Suicide, Robin Williams, and What's Underneath
Forgive me, I’ve been drinking.
It started early, roughly 2:30pm, with a Coors Light (yes, I’m one of those people; not the 2:30 types, the Coors Light types; alas, if I’m going to take in extra calories it’ll be Oreos, thank you, not some hybrid clove-raspberry summer ale created by some delicious puke who thinks that is beer). There were two fingers of Black Label, around 4:30pm, after a nap – one quite necessary after a brutal 1.5 hours of aggressive touch football, yesterday – and then three 5-oz glasses of some chardonnay-grigio mix, this evening, while watching reruns of Sherlock Holmes on Netflix. So, feel free to reject my thinking as the tripe of a despicable drunk, if you like.
Oh, though, for what it’s worth, I do weigh 250lbs. You do the math.
So, I have a piece of goat cheese cheese pizza (mozz with goat on top, which is the only situation under which I would ever subject my mouth to the utter boredom of cheese pizza, no matter how great my stomach’s cravings for sheer carbs) and sit down to discover the (former) cokehead is dead.
Now, pardon my slander (I’ve been drinking), but no one can really dispute that Robin Williams was infinitely funnier in the early days when he was on the powder. I mean, really, Robin Williams on Broadway? Really? You buy the ticket because it’s Robin Williams, not because he’s funny anymore.
See, Robin went the other direction from, say, Dennis Miller. Miller was always too fast and too smart for bums like me; so while I could feel his snark, I never got one doggone joke coming out of his mouth. But, Robin got slower without the coke; his jokes became easy, forced even.
But, alas, the thing about Robin Williams (and isn’t it interesting that you can’t really call him Robin, as a distant admirer, because he was so not a ‘Robin’; and you couldn’t simply refer to him as Williams, as that was too banal, too meaningless. He was one of those few people whose identity was wrapped up in both his first and last names, unlike Damon or Affleck, Angelou or Oprah. He needed two names. Odd, don’t you think?) is that he became a better actor than he ever was a comedian. And that’s saying a lot.
But, who gives a crap? Yes, another great actor/comedian was lost; a man of a generation, my generation. But I, personally, miss Philip Seymour Hoffman even more, despite my nostalgia for Robin Williams. Yes, I’ll miss Robin Williams’ madness and his depth, but PSH had the power.
Yet, again, who gives a hoot in hell, apart from the whole specter of how he chose to go?
What I’m really finding interesting, even already, is the suicide, which some seem to be intimating it was.
Hmmmm. It could be argued that Seymour Hoffman committed suicide too, in a roundabout way. Maybe Michael Jackson and the Joker too. Roundabout ways.
And, of course, the wonder of it all and the endless tedium of those who drone on and on about ‘untreated depression’, “I’ll be there for you if you’re considering suicide”, and all the other overwrought blather.
I mean, we’ve all thought about it, at one time or another. And, of course, we’ve all got an opinion on it. Some even know someone who committed suicide, or attempted it.
I knew a fellow and his wife who had struggled with a troublesome daughter, from teen years right into her twenties. She got into drug use. And stealing. And whatever other manner of mishmash that went with it. And, in the end, she killt herself. Dead. And I never tracked a strong sense of sorrow in the parents. I mean, I did, but I didn’t. And I knew them and knew people who knew them, such that my assessment couldn’t be too far off. And yet, what I saw wasn’t the proverbial “suicide hurts those you leave behind.” Instead, I saw relief. I saw interminable exhaustion reaching its terminus.
Yes, I know I’m a bad person for saying these things. But I’ve seen what I’ve seen.
And, in truth, I have long scars running up my arms. 6-8 inches. Plus a few ancillary scars incised to expedite bleeding. But those, really, are nothing – the tiniest fraction of over a decade of life of what I think of as ‘the suicide point’, where any given day you could do it and actually consider doing it. I mean, it was day after day, often multiple times a day, that I considered it. For years. For over a decade.
