Earlier this month, the world was saddened by the death of legendary comedian, Robin Williams. The cruel irony in his passing was that he literally brightened the lives of millions of people, but he could not find enough light in his own life to keep living. As has been reported, Williams committed suicide.
Mollie (our office manager and in-office health coach) is
quite the film buff; as am I. When
someone of the Robin Williams ilk dies, she and I have a conversation about
it. Our chat veered toward the topic of
depression, which Williams had been battling, on and off, for many years,
dating back to the death of one of his best friends, fellow comedian John
Belushi. As Mollie said, “Robin Williams
made a life out of showing us our humanity, and their deaths are no different.” So, let’s use this as an opportunity to take
a broader view on topics such as depression and suicide.
“Depression is a complex thing, having environmental,
social, emotional, spiritual and chemical causes,” Mollie emailed me as we
furthered our discussion beyond Triad Upper Cervical Clinic’s walls. Suicide is, too. We often see these complex issues oversimplified
through words like “selfishness” and “cowardice.” Is this a black and white topic? Or does it, as throughout life, feature many
shades of gray? Strength is a virtue
that we celebrate, but not everyone has it to the extent necessary to will
themselves out of the darker periods in their lives. To imply that Williams was “selfish” or a “coward”
because he could no longer muster the fortitude to keep fighting could well be
viewed as too much of an assumption and fail to contextualize the reality of
his situation (and others like him).
We all like to think that we’re immune to these
problems. Yet, we are also a society
that puts such a premium on being strong that we often, simultaneously, teach
each other to hide signs of weakness subconsciously. Read as a familiar theme? How many of these newsletters over the years
have been geared toward recognizing and getting the underlying causes of signs
identified instead of masking/hiding them?
One of the fundamental human traits is self-preservation. It is a lengthy, tumultuous process to reach
a point where a human-being goes against its very nature and kills itself. Using Mollie’s quote on the causes of
depression, the process might look something like this (and this is merely an
example): Robin was born to pretty sharp parents, who afforded him
opportunities that are idealized on TV but present their own unique set of
pressures (absentee mother and father who don’t give as much attention, in his
case) and may have led to him “acting out” later in life when he became
addicted to alcohol and cocaine. He beat
up his body and mind pretty harshly with his habits, enduring chemical
substance abuse until his friend, Belushi, died of an overdose. The emotional toll was pronounced for
Williams. One of his classmates at
Juliard, Christopher Reeve, then had an accident that left him a paraplegic,
further shaking Williams to his core.
Constantly in the public eye, Williams struggled with the trappings of
stardom all the while. Add to all of that
two failed marriages and being a celebrity dad and you’ve got a potent recipe
for major emotional problems, which eventually manifested as severe depression. In all likelihood, he was medicated, further
disrupting his already chemically imbalanced brain (the years of abuse) and
ailing body (evidenced by his heart surgery in 2009).
Does that narrative paint the picture of anything less
than an intricate human-being with problems that in some way, shape, or form we
all can relate to? Take out the
celebrity part and, odds are, you know someone exactly like him. I can surely appreciate the point of view
that devalues a person who does not value the gift of life, but I think it is a
viewpoint that uses black and white brush strokes instead of the multi-colored pallet
that makes up an individual person.
Williams was certainly colorful. One
of my colleagues commented on social media that, “In my opinion, suicide isn't
‘selfish’ to the person committing it. It's more of a demonstration of
weakness. When someone is depressed, it is imperative to have a strong support
system around them, so they, in turn, feel strong. Tough love doesn't work with
someone who is depressed. They need to feel like they're worth something to
someone, in order to avoid that weakness creeping in.”
Mental health issues are not well understood. The manner in which they’re dealt with? Even less understood. I encounter people that wear like a badge of
honor their prescriptions for depression and anxiety that alter their body
chemistry, but feel it’s a social faux pas to seek counseling. Which one is the band-aid and which was one
helps solve the problem? Yet, drugs are
the popular route with greater acceptance in our society. Reports are that Robin Williams was medicated,
prompting his fellow Hollywood stars to speak out about their past use of
popular anti-depressants and the suicidal thoughts that they triggered. Messing around with brain and body chemistry
is a dangerous game. There’s actually
nothing wrong with counseling…at all. It
is an essential cog in the wheel in making sure that you have your mental
faculties in order amidst the chaotic nature of modern society’s overexposure
to just about everything. A good
attitude is one of the pillars of health.
Counseling is often needed to achieve it. Support is often needed to maintain it. “Please, if you know someone who has a mental
illness, give them a hug and explain to them why the mean so much to you,” my
colleague concluded. “Make them feel like they are worth something, because in
their mind - they aren't. You may save a life and initiate the first step out
From the Upper Cervical perspective, body chemistry and
the general neurologic governing of the emotional (limbic) system is regulated
by the brainstem. Here was Mollie’s
final thought on the matter: “Upper Cervical Care can help. Keeping the
brain-body connection operating at its best can help those who battle depression.
It is not a replacement for other modalities, especially counseling and
soul-work, but it can help those modalities be more effective.”
Feel free to discuss.
And RIP Robin Williams.
Thinking good things for you, as always,