Severe depression, suicide, yoga and Robin Williams

Published on August 19, 2014 by      Print
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By Tiffany Rose

Robin WilliamsMy 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

TiffanyRoseAbout 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

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55 Comments !

  1. Yogi Ken Chan says:


    You are very courageous!

  2. Louis says:


    Your words have pierced my heart deeply.

  3. Hollie says:


    Here’s a great resource for when you’re feeling very alone:
    http://stayherewithme.com

    Blessings to you.

  4. Jean says:


    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have had a lifelong battle with depression; the disease of depression should be renamed “hopelessness”. When most people hear the word “depression”, they think of situational depression, or the “blues”; they truly have no way of understanding the devastating, debilitating hopelessness and blackness of depression.

  5. John Watson says:


    Tiffany, thanks for sharing your story. I was part of a Facebook thread last night posted by a perpetually happy former student, about 25 years old, who just flat did not “get it”, despite the persistent attempts of several of us who live through the same hell to get him to understand it. Since Robin’s death, I have been uplifted by people like you who are willing to talk about their struggles, and frustrated to the point of tears by the persistent attitudes of those who not only can’t, but won’t even try to comprehend. I try to point out that depression and other forms of mental illness are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, much as cancer is caused by an imbalance of good cells vs bad cells in various parts of the body. We all need to advocate for the funding and research that will lead to more effective treatments, just has we have for cancer. Anyway, this is getting too long, but thanks for reading.

  6. Mac says:


    I’m grateful to say that my job involves talking about the “oneness” of the human race, and that we as individuals should embrace both who we are and who those we love are as well.

    I can’t offer you a fix to who you are, but I can tell you that no matter how alone you may feel, none of us are ever alone. We truly are one.

    You specifically said that you don’t want someone to try to fix you, and so I apologize for this. I mention it only because it brought me out of a deep depression after my first wife died at all too young an age.

    “Positive psychology” is the study of what actually works to help people to thrive as individuals. There are thousands of experiments that have been conducted, and they give us many options to consider and try. I encourage you to read more about it – perhaps take a class (UPenn has a good online intro to this subject, or at least used to). I found that many of the experiments that proved to be effective for others were not effective for me, but I also found that some were. And those few that were brought me through. And, there was enough variety there that I didn’t have to get into a rut trying to use the same “tool” over and over again.

    I hope this thought might be useful to you.

    All my best.

  7. Chrissy says:


    This was a beautiful, insightful read. Thank you for making me understand depression. I hope that you are able to find sustained peace. Your bravery and spirit is humbling !

  8. Trish Tillman says:


    Beautiful piece! I hope you always get the help and support you need to keep you going. I’ve also noticed that our society loves the idea of “quick fixes,” of ultimately “getting someplace” like recovery where you don’t need to struggle with your issues anymore. It’s an idea that first creates hope, then creates discouragement. In my personal experience, I find that life is more like a series of small returnings to hope than one grandiose arrival.

  9. Elie C. says:


    Thank you for writing this. I like to tell people that I can no more “change my thinking to change my attitude” than someone with two broken legs can “go for a jog.” Bekuzz the thinking-making machine itself is what’s b-r-o-k-e-n. I suffered through PTSD all during college, and have been on the Meds-Go-Round for the past ten years or so. Depression (or, as I like to call it, to lend it the gravity it deserves, Chronic Neurological Disorder) is a sneaky shape-shifter. We can throw meds, meditation, vitamins, exercise, yoga, etc. at it to keep it at bay, but it’s stronger. It lurks, and resurfaces. I understand wanting to check out of Hotel Life, and when I heard about Robin Williams, I thought to myself, “Well, he was done.” It was a matter-of-fact thought, bolstered by empathy and compassion. I felt that same empathy and compassion reading your story. xo

  10. Beka says:


    What a brave piece. Thank you for sharing your insight and experiences. Be well.

  11. Matt Hill says:


    Wow, just wow. Beautiful, challenging, touching, uplifting, inspiring and courageous. Thank you for your heart and your courage. Sending you love and strength for the rest of days. Matt

  12. Jen Bennett says:


    This line: “I hope we begin to hold them close even when it gets ugly, negative and uncomfortable.”, put my thoughts and feelings about the true way we can help folks struggling into words perfectly. And yes, I have no doubt that you have gained a great deal of insight from your journey within depression, as all of us who have struggled with mental illness have. Thank you for this piece, it touched me deeply.

    • Tiffany Rose says:


      Jen,

      So many people are abandoned and left on their own when the shit hits the fan with mental illness, the stats for homelessness and mental illness is staggering.

      Thank you of for your willingness to be present for the ugly.

      Much love to you

  13. Kourtney says:


    Thank you for posting this. I struggle more with anxiety than depression, but my family members and friends have struggles similar to yours. Thank you for helping me understand them better.