I got my ass handed to me by life. And the declension of, well, me into deeper self became increasingly intolerable.
F—k that. Too cliché. Too easy.
As if it can be solved with a drug or even with talking to some psychiatrist.
Nah, too easy.
It’s just a way more complex algebra than simple depression. I remember the psychiatrist who spoke with me at the mental hospital, after I had been sewn up, after I had stopped my hour-long bleeding. (See, it’s California law that suicide attempts must be put in mental hospitals for 72 hours, post-attempt. Oddly, I was released after 36 hours.) He immediately put me on some anti-depressant; Paxil, I think. I asked why an anti-depressant. He said, incredulously, “You just attempted suicide,” as if that answered my question.
I responded, “So, there are, what, five, ten, known causes of heart disease? Maybe more, maybe less, whatever. But there is only ONE cause of suicide? And in 10 minutes of talking with me, you’ve assessed it must be depression? Really?”
He wasn’t moved, and I couldn’t care less, at that time. I took his drugs. Then I met with the female psychologist, who happened to specialize in a little-known field, called Depth Psychology, which was a language I had learned to speak, years prior. We talked candidly. She released me, after only 36 hours.
And here I sit, typing away, 13 years later. Haven’t thought of suicide in roughly 6-8 years. It took a few years after the suicide attempt before a significant fading of the inclination took over. But it did take over.
That day of suicide, that day with the blade at my forearms, was the turning point of my life. That was the day I really began to own my life. As mentioned, it took many years for full ownership to ensue, but come it did.
And so, what’s my point?
It’s not depression.
Or, rather, depression (and anxiety) is the external manifestation of the real problem. I really don’t give two shits what psychology says on the issue. I have been there myself and have counseled numerous others on this precise aspect of life. Depression is not the issue.
Lack of ownership is the issue.
The real problem, my little friends, is that there is a fight going on inside for the ownership of the being. Ideas are at war. Which will possess this being?
What really drives the suicide is that someone is terrified. The real self is terrified to be who it really is, under great heat from whom-I’m-supposed-to-be. And a war is waged. And it is brutal, utterly wrenching the soul, not to mention the body.
I’d bet my left testicle that this is precisely what was at stake with Robin Williams and PSH (I’d type out the full name, but I’m tired). In fact, I don’t need to bet; I know it, with significant, if not absolute, certainty. I’ve just treated so damn many people who were, or are, right there, at the suicide point. I’ve seen the patterns. The depression (and the anxiety, mind you) is just a symptom. The cause – the real root cause – is ownership and fear. Always fear.
Folks, the reason people go to counseling, in most cases, is little different from the reason they kill themselves, or attempt to. It’s a matter of degrees, not nature. It’s about the sheer terror of being who one really is.
And I know that seems an absolutely implausible hypothesis when discussing someone so seemingly free as Robin Williams, but I’d still bet my left one.
Far more importantly, I’d bet that same testicle that what afflicts you is not merely depression – I mean, that’s what you experience, but that’s not what’s driving the experience – but fear of taking ownership; fear of expression; fear of being who the hell you really are.
The grand affliction of life is the belief that who you really are either sucks or simply doesn’t matter. It all boils down to that. And it is embedded in the soul at such a terribly young age that extrication, or at least doing so on one’s own, of that self-abnegation is all but impossible.
But, my friends, do NOT mistake the self-abnegation for depression. That would be apples and elephants. Depression is merely the manifestation – the pulling down of one’s energy. The real issue is the belief system driving the process, driving the energy loss.
And it is the fallen belief system that is at issue. It is the fallen belief system that must be extricated, even while spiritual stents are put in place during the operation.
People, this is not a psychological issue. It is a spiritual one. It is, at its core, the belief that one’s own spirit either is bad (or not good enough) or simply doesn’t matter. Depression and anxiety will grow out of that, but they are not the root problem.
This is fundamentally a theological issue. Where is god posited? Whatever you may believe god to be, the real question is WHERE is god – outside or inside one’s self? THAT is what suicide is really about.
