“O Captain! My Captain!” – Dealing with depression and anxiety.

With the passing of Robin Williams this week my Facebook feed has been awash with discussion of depression. Some are trying to understand it, others can’t possibly figure out how someone so funny could be so sad. Still others offer their own stories of how they’ve experienced depression and can relate to what Robin was going through. As I wrote on a friend’s post:

I am fortunate that I do not know what depression is like. Not real depression of the type Robin Williams had. But I have experienced its effects first hand as someone who has had to be there for others suffering from this horrible disease. And I’ve learned that there is no one cause. Sometimes it’s related to diet and various nutritional deficiencies, sometimes it’s hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances. Many times it’s other things entirely. I don’t know what it’s like to be in that dark place, but I can assure you, having been with someone while they were there, in the worst possible pain of their life, it’s not fun, and nothing else really matters except stopping that pain.”

Robin’s death by suicide hit me hard. I grew up with him, as I’m sure many of you did. I remember the very first episodes of Mork and Mindy, and even before that his appearances on Happy Days. I watched him evolve from a bizarre, crazy guy into a brilliant actor in Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Dead Poet’s Society. His stand-up routines, though filled with foul language, were a testament to the fact that foul language is often times the only and perfect way to accentuate and emphasize a point. Of all the comedians I’ve watched, listened to, and enjoyed, Robin Williams was always my favorite. And I am very sad he’s gone.

But it’s how he left us that really hurts. Knowing that he, who brought so much joy to my life, couldn’t feel that joy himself and was in so much pain that his only escape was to leave us as he did, really saddens me.  I have no idea what life was like for him, how long he was battling his demons, or even what those demons were.  But as my trainer mentioned the other day on this subject, you’ve got to find something to hold on to; an anchor that you can grip tight and never, ever let go of!

As I said above, I’ve seen that kind of pain first hand. Not experienced it myself, but lived with it. For over ten years my wife battled with severe depression and anxiety.  When it first hit, it was subtle.  But it grew into something larger. Something neither one of knew how to deal with.  And as an engineer and  a problem solver I was lost. I fix things. It’s what I do. But there was nothing there to fix. There was only pain and dread and worry. For both of us. And there was absolutely nothing I could do to make this go away or to make her better.  Except be her anchor.  Be that someone she could grip tight and never let go of.  As she was for me in return.  This was OUR fight.  Somehow we would find a way to fix this.

She once told me that “Depression isn’t logical, it isn’t rational.  There’s nothing there to fix or to make sense of because it doesn’t make any sense!”  A lot of people are trying to make sense of what happened to Robin.  Sadly, you can not make sense of that which is senseless.  All we can do is be their anchor and never let go!

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4 comments to “O Captain! My Captain!” – Dealing with depression and anxiety.

  • Trudy Engelen

    Thank you so much for such an insideful letter. It is so true and most people can’t understand the deep hole depression can send you into. My Dad went through a lot of pain and suffering after a motorcycle collision that left him with two broken arms. A decade later – yes 10 years later the surgeon told him that they need to amputate his left arm. Dad went into such deep depression for fear he would be a cripple that in the end he comitted suicide. No amount of talk helped. He just could not cope any longer. Thank you for being the anchor for your wife.

    • Trudy, thank you for your comment. I am very, very sorry for your loss. I know what it’s like being the person who’s there for the other person. It’s not easy being us. I can’t even fathom your grief at losing your Dad in such a way. I’m glad you appreciated this post. Hopefully it will give others the hope they need to either hold on tight and never let go, or to understand how important it is to be that anchor for someone. We need to be there for each other, and to make sure those who need us have the anchor they so desperately need.

  • The Face of RA The Paleo Way

    “Depression isn’t logical, it isn’t rational. There’s nothing there to fix or to make sense of because it doesn’t make any sense!” You’re wife hit the nail on the head with that one. it isn’t logical or rational. It hits at inopportune times for no visible reason and it’s scary. To be able to acknowledge that shows she is a strong woman who still has a foothold over the pain and sadness. To proudly support her in such a confusing and troubling time shows your strong character.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Thank you for your comments! I am fortunate to have such a strong wife. I can’t imagine life without her. Fortunately for us, we’ve been able to battle this together and have mostly defeated this dragon. There are still, and likely always be some times tougher than others. But together, we can and will get through anything 🙂