Robin Williams Reveals His Killer

by Elle Chase

Robin Williams cut his wrists, and then hung himself to death with a belt yesterday morning.

He meant business.

This wasn’t impulsive. This wasn’t the kind of suicide where you’re sure that the desire to die would have been aborted if he could have just talked to someone or if he had just thought about his life a different way. No. Robin Williams was determined to die yesterday.

Though cutting one’s wrists may seem to fall into the impulsive category, it really shouldn’t. Often, when someone tries to kill themselves this way, they cut in the wrong direction, don’t use a sharp enough tool or don’t cut deep enough. Cutting your wrist is an act of self-harm that has to be sustained to work, and no matter how much the person who is cutting may desire death, the body is set up to resist. No … cutting one’s wrists, for someone who really wants to die, is not a sure thing. So, for Robin Williams, when Plan A turned out to be unsuccessful, it seemed to hang himself was the next best thing. He had a Plan B, and this took some measure of consideration.

With death by hanging, Robin Williams had to think about what kind of suspension device to use; rope, electrical cord or belt. He had to be aware of who would find him, and how that would affect the people in his life. He had to decide where best to do it, in order to ensure the optimal possibility of success (eg; the elements failed, the rope broke), so he wouldn’t be left in a coma or a quadriplegic — unable to then, unilaterally affect his own future or demise.

Robin Williams was in such intense, (and in his mind) irreparable pain, that killing himself once wasn’t enough. After the first attempt failed, he didn’t suddenly think better of it or have some satori or deep realization that life was worth living. Nope. Not even the thought of his children, or their potential children, or his wife, or extended family … none of that was enough to stop him from violently and selfishly ending his own life.

Robin Williams cut his wrists, and then hung himself to death with a belt yesterday morning.

He really meant business.

But why? Why would such a talented comic genius; wealthy, successful, highly acclaimed … why would he do it? What could be so bad in his life to be so selfish and narcissistic to believe that killing himself would be the answer to his, and everyone else’s problems?

As a person who has a significant major depression diagnosis, this death rocks me to the core. I didn’t contract depression from unprotected sex and I didn’t get depression from smoking, not eating well or doing drugs. Most likely, I have it because my family tree is riddled with it, or it’s just the luck of the draw. Robin Williams’ death is so profound to me, because I understand where he was in his disease before he decided to end his life. Depression can encompass as much suffering as any chronic, potentially terminal, illness we can name, and to the sufferer the insurmountable abundance of this anguish is like a deafening, blaring noise from within, that only the sufferer thinks he can silence.

Depression is a disease that kills, and it does so arbitrarily. It kills regardless of age, social status, geography, socioeconomics or demographic. Depression doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t care if you do drugs, hold office in state government or make people laugh for a living. Depression has no bias, no preferences — though worldwide, it does affect twice as many women as it does men. Depression doesn’t care what you do, how you do it, who you do it with or where you’ve done it. It’s an equal opportunity chronic disease that many people, literally struggle with everyday… for their entire life.

To give you some perspective — it’s estimated that 18.8 million people in the United States 18 years and older, suffer from some form of depression. Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the United States. 2.5% of children in the U.S. suffer from depression, and 8.3% of teenagers do. Suicide is the leading cause of death in people ages 10–24, and it’s the third highest cause of death in people ages 15–24. If you are between the ages of 45 to 64, you’re also not immune, you are in a high risk age group all your own.

General symptoms of depression can range from a consistent, mild state of ennui, to thoughts of, or attempts at, suicide. Symptoms for men can be different from women, and may sometimes present as dangerous behavior, physical pain and intense anger. For women, where a previously unaffected woman can develop mild to severe post-partum depression immediately after and the months following giving birth, more and more women are being diagnosed with depression regardless of recently giving birth.

As if depression on its own isn’t bad enough, it can affect a lot of people with a co-morbidity (a simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a person.) According to the Psychiatric Times, depression is diagnosed with a co-morbidity about half of the time, with an anxiety disorder its favorite companion, being diagnosed alongside depression about 60% of the time

Robin Williams death perfectly illustrates how depression isn’t something we can control, “get over” or even manage. In fact, even with medication, depression will still get up from the chair in the back of your mind, and scream for attention now and then. Yes, even with medication, depression demands that you see life through a distorted and selfish lens and asks you to cater to it like a small child. The medication that hopefully renders you “functional” makes it appear to others, that everything is ok and that you’ve finally beaten your “demons” but it is still very much there, waiting in the dark crevices of your mind, for an opportunity to pounce.

