No Choice

My head has been in weird place this past week. I have a lot in front of me and a lot behind me.

Being both bipolar 1 and also being a child survivor of suicide, Robin Williams’ death sent me spiraling downward at a time when I am trying to spiral upward. I feel empathy for the pain he has suffered and for his family. I can also understand why some people (survivors mostly) feel it was a selfish act, but what they don’t understand is that it is a selfless act in the mind of the victim. I say victim because the chemical imbalance in the brain that darkens the world and slows then stops time chooses its prey, they don’t choose death.

That is the one most vital thing people have to come to understand and the least understandable.

This is not sadness, but it is a sad situation. Depression is called depression for a reason.

Your metabolism slows to the point of not feeling hungry…ever. Or thirsty…ever.

Your thought processes slow to the point that your mind begins to formulate a thought and hours later, after distorted thoughts have come and gone, your mind finishes it.

You don’t know what happened in between. Worse than a drunk in a blackout, you function, but you are not conscious of it.

In the worst of it, your motor functions are crippled. You literally begin to move in slow motion. It’s called psychomotor retardation, and it’s not one day…or two or three, but every day for weeks, months and years.

I recall one day during an episode where I rose from my bed and put my feet on the floor. I was thinking about making some coffee. I, at some point, walked into the living room, opened a window, and sat in a rocking chair. There was a hole in the screen. The kids were at school. I have no clue what I thought about all day long, but when the kids came home, nearly eight hours later, I was still sitting in that chair. A wasp nest was in the corner of the window and it had been disturbed by me opening the window early that morning. So these wasps were now inside. A few were flying around the room. My face and arms were covered in wasps, and I could not, would not, move. I was an observer. They were crawling around on me, I felt them, and I did not care. I was thinking about making some coffee.

That was my day. I was totally not in control of my thoughts or actions.

I never self-medicated with drugs or alcohol. I was on medication for mood disorder, but this was a breakthrough episode. And I felt that I wanted to die. I did not want to put my family through me going back into a hospital for treatment.

In between these episodes, I was Professional Registered Nurse, wife, mother, student, employer, employee, Girl Scout cookie chairperson, Eagle Scout mom, soccer mom, drove the kids to tae kwon do, horseback riding lessons, softball practice, I was cheerleading chaperone and youth group leader. No one knew, but my family.

When I was manic, I was working sixteen hour shifts, a creative genius, devising staffing inservice manuals for CCU, and healthcare program designs, creating ceramic artwork that would blow your mind…no one faulted me that. No one much noticed the toll it took.

Even when you seek help, there are often complications, like there are with any disease. There are resistant strains, chemotherapy and talk therapy are both tricky. It’s expensive to treat. Responses are varied. It can take weeks or months to see the positive effects of medications, and many won’t endure that long. The medication that finally stopped all of this for me, after several experimental cocktails, was a third generation psychotropic discovered in 1996. I took it as an experimental drug. I was willing to try anything. My episodes were off and on from 1979. Some people are not as lucky as me, because everybody’s brain chemistry is different. It can take years, decades, to find the right mix.

I don’t know what Robin Williams was thinking, or even if he knew what he was thinking.

I don’t believe he chose death. I will never believe that he chose death.

47 thoughts on “No Choice

  1. No-one can understand what this feels like, but you have most likely described it the way ,we without this ‘black dog’ ,might sort of understand this affliction. Thank you for coming forward to enlighten us. ❤ ❤ ❤

    • I can’t say that I have not had angry moments when I thought my mother was quite selfish for what she did, but at the same time, given rational thought about it, it can’t be true.

      The grieving process, with denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance is an ongoing thing…moving into and out each stage for a lifetime.

  2. I appreciate you insight into a world unfamiliar to me – and your candor in sharing your own experience. Many of us are too quick to judge those who die by suicide. Your last paragraph clinches the discussion for me: “I don’t believe he chose death. I will never believe that he chose death.”

  3. Have you seen The Angriest Man in Brooklyn? I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone, but there is a part in there that has me shaking my head even more. But the decades of good that he provided for millions of people are what I want to focus on.

  4. The more people share stories like this, the better it will be for all of us. There’s a whole lot of misunderstanding and impatience out there. On some level, I wonder if it’s like gay marriage. The single biggest reason, I believe, that there has been such a turn around on that issue is that gay people came out of the closet and demonstrated to the rest of the country that they were our neighbors, our co-workers, our family, our friends. I wonder if the same thing needs to happen with mental health issues. The more we realize that it’s not just the “crazies” who have these issues, maybe the better our understanding and handling will be.

    • You are right about that. The stigma associated with depression and bipolar d.o.is devastating. One in four has been treated for some sort of mental disorder per NAMI statistics. That’s huge.

      You know, I thought about about gay people when I wrote this post. They don’t choose to be gay. It’s not like they DECIDE to be gay. They just are.

      Mental illness is like that. You don’t decide to have a brain chemical disturbance. Everybody gets down. Everybody has been sad. Depression cuts deeper than your deepest funk. And there is no reason. It just does.

      And if you are bipolar you’re elated, euphoric, on top of the world when you’re manic at the other extreme, but that’s just fine with everybody. You’re a genius. You get things accomplished. You work 16 hour days without breaking a sweat and do it smiling.

  5. This is such a beautiful and compassionate post. I’m absolutely in awe of your bravery, but also of the compassion that led you to share this very personal story. Thank you.

