to a suicidal person? Ever? Even up to the last minute, the last second, the last moment. Would you ever say that another person’s suicide must happen?
Actually, it seems that for a cancer patient we are more willing to tell them to fight, we are more willing to speak of the power of prayer, and we are more willing to talk about their choices, then we are with depression and suicide. How can this be? We say of the cancer survivor that she beat cancer. But if we use this kind of language with depression and suicide, suddenly we are heinous monsters. How does this make any sense?
How can we remove the will from a person — their power — and tell ourselves that we have helped the situation?
If someone is on the ledge about to jump and you cannot get to them in time, what would you do? Would you shout and try to tell them to stop, or would you accept that death is their fate and nothing can be done?
You would shout, wouldn’t you? And if you do, then all you can hope is that they turn back, and if they turn back it’s because they chose to, and if they can choose at all, then they can choose life. They can choose. But even if they don’t choose life, you still shouted, didn’t you? You still tried to get him to turn around, right? You didn’t stand by and accept what was going to happen, did you?
If you disagree then say so, but be honest. Write below this post and tell the world that you would watch the man jump. You would stay silent. You would not tell him he has a choice.
Tell us that.
And let everyone decide which of us has the compassionate message.