Suicide is about whether the ownership of the soul, of the being, is possessed by an external source (or, worse, sources) or an internal source. People who deify those other people around them – or believe that god/s speak primarily through those around them -- will fundamentally defer to the judgment and wishes of those people, running in fear of disappointing them or subjecting the self to criticism by those people. Yet those who believe that god/s speak from within will take their own inner voice as the final authority for their own lives.
And I’ll tell you 99 times out of 100 that that those latter persons are gonna be far less apt to slit their wrists or OD. When the tapes playing your head are ones you, yourself, have created, you’re far less likely to blow your brains out. You’re far less likely to be flappable. You’re far less likely to even smell depression in your life.
I’m telling you, depression and anxiety (and it always manifests as some variant of those two) are, at their core, about the fear of being who one really is. Worse, most people afflicted by those two beasts aren’t even aware that a completely different self exists within them. Thus, it’s not just about setting the real self free, but about identifying the false self and giving words to the real self.
As I wrote about in my last book, I Steal Wives: A Serial Adulterer Reveals the Real Reasons More and More ‘Happily Married’ Women are Cheating, as well as a couple of my previous books, suicide, infidelity, over-parenting, and most maladaptive behavior precursors are really, really, really about the sheer terror of being who one really is. It’s about the enormous pressure placed on people to be someone other than who they really are.
So, if you’re wanting to kill your own children, keep telling them they can be whomever they want to be. For they know it’s a lie. They know that, despite that handful of words, you really have certain expectations for their lives, against which they would be wise not to transgress. And it is that inner turmoil over who really owns their life that causes them to consider suicide, whether they’re aware of it or not.
If you’re wanting to kill your friends or acquaintances, keep telling them (and the world), “If you’re ever considering suicide, call me. I’ll be there for you.” For the suicidal person knows, If you’re not there for me in my living, why, for the love of god, would I invite you into my life in my dying; and, if you’re not able to fix my frickin’ problems when I’m alive, why in hell would I call on you in my dying? What do you really think you can bring to my life that will be of any significance when the blade is at my wrists; for obviously you’ve not solved me at any point pre-wrists. And the thin veneer of saying you care, which perhaps you do, is blanketly inept when it comes to the real moment of suicide.
Suicide is just plain serious s-h-i- well, you know. It’s not so simple as depression, which Dr. Phil can cure in an hour, or which some drug can take away (and, btw, we are all aware of the study that came out, about 2-3 years ago, indicating that anti-depressants largely don’t work, right?).
Suicide is an affliction of the human soul, the human spirit, the rock-bottom core belief system.
And no bs trite People Magazine-ish pseudo-answer is ever going to cure it. Suicide is representative of the deepest affliction of the soul. It is god stuff at the very core. It is theology. It is essence. It is so far beyond psychology. It is NOT depression, fundamentally. Suicide is soul.
And the only way to cure the soul is to have been to the soul, is to go into the soul, is to feel it all and see it all, and to stop running. It is to choose trust over fear. It is to choose the complex algebra over the simple addition and subtraction.
Suicide is not what you think, what you have been taught, or what you think you know.
And, to be honest, that is just the tiniest fraction of the opening statement on suicide. But as in all things, true understanding demands true courage to look at what is really going on. And few people bear that courage. It’s far easier to run.
*Post Script: For those desiring more on the subject of suicide and soul/spirit, I recommend the writings of Dr. James Hillman (most of his stuff is intensely dense but readable). And for those desiring to read startlingly courageous insights on suicide, psychology, and mental illness, I recommend looking into the work of Dr. Thomas Szasz.
-- Sven Erlandson is the author of I Steal Wives: A Serial Adulterer Reveals the REAL Reasons More and More 'Happily Married' Women are Cheating, was the first author on the 'spiritual but not religious' movement and has been called the father of the movement, and has a spiritual counseling practice in New York City and across the U.S. and the globe (by phone).