Each month I have to come up with a topic for this column. Sounds easy, right? Well, sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.
There are months when I know what I’m going to write about days and weeks in advance and when I sit down to write I have my 800 or so words of brilliance to my editor 20 minutes later. Other times, well, it’s not so easy. I’m not a columnist who covers the Eagles or Phillies or any other local sports team. Those I could spill out faster than a sneeze.
No, my particular beat is, well, the world. I suppose I could write about the Eagles or the Phillies, but there’s nothing very column-worthy going on right now. I got an email yesterday reminding me that this was my column week. The powers that be even give me an out. They tell me if I don’t have anything, they’d find something to replace me. But c’mon… once a month? I should be able to do that.
This time, I was stuck. This time, I almost… almost … told them to find another columnist. And then Robin Williams died. I was a fan of Robin Williams. Thought “Mrs. Doubtfire” was literally one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. The man oozed talent. One minute he was on a ridiculous riff, completely stream-of-consciousness. The next, he was talking about a serious issue that was close to his heart.
His work reflected that. He did silly comedies (the aforementioned “Mrs. Doubtfire”), he did voiceovers for children’s movies (“Aladdin”) and he could turn serious with a moment’s notice (“Patch Adams” and various other roles). I’m not here to reminisce about the great career of a man who left us much too soon. I’m not shedding a tear for him, though I’m certainly not happy with the news. I have been known to cry at the death of someone I’d not met or really didn’t know (the day Rich Ashburn died remains one of the more difficult days of my life).
But what ultimately got Williams, from all accounts, was a battle with depression. He lost. Depression is something that, if you don’t have it, you have no idea what it’s about. We can Google cancer and pretty much get an idea of how it works and how it kills. Same with countless other diseases. Getting a hold on how depression kills is more difficult, like trying to put toothpaste back in a tube.
I’ve been diagnosed as clinically depressed. I disagree with the diagnosis, but who am I to do that? It basically stemmed from many talks with therapists, talks that were born of a legitimate battle with anxiety. That is a little easier to put your arms around, but only a little. Sometimes I feel as though I’m what I like to call “locked.” Getting off the couch and feeding the dog feels as though someone’s asked me to climb Mount Everest in flip-flops. I feel as if I just can’t do it.
But depressed? I never really get that feeling. Even when I’m going through an anxiety attack — a nearly daily occurrence — I never get the feeling that things won’t get better. I’m still able to keep perspective, which I believe is a big part of being depressed or not being depressed. I can still look at my wife, my children, my friends, my dog, my life and realize how lucky I am. Even if I am locked to the couch.
I am going to stop using the word depressed. It saturates its true meaning. Hearing Robin Williams killed himself because he was depressed makes him sound weak, and though I never met the man, I’m betting he was anything but weak. Despite a seemingly close circle, he felt as though things would not, could not, ever get better. No, from now on, when the Eagles lose, or if I’m having a generally bad day, I’m going to be bummed. I’m not going to be depressed.
Nobody says, “I feel cancerous” when they wake up with a splitting headache. That would be ridiculous. As it should be with people who throw the word “depressed” around like it’s any other adjective. Anything that can kill a man gets its own word, one that shouldn’t be used to describe anything else.
Most people probably can’t wrap their hands around why someone like Williams — wealthy, popular, enjoying all the trimmings that come with being a movie star — would take his own life. Lots of folks are probably saying, “I’d trade my life for his in a second.” My guess is if that were possible, you’d trade back in under a second. Being depressed — really, truly, able-to-take-your-ownlife depressed — is one of the worst things you can go through.
There’s no lottery or scratch off ticket to take away depression. Sure, there’s medication, but sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes, the only way out is to remove the cause of the depression. Sadly, that’s what RobinWilliams did.