Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Manic depression: Robin Williams and me

The death of Robin Williams is heart breaking.  He was a mega-talent who made many people laugh, cry and just plain feel good about the man.  I was one of them.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching Williams in all his roles. The fact that his death was self-imposed is sad, very sad.

Just some thoughts about Robin Williams' death...I have battled manic depression (bi-polar)  through much of my life. I don't follow celebrities but wasn't surprised to find that Robin was bipolar.  His performances were often manic and crazy.  His dramatic performances were sensational; giving the audience an intense reaction to the characters he played. Manic Depression is a disease and can be relatively easy to control with medication.  However that medication levels out the highs and the lows to the point that the person is just numb.  Robin Williams would likely have none of that...it would have affected his creative genius.

"Depression steals reality", to quote Doctor Keith Ablow ( a psychiatrist who treats bipolar disease). It is a real disease that causes the sufferer to turn his or her back on life and doubt, doom, and worthlessness become paramount. The sufferer feels they are living in a black hole from which there is no escape. Emptiness, lack of life, love and joy are all part of the effects of this disease.  It doesn't matter, at least initially, the support and love the sufferer is given, he or she just doesn't care and has no desire to act upon the the loathsomeness that accompanies deep depression.  Feelings of guilt and ruin in all things touched (whether true or not)  are common in the severe lows experienced. Often, giving up and leaving this world behind is an option considered and sadly, this is what Robin Williams acted upon.

The manic side of manic depression feels ohhh so good.  The elation, the energy, the "upness" all peak and so much can be accomplished (or appear to be so) during an episode.  Extreme manicness (or mania) can and does include psychotic symptoms that are like hallucinations or delusions.  I certainly suffered from the latter and acted on some things that in a "normal" frame of mind I would never have considered.  Yet the "high" from the mania was so good that most around me thought I was a near superman...little sleep, lots of work done, always positive state of mind were experienced.  I could do no wrong and could achieve whatever I could try.

I was treated for manic depression in the 1980's and early 1990's.  After about ten years of medication, I learned to control my bi-polar issues but am still visited on occasion by it.  Through meditation and mental exercises, I am okay and am relatively stable.  However, my life is something of a cocoon and I'm not exposed (partly by choice) to the stimuli that would set me off.  Drugs aren't a factor - especially mood altering drugs like meth and cocaine and my support is rock solid.  But if I followed some of my dreams and entered the topsy world of drama and education again, full time, things wouldn't be so easy. There were people in my life back then that said that "[Larry] was one of those" while twirling their finger near their temple.  I left those folks behind for sure.  I was sick and I knew it. I was bound and determined to beat it and so far, I have.

Robin Williams lived a life of a comic and acting genius. He was brilliant, energized, soulful and suffered from bipolar disorder.  He plunged into a darkness and he couldn't see a way out. To quote Dr Keith Ablow again, " [He] apparently chose to end his life because he could not see the next chapter of his own story as containing anything other than unbearable psychological pain.Such is the power of depression – an affliction which is almost unimaginable to those who have not suffered with it -- to twist the truth into something unrecognizable. For the truth is that there were many new and wonderful pages awaiting Robin Williams; he just couldn't imagine them. He couldn't believe the darkness would ever end."

There are something like 20 million adults who suffer from bipolar disorder. If you know one of them, reach out to them and let them know it isn't real...neither side of it...and that there are ways to battle it.  You may save their life.


  1. You make me feel like I'm reading the "truth". The "truth" that I've always known and could not explain because I've only observed, not be there. Thank you, Larry and continued success in your own battle.
    I hope you don't mind if I share this. I know many people who NEED to read this. They need to understand the blackness that is bipolar unchecked.

  2. Thank you for sharing this with us Larry, and to Jo for sharing it again. I did the same. Nicely done.

  3. Very well said, Larry, and I wish you peace and health.


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