Depression keeps us from enjoying even the smallest things in life to our major successes. It cripples us from being fully authentic in relationships, and instead, gives primary importance to our failings, and assumes the worst of everyone, everything and every part of ourselves. For those of us that have it, depression is always with us, even if chemically or therapeutically abated to make us serviceable members of society.

Because he made people laugh, Robin Williams may have appeared “fine,” more than fine — even, happy. But, because Robin Williams was wealthy, people might have assumed his life more buoyant and without stress, because isn’t everyone’s life better without worrying about money? Because Robin Williams was successful, famous, lauded, and accomplished, we may have thought he didn’t have a care in the world, or even worse, shouldn’t have a care in the world. But, we would all have been wrong. Through no fault of his own, Robin Williams was a tortured soul, too tired of wrestling with despair, too tired to care.

None of the 9.2% of people in this country, did anything to give themselves Depression, they were just unlucky enough to be born with it like any other congenital disease. Yet, unlike other diseases we are born with, it barely carries any empathetic currency with our lawmakers, and much of our culture and society. Depression is still stigmatized (eg: men are weak, women are overly dramatic, both just want attention.) Depressives are told they either have a “manageable” ailment or are prone to psychosomatic histrionics, two unforgiving and inaccurate characteristics, with which a depression diagnosis is assumptively imbued. This does those that suffer from depression and their loved ones, major injurious harm.

My friend JoEllen Notte said yesterday of Williams’ suicide (and I paraphrase), “If someone as seemingly “happy,” and “privileged” as Robin Williams can succumb to depression, someone who had the opportunity to have the best doctors money can buy available to him, what chance do the rest of us have?”

What chance indeed.

Maybe this particular death from mental illness, because of its visibility in the media, will make depression as much a part of the “let’s find a cure” national dialogue as AIDS, Cancer, MS, or any other disease that is prominently able to raise funds to eradicate its devastating illness. Maybe it will wash away some of the misinformation and stigma.

I’ve had Major Depressive Disorder (with a co-morbidity of Anxiety) my entire life. I was diagnosed 24 years ago and have been on medication for it ever since. I go up and down in milligrams of medication depending on the severity of my last major depressive episode. Right now, I would judge my amount as satisfactorily mid-level, on its way to low. After I had my most significant major depressive episode five years ago, I would often say to my friends sarcastically, “I’m on enough antidepressants to choke a horse.” While how many antidepressants it actually takes to choke a horse is up for debate, it’s safe to say I was on more than your garden variety neurotic.

There have been times when my “cocktail” of meds has been insufficient, where I languished in a two week long depressive episode of irritability, isolation and a diet almost completely made up of sugar. There have been times where I went off my meds completely, where I would cry, almost non-stop, couldn’t go to work and wouldn’t leave my bed for three months. I have also been everywhere in between, on the emotional see-saw, line graph that is depression. But finally, after 24 years, I have found a doctor who has given me the longest and most productive stretch of time without a major depressive episode I’ve ever had. But still, even while accurately diagnosed and competently treated, I still feel that familiar pang that keeps me from leaving the house, communicating responsibly with my friends and the rest of the world or taking care of myself, even with accessible, adequate health care to rely on.

So, whenever I see someone lying across a bus bench in the sweltering California sun, wrapped up dirty blankets and smelling of yesterday’s urine or, that same person the next day, talking to their reflection in a store window, it always makes it abundantly clear to me, how fortunate … how privileged I am to have access to private health care. Yet, even with that fortune and privilege, I also know, I am still just as capable of becoming that person on the bus bench, with or without my medication. Five years from now my brain chemistry could change, I could have a major inciting incident which renders my meds useless, or the medication could just stop working … it’s all a crap shoot. Because no matter how we try and “manage” it, or “treat” it, for many, depression is the last monster to attack when everything seems calm and right with the world. Because, by now I know, it doesn’t play by the rules.