Robin Williams – Too Sad

MORK AND MINDY - 1970s - 1980s

I’m very sad again today. Yesterday I heard that Robin Williams had committed suicide. I’m having a hard time with this. He was my age and according to many observations he suffered from Bipolar Disorder like me, tho apparently he himself never said as much from what I’ve read. But he sure acted like it didn’t he? I was always amazed at his frenetic energy and classic manic behavior in his routines and films. He was a comic and dramatic genius as an actor and a kind and generous soul as a human being. I can’t even begin to say how much he gave to me and others throughout his life of such sorrow and joy. He did what so many of us do with this illness – he hid his struggles well, tho he was also very open about them, but he couldn’t hide it in the end. I already miss him so much.

This event is what is called a Trigger for many of us. It’s a situation that flips our emotions into a negative state that affects our ability to cope and stay OK. It pushes us towards whatever form of mental illness we carry with us and adds to our difficulties of staying well. Anytime I hear of someone who dies by their own hand due to the “push” of Bipolar it triggers me and affects me deeply, and this case is no different. In fact it’s a really hard one because of how he made me feel and how much I identified with him. Not that I’m a comic genius or anything. Far from it. But I related so well to his energy and compassion for the world. He did so much to make it a better place just by being himself. Like so many of us with Bipolar he used the impetus of the illness to fuel his comedy and dramatic turns on screen and TV. Like so many of us he also didn’t hide that energy from us, he reveled in it and I loved him for that.

Tho he never said he had Bipolar Disorder there are many who would look at his life and say it was obvious to us. I’m one of them I guess. Like his most famous mentor Johnathan Winters, who also suffered from Bipolar, he was a lightning rod for that incredible energy that made his work so real and so human. He embodied so many great character traits in his work and life and made the world so much better thru his presence. It’s being hard to write this as I keep crying, which I keep doing, and I can’t see thru the tears. It’s been like this ever since I heard about it. If I weren’t doing as well as I am right now myself this would push me into a depressive syndrome quite easily. Triggers do that. Just like what happened when my cousin’s wife died of Bipolar back in February. It really got me bad and I was so depressed for weeks after her death, tho she didn’t kill herself it turns out but mistakenly took the wrong meds and passed out and fell into a swimming pool and drowned. I feel the same way with hearing of Robin’s death. It’s triggering some bad emotions in me and I feel so sad and bereft.

You see I look at Robin’s life and how he was so very successful and how much money he had and the fame and acclaim that filled his life. And I wonder how if he lived with all that and more in his life and still couldn’t find a way to get thru it without killing himself, how will I ever do it myself? It scares the shit out of me. I look at him and see how easily it could be me there on the floor. I don’t have the resources he did, but I have good support, and tho he must have had it too, it wasn’t enough in the end. Will my support be enough for me? I wonder… Especially the fact that he and I are the same age and come from similar cultural backgrounds of coming up in the crazy 60’s and all affects me. It just feels too close to me and I fear for my well being. But as I said I’m doing well right now and am not prone to such depression at the moment so I think I’ll be OK. But it’s challenging and hard and I hate it. How will I be tomorrow? I really don’t know. Still sad I expect. Still filled with these difficult emotions.

I’m not going to write about all the films he was in or the things he did to help the world. You all know of most of those things and there are lots of articles out there now praising him and mourning his death. This is just a very personal response from me about his decision to end his life. I don’t blame him at all tho I’m so sorry he chose this path. But I’ve come too close to choosing it myself, in fact I have in the past and I still get close to it too often so it’s hard. What I have for him is compassion, and I’m tying to have it for myself too right now. I just wanted to say a few things about him and how he affected me and how triggers can come at us from out of nowhere at any moment and impair our ability to cope and live our lives. I hope this hasn’t triggered any of you because of my writing but if it has I hope you get thru it as I’m trying to do. Being grateful for Robin’s work in the world and his personality and his ways of being so real about his struggles is important for us to do.  He was a good model for us in how to live an amazing life with Bipolar dogging your steps, even tho he ended his own life in the end. I understand him I think. That’s why it’s so hard. I get it. I suspect many of you do too and I hope you do OK with this tragedy. I hope I do too. I guess only time will tell.

Missing his Manic Presence,

Steve

Note: photo as Mork by Everett Collection/REX

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Keeping My Sense of Humor

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Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself. Sometimes it just gets so absurd that there’s nothing else to do about it but take a totally different approach. When working on yourself to change your state of mind becomes burdensome laughter is the answer. I couldn’t stay alive if I didn’t laugh as much as I do. It gets me thru some very hard times.

I’m lucky to have a goofy partner. He has a great sense of humor that transcends my own, and often when I reach that point where I just seem to come unglued all I need to do is talk to him and he throws out a non sequitur or a pithy remark and my mood changes instantly. His goofiness really does help me change my life for the better, and I’m so grateful for him in my life..