    • Tiffany Rose says:


      Kourtney,

      Living with PTSD means I also have severe anxiety, it’s no fun at all. I admire your willingness to understand your family members’ struggles. Keep up the good work!

  14. Episode 110// Interview with Sarasvati Hewitt | Sunrose Yoga says:


    [...] Recovery Yogi: Sever depression, suicide, yoga and Robin Williams [...]

  15. Elizabeth says:


    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your bravery in publishing this piece
    leaves me humbled; I directly relate to the stigma riddled conditions you describe.
    The environment in which many of us are surrounded, only makes it that much more challenging to put ourselves out there and be vulnerable. Much respect for hitting the post button.

    • Tiffany Rose says:


      Hi Elizabeth,

      I think part of the reason I felt able to publish this is because I no longer know what else to do. How else are people going to truly understand what severe depression feels like if we don’t tell them?
      Thank you for your response.

  16. Mandi says:


    Thank you for being so frank with your descriptions and not making it sound prettier than it is. I do not have these same struggles, and each time I read such a raw account it really does help me understand a little better…what it must be like for you and everyone who struggles and how I might better respond/help/love…what NOT to say/ask/expect….I hope you will keep sharing this as often as you feel you can.

    • Tiffany Rose says:


      It’s pretty defeating to read and hear depression described as “feeling down” or “a little sad”
      I hope more people can be honest about it and we can begin to shift in the ways we approach those with these very serious struggles to contend with in their lives.

  17. Erin says:


    “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.”

    Thank you for hitting upon this gem. The longer I live, the more I understand the truth in such sentiments. I think the notion holds true whether or not a person suffers depression and hopelessness. There will never come a day when I can sit back and say, “Welp, I’ve improved myself enough for one lifetime, depression forever at bay, no need to practice anymore.” There is no final peak to be reached, in practice or in life.

    Or, in the words of the dearly departed Mr Iyengar, “Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.”

  18. Peter says:


    Thank you, your expression of the reality of living with such a thing has both moved me and helped me.

  19. prue says:


    Thank you for sharing your story. I am really interested in your work with ptsd and yoga if you have a site or a book to refer to. Thank you. :)

  20. Georgie says:


    Thank you for sharing this, it touched me deeply.

  21. Sara Hunter says:


    Thank you for posting this. I live with bipolar disorder, and for me the depression is the absolute worst. Without yoga to at least give me something else to think about for 90 minutes, along with medication that even though I fought it at first I am so glad I decided to take it, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be here writing this. I was reading this piece you’ve written and thinking, “Uh-Huh. Been there,” and I am so thankful that you had the courage to write it.

  22. Amanda says:


    Such a wonderful and honest post. I too, dealt with PTSD, depression, anxiety (incl those lovely anxiety attacks), and the desire to leave this world. I wish I could give you a hug because I know exactly how challenging things must be.
    I was undiagnosed with PTSD for three years, then it took me another 4-5 years of very hard work to kick all of that out of my life. THEN I developed an autoimmune condition, triggered by adrenal exhaustion. Lovely, eh? That, and the autoimmune also causes depression and anxiety… what a barrel of laughs!
    All that said, I did get there in the end. I’d say I’m mostly free of PTSD and certainly I haven’t seen depression in a few years now. Anxiety was a little more elusive but yeah… mostly that’s gone, too.
    I do send you hope, love and light because I would love to read another post of yours one day – maybe years from now – where you have been able to find the right kind of help, and find freedom from your current experiences.
    I hesitate to say “have you tried this or that” because I know what that’s like, too. People mean well, but the right treatment for you will not be what helped others. We all have our own path.
    It sounds to me as if you’re doing your best. Keep doing that. And again, I send you love, light and hope that at some point you will find a way out. I believe it’s possible. xx

  23. Scott Raabis says:


    Hi Tiffany!

    XoX

    I hope that I can recover fully, and these days I’m more committed to my recovery than ever! My Community Treatment Order Nurse and my Psychiatrist have even let me continue on less medication than they’d like because of my commitment! See you around, and Let’s GET WELL SOON!

  24. Brad MacLeod says:


    After losing my son 3+ years ago, I totally understand your issues. Minus the prescriptions, vegan-ism and attempts to take my life, I completely understand how you feel. Without the love and support of some really close friends/clients I like to call family, I”m not sure how I would have made it through the time since his passing. Not a day goes by I don’t miss him so much that I consider suicide to be by his side, but the one thing my son has taught me is patience. He was born, after doctor error, with 2 strokes, one on each side of his brain and had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. During that time, patience was the key to everything. Time to process thoughts, eating, diaper changes at 10 years old….everything took time and it was a test. My true test now is to live as long and healthy a life as I can, because if I have patience, I know someday I will stand in front of my son again and hug him again. It took a great deal of courage as you say to hit the ‘post’ button, as it does for me to write this and hit the send button. I applaud your courage and with it, it grants others like myself the knowledge that we are not alone in our struggles. Take care!