  6. It is about time someone focuses on his illness rather than blaming his suicide on substance abuse or focusing on his career. So many people (the media) missed out on a perfect opportunity to educate people about depression and/or bi-polar. It was a very sad event, yes. However, the media missed the boat. Too many people suffer from this terrible disease. “Victims” and survivors need to know they are not alone. Glad you’re better. Thank you for showing people how awful this disease can be.

    • Thanks Sue. The real world tends to hide this sort of thing, which contributes to the stigma. We won’t be able to help until we stop that. I appreciate your comments.

    • This is one day in one episode of my experience. Everybody’s experience is different. I never felt like taking my life but I did feel I and my family would be better off if I died. That’s a tough place to be, and I know I am not the only one who has felt it. Thank you so much for your support and your comments.

  7. I never knew about things like what you described with the wasps. The people I know who were diagnosed with depression fell into cutter habits. One reason I think the confusion between depression and sadness exists is word usage. People use the word ‘depressed’ as a synonym for being sad, so your average person doesn’t realize it’s closer to despair and a mental condition. That’s why you see so many people asking why someone who had so much could be depressed. Hope you keep spiraling upward.

    • This has been a weird week. The same day Robin Williams died my son’s home burned to the ground and today my granddaughter had surgery. I screwed up trying to respond to comments and posted them all as independent posts. Seesh…when it rains it pours.

      That was one day in a six week episode that didn’t improve until I went in for meds adjustment. The feeling of despair often came out of nowhere with no cause and effect type scenario. That’s the issue. there is no precipitating factor with bipolar or clinical depression. You can have everything anyone could possibly want in the world, and an episode hits without warning.

      • I was wondering why those posts kept turning up. I thought you were having WordPress issues.

        The lack of a cause/effect scenario is why such conditions are so dangerous. Be nice if they were taken more seriously.

        • I was at the hospital with daughter and grand-kids and was trying to answer comments with my iPhone, instead I was publishing each comment.

          Cutters seem to have deeper issues that go as far as perpetual self-loathing and self hatred. There are treatment modalities for it, but it takes education and a supportive team effort.
          For over a hundred years people were housed in warehouse institutions, out of sight out of mind. It wasn’t until the 80s that the healthcare industry really started working effective treatment methods, then big insurance came and stripped the funding away. There are slowly emerging some facilities that treat with a biopsychosocial-spiritual approach, but they are far and few between and expensive. Sadly, the insurance companies want to throw a generic pill at it and brain chemistry isn’t like that. Chemotherapy has to be individualized and that takes time and a lot of trial and error. Some people just can’t endure it that long.

          • It definitely feels like they would rather pills than therapy for these things. Just going by what our provider handles, it isn’t pretty. As for the cutting, I’ve been told that it’s a stress reliever and there is something soothing about the pain. I’m sure there are various reasons though.

            • I’ve heard that also…about the stress. Sad to see such permanent scarring for something temporary. Just sad to see the current state of affairs in mental health in general.

              When I started in therapy in 1979 my provider paid for daily visits indefinitely. In 1996 it was once every three months. Anything more and I had to pay OOP.

  8. Thank you for sharing your personal experience. For those of us who have never experienced it such a profound sense of despair and lethargy, it is helpful to hear it from someone who has. That wasp story was powerful.

    • I freak to be in the same room with a wasp and I couldn’t imagine sitting still for them to crawl on my face, but that is exactly where I was. I was just totally oblivious to what was going on around me. It certainly isn’t the same as sadness. deep sadness or severe stress can precipitate an episode but the depression runs much deeper than that.

  9. Susan, what a vivid description of the experience. Hugs to you and to all of us.
    By the way, I started your book. Not sure how long it will take me as I have been reading very slowly lately, but wanted you to know that I think you are a master storyteller. And that I have a “good doctor” in my story, too, but it will only be a small part and he’s not a good doctor for the same reason.

  10. Oh wow Luanne. way cool. Do take your time. I tried not to pick sides with my story, but to simply tell it like it happened, but I have taken some criticism for not talking a stand. I just believe it’s such a personal thing. I wanted to keep the good doctor in the shadows and let people make their own decisions.

  11. Your experience is a reminder of my brother’s condition for so many years. It’s all-consuming to the sufferer, and an end to it is all he can think about – when he’s able to think. We lost him, sadly, but I understand Robin Williams’ tragic story through him.

    • It is tragic. I know I have been one of the lucky ones. I lost a cousin I had grown up with like a sister and another best friend just two years ago. There is no miracle cure, one pill may work for one but not another.It is a lifelong long battle, and when symptoms are that severe, I understand why someone would feel they can’t go on anymore.

  12. That was a very enlightening and beautiful articulated post. It seems that Robin WIlliams’ death has truly hit people hard maybe because of the seemingly incomprehensible aspect of depression. We still don’t really understand it as a society,
    Your experience sounds truly hellish and thankfully you came out the other side so that you could share the darkest parts in order to help others understand.
    Happy you’re well now.

    • Thank you Jackie, for saying so. I still battle my demons but don’t cycle through the extremes so much anymore. I feel for anyone who suffers the truly hellish nightmare of depression and feel for the families of victims that don’t make it out the other side.

  13. Thanks for sharing this. And for following my blog which led me back to yours. I wish you peace and strength. And that you feel like yourself.

    So sad about Robin Williams. He touched many people with his life, and then again with his death.

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