Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Anxiety, Depression, and Robin Williams

I think everyone in the country has had their say about Robin Williams today--the high quality of hilarity he brought into our lives, the tragedy of his death, dealing with depression. It's been dissected from all angles, and I swore I wasn't going to add to the babble. Yet I can't help myself. I want to speak out.
Of all the Facebook posts I've seen today, most seem to miss the point that dancing fast is a way to hide from depression. For all his clever craziness, comedy was probably always a mask that Williams used to hide himself from his desperation. I think many of the silliest, funniest people we know in our daily lives are doing the exact same thing. What so many Americans can't seem to grasp is how common anxiety and depression are. I know first-hand.
I awoke about five this morning feeling anxious and made myself lie there and analyze what was causing this mild anxiety. I could quickly pin it down: I had a dental appointment this morning, which I always dread. Memories of my childhood come roaring back--I had bad teeth and lots of cavities in the days before high-speed drills and painless dentistry. Our dentist was a taciturn man but also one of my uncles--not blood but close enough to the family that he was called "Uncle Walt." As an adult, I learned to appreciate and value him; as a kid, I was terrified. I survived today's appointment with good grace I think.
The other was my new computer which is causing me grief because I can't get around it the way I could the old one. I'm slower, can't find some sites, don't know how to keep several sites open at one time, though I think that should be easy.
It was, as I said, mild anxiety. But there was a period in my life when I was housebound with anxiety, afraid to drive anywhere, afraid to be alone. I've worked hard to get where I am--still don't drive on the highway, don't like self-service elevators if I'm alone, can't do escalators, lots of lingering fears but few of them crippling. The biggest one is a fear of going new places alone in case I meet an elevator or set of steps without railings that I can't handle. Yes, my legendary lack of balance is purely anxiety driven. And I can't explain the truly helpless feeling when a panic attack takes over. To people who say, "Buck up and get over it," I want to say, "Walk a mile in my moccasins."
Yet I drive around town, live alone and like it, do all kinds of things I once thought I couldn't. I didn't--and don't--want anxiety to define my life. And I don't think it does. I'm fortunate to live a full, busy, and happy life. At the ripe old age of 76, I'm building a new career. It's fun.
Why couldn't Williams also overcome his depression? From what I've read, he worked hard at it all his life. I've never been that depressed, but I can imagine what he felt like just from the few black moments I've experienced. To feel that way constantly would be unbearable. A man must be desperate to leave behind wife, children, career. I understand.
A word about addiction: apparently Williams was sober for twenty years and then started drinking again. It's another common way people hide their depression, though it often just adds to the problem. I drink too much wine, I know it. But I control it because I more desperately don't want to feel bad in the morning. I knew one out-and-out alcoholic--he worked for me and nearly drove me crazy. But in retrospect I recognize PTSD, and I grieve for him too, as I grieve for Williams and the pain he endured, for his family, for all of us. And I've still got a tiny bit of anxiety because there's something I haven't done but should do--it just won't come to the front of my consciousness.


Anonymous said...

Well said. Thank you, Judy for adding your personal insights to this discussion.

Kay H

Kait said...

Excellent post, Judy. I agree wholeheartedly that dancing as fast as you can is often a sign of trying to outrun anxiety and/or depression. This is so sad for his family and friends. Robin Williams touched so many people. I never knew him and yet, I feel a loss. It is a tribute to how successful his flight from his own pain was that he brought joy to so many. His daughter's tweet was gorgeous. Although not first hand, fortunately, I do understand how you feel, and I say congratulations. You are coping fantastically well. Keep up the good work.