    • Tiffany Rose says:


      Hi Brad,

      Thank you for staying here with us, you are needed.
      I appreciate the desperate longing to be anywhere but here, I’m right there with you.

      I’m sending you my warmest thoughts and hope for continued support for you.

      Much love,
      T

  25. Nadine Fawell says:


    Tiffany, I am late to the party with my response, but just wanted to tell you how much I relate. I’ve been able to go years without PTSD symptoms, but, so far, they always come back sooner or later. I was very young when my PTSD started and it seems now that the neurological changes are permanent.

    But we are still whole. We are no less human for our suffering.

  26. Tiffany Rose says:


    Nadine!
    Well said. I am deeply contemplative of the very sentiments you shared. In what ways am I limiting my own growth, potential and depth of experience simply by the thoughts that my mental health somehow disqualifies me from being worthy of what others who are without mental illness experience freely?

    Thank you
    T

  27. Severe Depression Vs Ptsd | Over Here Blogging says:


    [...] Severe depression, suicide, yoga and Robin Williams … – Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have had a lifelong battle with depression; the disease of depression should be renamed “hopelessness”…. [...]

  28. sarah says:


    Hi Tiffany, I do not know if anyone is still responding but I just found this website after experiencing extreme PTSD from the yoga community – not kidding. Yes, i had experienced extreme depression, panic disorder and PTSD as a child and young adult but I was one of the lucky ones who found a way “out”> I am not going to talk about this unless you directly ask me but it was not through therapy or yoga. I did have people walk away from me and did not get it. Most people do not because they are basically SCARED of their own abyss and feelings of depression. Some people, especially in the yoga community are masters at self deception and they are able to “put on a happy face” and unfortunately their rage/sadness/depression often gets subverted into attacking others. This was my ongoing experience as a yoga teacher and studio owner in a small Canadian City. I finally just gave up and closed my studio and stopped teaching. In any case, I was moved by your article and I get it. It may be all about acceptance that this will never completely leave you or us. I realize that you are not happy with much of he yoga community but perhaps attempt to post this on Elephant Journal in the hopes to inspire others to be honest and brave. The reality is that people DO need to talk about it, they do need love and support just like someone with Cancer. If you have to also live with Shame and rejection it is that much worse. Thank you for your article….Sending Peace

  29. tami says:


    Thank you for your courageous comments. Your words could not have resonated with me more. When I heard of Robin Williams passing, I also felt a sense of gratitude that his suffering was over…and even a sense of jealousy. When I try to explain this to those closest to me, even “professionals” appear deeply offended by the idea. Your article reads like something plucked out of my own mind. Reading these words reminds me I am not alone. Thank you.

  30. Valerie says:


    Thank you so much for sharing this, you have no idea how much reading this means to me and I admire your courage.

  31. katersy says:


    This article has really helped me. I too am struggling with suicidal ideation, and have found that yoga lifts it a little bit. Thank you for being so honest and writing this.

  32. Rubin says:


    I know this was posted quite some time ago, however I thank you more than you could imagine. I too am a yogi or should I say have a practice, don’t quite identify with titles, so I goggled yoga and suicide just before I contemplated ending my life and found this post. Great to know I’m not alone or the only one with a sustained practice that seems to just miss the “bliss” other yogis speak of. My days as you stated are more dark than light. More tears than smiles … I thank you so much for this post and certainly wish you well , you’re strength in sharing your struggles undoubtedly have helped many. You are absolutely correct we are all connected and need each other.

  33. RSM says:


    I really related to your article, and I feel the same way that many people dont want to hear, eyes glaze over, and we have to keep everything within, since noone actually does want to hear. If we try to tell them they say its not real, or they say that drugs will help……….thank you for your honesty…thank you for sharing..

  34. Jeremy says:


    Thanks for posting this. I was not shocked remotely when you said finding understanding people in the yoga field is a rarity. I find this to be true in many of the fields called to be compassionate (pastoral, psychological, and other healing fields) and that stings even more. The hurting is harder when navigating to safe people is not clear explicity nor clear amidst a fog of hopelessness. To find that caring person or group makes it the sweeter if/when that happens. Your post was finding that person for me just for today. So thank you.

  35. Episode 110// Interview with Sarasvati Hewitt - Kelly Sunrose Yoga says:


    [...] Recovery Yogi: Sever depression, suicide, yoga and Robin Williams [...]

  36. Episode 110// Interview with Sarasvati Hewitt – YOKED// Conversations with Real-Life Yogis says:


    [...] Recovery Yogi: Sever depression, suicide, yoga and Robin Williams [...]


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