The interwebs are abuzz with the news of Robin Williams’ untimely death. An apparent suicide. Everyone is shocked and heartbroken. Not me. I heard the news and was not in the least bit surprised. Instead, it almost felt like I had been expecting this. This is because of two bits of information I had gleaned from an interview Robin Williams had given.
- Robin Williams was bipolar
- Robin Williams was an addict because he self-medicated for the above disorder.
So when I heard the news today I was not surprised.
Actually it felt like I had dodged a bullet. I felt relief.
Before you accuse me of being callous, I should tell you my story.
There was a time that I was expecting to hear the news that my mother was dead. Every day I was expecting that call. You see, my mother is bipolar too.
It hit with menopause. She kept getting worse. More and more depressed, but with these weird phases where she would do things like purchasing a ton of blouses and shirts. She thought she needed so many of them, and yet had a closet stuffed full of ones she had never worn.
The depression was crushing. My mother, who had been so capable and strong, became unable to do the simplest things.
My parents moved to a new home, and a new community, and she could hardly unpack the house.
One Sunday my dad got up to go to church, not a surprise, since he was a pastor for so many years. He got in the shower, but got this strange sensation that he shouldn’t go to church. He says God told him to go back to bed and not go to church. This was a big deal for my dad. He’s not a “skip church” kind of guy. However, the feeling was strong, so my dad got out of the shower, put his pajamas back on, and went back to bed.
Not long after, my mother woke up to find my dad still in bed. She asked him what he was doing, and he said that he was skipping church. She started getting agitated, more and more restless as the minutes ticked by. Finally she started to cry. My dad sat up in bed and asked my mom what was going on. She tried to brush it off for a while, but finally broke. She had a plan, and my father’s presence was thwarting it.
Yes. That kind of plan.
After dad had left for church, she was going to get up, put a load of laundry in the washer, come up and write us all letters on the computer, put the wash into the dryer, and start another load, tidy up down stairs, take a shower, make the bed, then take all her pills with drain cleaner.
That day was the first time my mother was hospitalized for her depression, which was then diagnosed as bipolar disorder. I remember scraping the money together to fly over to help. I spend the days unpacking my parents house, hanging pictures on the wall, doing busy work to fill the hours until I could see her. My lovely, amazing, broken mother. I remember holding her when she would cry, and knowing there was no way I could make it better. It broke my heart to see her this way, and see my father not be able to fix the woman he loved so much.
After they got her leveled out, years later, after many medications, and two rounds of electroshock therapy, my mother and I talked about that time. She told me about the utter lack of hope she had. She said that she could have hope for us, hope that my dad would move on, and find someone else, hope that we would all be fine without her, but that she had absolutely none for herself. She said “If I had never been there, I wouldn’t believe it now. I can’t explain it. There was just no hope to be found.”
Thankfully, for my mother, as menopause disappeared, so did her symptoms. She has been level for years, mostly without medication.
But I watch. We all do. When I say “There but for the grace of God…” you know I mean it. If it hadn’t been for that voice in the shower….
And deep down, in the darkest corners of my mind, I fear that phone call. That one that says your mother lost her hope, and now you’ve lost her.
I feel for Robin Williams’ family. I really do. My heart goes out to them. They got that call.
I hope that good can come from this, that more people are made aware of the suffering of bipolar disorder and depression. I hope that more understanding, research, and medication can come from this.
Most of all, I hope that this is a bullet my family and I can continue to dodge. Depression can shatter a family; can destroy life. I hope, not mine.
By the grace of God, I hope.