Why Do We Ignore Hurting Souls?

Like many people, I am deeply saddened by the death of Robin Williams.  In retrospect, his unimaginable act of courage that led to his death says more about our culture of blindness than it does anything else.  We prefer to remember “the funny man” who gave so much to others than the human being suffering from depression and addiction.  We will talk about it for awhile at parties but nothing will change in the end – people who are hiding in places of extreme darkness will continue to end their lives and we will say later what a shame it is.

You see, Robin Williams’ death has struck a personal chord with me.  I, too, suffer from major depressive disorder and addiction.  I will take antidepressants the rest of my life but there is no guarantee I won’t experience lapses into frightening voids where nobody can reach me.  Mental illness does trick our minds into believing ridiculous lies about ourselves and reality.  I watched my own Dad suffer and struggle with depression and addiction my whole life.  He was so brave to have weathered what must have felt like insurmountable pain and conflict to protect his wife and 7 children.  Of course, there were happy times.  Like Robin Williams, my Dad was extremely intelligent and most often the funniest person in the room when he chose to socialize, which was not often.

I dream of this image over and over.....
I dream of this image over and over…..

Like Robin Williams, people sought my reclusive Dad out – they were uplifted by his company when, all the while, he believed himself to be a weak and unworthy person.  It was the trap of depression and addiction.  He did not talk about it, we just knew, as kids, when Dad was not feeling well.  We hugged him and he hugged us back even harder.  But it was only a temporary fix for his pain.  Ultimately, he felt alone.

"I apologize for superfluous!"
“I apologize for superfluous!”

My Dad was the first person to admit he had made a mistake.  Among other traits, this was one of his most endearing.  He was humble and honest and kind even though, most of the time, he just plain wanted out – out of pain, out of suffering, out of this life.  He visited me once when I was single and dating a hot-shot young lawyer and I was embarrassed during a conversation in which my “super lawyer” boyfriend corrected my use of language at the breakfast table in front of my Dad, the DICTIONARY NAZI!!!!  I was shocked when my Dad took “super lawyer’s” side but, as expected, the minute he got back home Dad pulled out his dictionary to see if he had been correct – and discovered he was wrong.  I received a beautiful note of apology from the MAN WITH THE DICTIONARY himself.  And he even took a moment away from his own pain to comment on the pain of a colleague whose daughter was dying from cancer – wishing her well.

Instead of burying his greatness, somehow the struggle with depression and addiction made my Dad even more brilliant and beautiful to me.  He felt broken, for sure, but that is what we all saw and loved and admired about him.  On the morning he passed away, our Mother had a look of absolute serenity and relief on her face.  She said, “I’m glad – your Dad is free and happy for the first time in his life.”  And so is Robin Williams.

I don’t know why some of us are dealt the shitty hand of depression and addiction in this life.  But I do know we are all capable of comforting one another and touching each other’s wounded souls even from the unreachable depths of darkness.  I am proud of my Dad and Robin Williams and everyone else who admits, in this culture of shame, silence and blindness, that things are NOT okay with us most of the time.  Maybe, little by little, the world will come to recognize that people who have been marginalized by the pain of depression and addiction aren’t weak or pitiful at all – but really “special angels” sent to us so we can practice compassion and empathy.  That’s how I choose to view it, anyway.

13 thoughts on “Why Do We Ignore Hurting Souls?

  1. Joanie, your words are beautiful and, oh, so true. Thank you for writing this, especially at this time when many people are so saddened and, yes, depressed about the loss of Robin Williams. I think your thoughts on the ideas of pain, loss, depression and addiction will help others who follow you, as they have helped me. It’s a dark, rainy day in Chicago, my least favorite kind, yet after reading this piece I feel like a cloud has lifted and a ray of sunshine is not far behind. Let’s both be brave enough to face our demons and speak out when we feel the need, for enlightening just one person along the way is surely something worthy, something we should strive for. I love you!

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  2. Very well and bravely said! I often wonder what makes us that “special” when I look back and see no real reason behind it-a “happy” childhood, a stable home, well cared for – yet, here we are, a little broken inside. I would gladly give up this “special” if I could!

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  3. Joanie,

    I am in awe of you for writing this brilliant piece. I have been following your blog since you began it and have always meant to comment at least generally about how well you write and how enjoyable your postings have been . Today’s posting just took my breath away and I forwarded it to my siblings. My nephew, Tim, took his own life four years ago to end the type of pain that you describe here. I struggle even now with knowing that I could not reach Tim’s troubled soul. It is not that I did not try, rather that I think Tim needed comfort, help, kind words or something from someone other than me.

    Thank you for sharing these wise words.

    Love,
    Mary

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  4. Joanie you don’t know me, but I am a friend of Malin’s. My name is Kevin Lloyd and she suggested I might enjoy reading your blog. And I have very much. From side splitting humor to unabashed candor, your blog has it all. I hope you get as much out of writing these stories as I do reading them. Thank You. And I also pray for your continued well being.

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  5. Hey sweet girl – since we have a family of special people I enjoyed this, and definitely understood it. We personally have had an aunt, uncle and close friend take their own lives and it is devastating. Mary said it pretty well, our really special people need help but not necessarily from those closest to them. I too enjoy your blog. Miss seeing you, xoxo Sydney

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