I know, you’re probably expecting a Wicked Tuna recap, or Jeremy McKeen’s impending Supermoon article. We’ll get back to our regularly scheduled proclamming tomorrow.
But we’re still reeling about Robin Williams. I bet you are, too. Right? How could it be that this bright, funny, famous, rich man who had given so much and was so loved still decided to take his own life?
Depression is a bitch, that’s why.
Yesterday, my fabulous blog partner and friend Jim Dowd wrote this wonderful long piece about what it’s like to have a brain that doesn’t stop, much like Robin Williams. He gets it. He’s been there.
I have been there, and I get it as well, but I come from a different angle – lifelong depression. Sometimes deep, sometimes not bothersome at all, but always a weird part of me I hate admitting is there, like a birth mark or third nipple.
I started being funny in middle school to get boys to like me. I was dorky, awkward, kind of grungy, and really liked the Foo Fighters and Weezer when most kids liked Destiny’s Child. In my defense, Dave Grohl was younger then, and didn’t tell people to get off his lawn.
I was not a popular kid, and no boys swooned over my existence. I cracked jokes, I learned the math of what “funny” is – a+b=punchline. Boys would befriend me because I was funny. I once threw an orange at a lunchroom clock because I thought it would be hilarious. It kinda was. It made people crack up, it was a rush, people thought I was funny. I thrived on that attention.
Being funny seemed like the only way I could keep people around me. My self-esteem sucked, and high school didn’t make it any better. This was the advent of the internet, before parents even knew online bullying could possibly be a thing. Kids from my school were mean to me online and in person. I clung to humor because without it, I would have been lost in a sea of depression and hormones.
I tried half-heartedly to kill myself when I was sixteen. It was an impulsive, stupid decision. I ended up with a two-week stay in an adult inpatient ward where I had no contact at all with anyone from my school except for a few random friends visiting me. My best friend called me selfish for what I’d done and that I should try harder to be happier. I felt nothing but guilt for putting my poor, already-stressed parents through the hell I did. I had two weeks of eating shitty hospital food food, seeing people for whom mental illness fully controlled their lives, watching someone get off heroin cold turkey, and then a lot of conversations with real live adults who struggled but who gave me great coping advice. During the second week, a teenager set off the sprinkler system in the cafeteria to escape, ruining my textbooks and putting me further behind in schoolwork.
I got better eventually, but I was still impulsive. I once stole my mom’s car and drove forever. I got as far as mid-PA before running out of cash. I still couldn’t tell you why I did it, except a desperate, overwhelming need to get the fuck out of my town and my head. I was seventeen. I dropped out of high school. I finished eventually, but as an outcast, school was fucking abysmal. It took me six years to gain the courage to go to college.
The internet where originally I was bullied turned into a mechanism to meet other people. It saved my life – the groups of kids with similar mindsets, who liked similar bands, who would find me more than worthy of friendship. Before social media, you’d just have email list discussions. My email friends from towns away would become real friends – they’d pick me up and take me bowling or to play pool or go see a punk band, sometimes against my parents’ wishes. I cobbled together a hodgepodge group of friends, and even boyfriends, based on my humor, and then my emerging outgoing personality. I was able to snag my husband based on my snarky online personality.
My deadpan delivery of often vulgar humor has followed me since then. Life’s been great sometimes, and shitty other times, but I have thankfully stayed humorous, to my knowledge, throughout it all. Postpartum depression flared up with my second kid, and at times I grasped for straws. Again, the internet was there to reassure me that I wasn’t a bad parent and I’d be okay and normal, and with the correct medication, I’ve been happy.
Making other people laugh makes me feel better on a daily basis. Sometimes I feel it’s the only thing I can do right, but my rational brain know that’s a lie. It’s an infinite feedback loop of the most positive sort – make people laugh, the part of your brain that seeks a rush like booze or drugs is satiated by the laughter, and you do it again, and again. You are funny because it is necessary to the core of your being.
I’m lucky. I’m lucky because I have had the chance to have such happy times, and some people don’t get that chance. I have a rational part of my brain that keeps me from getting too low without seeking help. I have self esteem now – perhaps too much. I learned to take selfies and learned to love what I saw.
And I’ve met great people, again partially because of the internet. While I’ve gone full townie here in Gloucester, that was absolutely exacerbated by social media. I added people on Facebook. We got along. We made plans more. I suddenly had a wonderful friend circle in Gloucester that works so well alongside my other great friends “down the line” and those I only see online who have moved to far-flung, foreign locales like Africa, Beirut or South Florida.
I feel the deepest, most painful sorrow in my heart that Robin Williams was so depressed that he took his own life. I have known how he felt, the feeling pressing on your chest like you are being suffocated with every moment you exist. The realization that you’ve got everything in life, but there is a part of your brain that is broken and you can’t enjoy it. The impulse to swandive off the Piatt, that you immediately quell, put away, take a deep breathe, and move past.
I am intensely lucky that antidepressants exist. I am still here, and I’ll always be here, to listen to music on the beach, to watch my kids beat each other senseless with pool noodles, to drink cider, to ride bikes with the backdrop of the Atlantic. In the darkest hours when those small fleeting moments of happiness seem so far away, I will cling to my beautiful friends like lifeboats in a storm. They will not tell me I am selfish. I have come far.