Severe depression, suicide, yoga and Robin Williams
By Tiffany Rose
My heart skipped a beat as I held my breath when I read that he was dead. His face, so deeply lined with character, laughter and grief, and his manic hilarity a telltale sign of something much deeper, darker and possibly tortured.
Robin Williams’ suicide leaves us with an astonishing revelation: depression is not something easily healed, and those who live with severe depression long-term do not have much hope for what those who don’t live with mental illness think of as a magical place called “recovery.”
While some are calling his actions cowardly and selfish and others are trying to help them understand, I’m in awe. What a conversation he’s left us with!
I don’t know his story, but I do know mine.
I, as he did, live every damn day of my life staring into the deep endless pit that is severe depression. Not a day goes by that I don’t contemplate taking my own life. I used to sugarcoat it and say things like “I’m feeling a bit down” or cave to the pressure from my peers and try to put a positive spin on it, then eventually kept it to myself because of the rejection and deafening silence I received from most people I was honest with.
I’m a yoga teacher. I teach others how to breathe, enhance their calm, move into stillness and become the observer.
I teach yoga for PTSD, which I also live with. I’m not a comedian like Mr. Williams was, but I’d like to believe I am on the same dharmic path, just trying to let folks who are struggling know they are not alone. I don’t want anyone living with the depth of darkness I live with feeling that no one gives a shit, as I have. I’ve been in the belly of the beast for almost 30 years, and I have some truth I want to share.
I can’t speak for Mr. Williams or anyone else who is living with severe depression, but I’m comfortable saying that I may have more insight than those of you who have not experienced severe depression and suicidal ideation.
One of the ways we as a society respond to suicidal ideation and depression is by encouraging those who are suffering to “get help.”
I imagine we feel somehow un-equipped to personally help someone so severely affected and we, out of our best intentions, defer to “the professionals.” In my years of seeking to “get help” from the professionals, I tried and stuck with every drug I was prescribed, saw every psychiatrist I was told to see and paid the $160+ fee per session to see therapists even when I couldn’t afford it as a single mom with no health benefits.
After years of trying to get help, seeking support, trying to think positively, raw food, veganism, exercise, meditation, trying not to burden my friends and family with my “negative” and “toxic” thoughts that they didn’t want to hear, taking “personal responsibility” for my life, and reading every self-help book I could, I came to the place where I was exhausted from the battle. I was tired of reaching for help and having my hand slapped away. I simply couldn’t fight anymore, so I swallowed a handful of those drugs that were supposed to help.
I’d never seriously considered suicide up until then because I’d always believed there was hope for full recovery.
Everywhere I looked there seemed to be experts who had the secret to wellbeing. If I just tried hard enough, I would finally be like them: happy, healthy and whole. Every glowing-skinned, vibrant expert I sought out for advice assured me they had the secret to end my suffering. But in that moment I realized it was all bullshit; no one knew what it was like to drag this burden around for a lifetime with no real relief; they weren’t willing or able to truly help.
When I woke in the ER strapped to a bed with a tube down my throat, I was confused. Why wasn’t I dead?
The doctor explained to me that I had actually been successful in my attempt, but they had fought for me and managed to get me back. Yet, there was no part of me that wanted to be there. In that time I had experienced the sweetest peace of my life and I wanted desperately to get back there.
The one thing my brush with death taught me was that I was no longer afraid to die. In fact, I realized I finally had an answer after searching all those years for a little relief from this burden. I knew I had something I could do.
I obviously have much to live for—a beautiful amazing daughter whom I love with all my being, an incredible partner, a vibrant career as a yoga teacher—and while I would never want to hurt those who love me, the helplessness of living with treatment-resistant PTSD and unrelenting severe depression seems like a death sentence.
The more I talk about it with people, the more they distance themselves from me. The few times I’ve been honest with people about my suicidal ideation they’ve glazed over it and never brought it up again. I suppose they too feel unequipped, as though I am looking for them to do something. But the answers we give the mentally ill obviously aren’t cutting it. If someone who had what we would assume to be every resource available to him—as Mr. Williams hopefully did—couldn’t do it, what hope do the rest of us have?
What I’ve learned since that day in the ER is that I may never “get help.”
I may never live without depression.
My meditation and yoga practice hasn’t brought me bliss or enlightenment, as it is presented to us by the yoga celebrities of the world. But what it has given me is insight into my own struggles and ways to cope. I know I can’t rely solely on my partner for support, so I reach out to those who I know will respond without judgment, who will listen without feeling the need to fix, who will validate me without trying to tell me I need to stop being negative or view me as toxic and dispel me from their lives. These people are a rarity, especially in the yoga community.
The truth is, I have more bad days than good; I cry more than I smile; I’m frustrated more than I laugh. But I’m still here. I’m still striving to resist the urge to sink into the black of nothingness which seems so inviting and filled with relief. But I can’t do it alone. I need support and help from people who love and value me personally. That’s something the professionals can never give me, or anyone.
I understand why those who are living with severe depression would want to end their lives and do, I am saddened by the loss of Robin Williams, but I am also strangely happy that he is at peace, his struggle at an end.
I hope my struggle ends differently. I hope we move into a deeper level of compassion as a community for those living with real mental illness. I hope we begin to hold them close even when it gets ugly, negative and uncomfortable. I hope we can see that we are all connected far too closely to brush off each other’s burdens as none of our business. I hope we begin to truly matter to one another and that we can begin to demonstrate that
About Tiffany Rose SOYA RYT500
Tiffany Rose lives with her partner and daughter in Red Deer, AB, where she teaches asana. Tiffany presents workshops on various topics including, asana alignment, philosophy and a topic very close to her heart, Yoga for PTSD. Tiffany Rose’s blog and website can be found at: www.unguru.ca