The issue for me seems to be that I cycle so frequently from up to down that I can’t seem to keep a hold on my thoughts or my mind. When I get that way I’ve found that I often need help to change my mood. I can’t always do it for myself so having his humor is often critical for me. It cuts thru my melancholy or sadness or freakouts like a sharp knife thru butter. It’s amazing. Humor is like that.

Poking fun at oneself has been a tradition in oppressed cultures around the world for centuries I’d guess, since it’s so prevalent today. Gay humor, Black humor, Jewish humor, Native American humor… I could go on. All of these cultures have developed a way of laughing at their sorrows and problems that is inspiring to me and helps me do it for myself too. When you’re down you might as well have some company, eh?

It’s hard for me to tell if I’m always like this when I cycle so much. My style of Bipolar Disorder is called Rapid Cycling with Mixed States. That means I flip from up to down a lot and often, or I’m in both places at once. This is a challenge to say the least. When I’m in this state it feels like I’ve been in it forever and am there all the time. But I know that’s not true. I hope it’s not anyway.

I get so serious about it. It takes me away from myself and my life so quickly and without warning that it catches my breath and I fall into the pit in an instant. On the other hand something good can happen and just as fast I’m flying high and feeling so good about my life that the bad parts seem not ever to have been there. I really do try to live in the present, but so much is in my emotions, for better and for worse, and the emotion of laughter is the one that’s most important for me to keep strong.

It’s not easy to do this when I change so often. I never know just who I’m going to be each day. Or each minute sometimes. To be precise, I have Ultra Rapid Cycling Bipolar, which means I often cycle several times every day, not just the 4 times a year that the DSM says is my criteria. What’s so hard about it is it’s intensity and suddenness. It just happens so fast I can’t keep up with it. It takes me over almost completely for at least awhile.

Anything can set me off. I have tons of triggers – those things that can flip me into a different state of mind so quickly it’s almost like it’s hard wired in me. This attitude I have that if I mess up or make a mistake I should just kill myself for instance. It’s so common for me that I live with suicidal ideation much of the time. I went thru a period when I didn’t feel this awhile back but it’s come back again and doesn’t look like it’s going away soon. Winter can be a hard time for depression.

I don’t mean to whine or complain here. I’m just stating the facts of my life in the hopes that others will recognize these traits in themselves and connect with my words and know that there are others like us out here who cycle so often that we just flip out. That’s when I try to laugh at it and turn it around on myself to something else. Something I can enjoy, instead of simply endure.

So getting back to where I started, you can see why I have to just laugh at this. I mean c’mon… how  silly is it to think that I should actually Die, just because I messed up or did something not as well as I should have or just because a thought came into my mind that I should die. What can I do but laugh at this absurdity?

It’s so crazy and Louie helps me realize this so quickly that I’ve learned that I need to just talk about this stuff when I can. Getting it out in the open often is what brings on the laughter, or at least a bemused smile of recognition that I’m doing it to myself once again. I, like many of us, am my own worst enemy. Since I Know that I can ask for help without shame or guilt and just let myself Receive. But, man, is that a hard one!

Accepting help is one of the toughest things I have to do when I’m not well. I want so much to be in control and that’s when I’m least in control, so what do I do? Either I spend time ruminating on how bad things are or I try to shift them to something different. Something lighter and not so heavy on my spirit. Just receiving help is hard enough, but asking for it is a whole other level of difficulty. I’ve gotten way better over the years but it’s still difficult for me.

I’m so grateful to have Louie and to have a great counselor who is very proactive in helping me to work on myself in hard ways sometimes. He helps me laugh at myself too, tho it’s not as quick a fix as it is with Louie. It’s more work to delve deeply into the heart of things than just to have a realization that you’re being stupid and change it. Working on yourself is hard work and yet it’s the only way to get thru this stuff, or so I believe.

I recently asked my Psychiatrist how she thought I was doing. I’ve been seeing her for many years and I’ve been thru some very hard times with her around. She said she thought I’d gained a lot of insight into my condition and was doing really well. We even decided that I could stop seeing her every month and go to every other month. I guess I’m a model of Recovery…

This is great news for me. I feel so under the thumb of the Medical Establishment sometimes it drives me nuts. But they help me so I go to them. Accepting help even when I may distrust the source as I do with Psychiatry. They have their models and frankly I subscribe to the idea of neuro-chemicals flooding my system and making me crazy. I Feel them in my body. But I go on with my life and find humor even in the thought of me being a Model of Anything… It makes me laugh.

I do seem to be a model of Recovery tho, and I am doing well. I have to give credit to the fact that I’ve kept such a good sense of humor about the absurdity of life in general and mine in particular, and the great joys that can come when you can let go of the suffering and pain for a bit. I’m so grateful to those times when I can laugh at my problems instead of wanting to kill myself. I guess that’s kinda simplistic isn’t it? But it’s so real to me that I take it seriously. Laughter is serious business after all when it means that you might live or die.

Jeez, I’m such a drama queen, aren’t I? 😉 Enough…

Steve