Suicidal Depression From Someone Who Lived to Help Us Understand it Better

Robin Williams and Me: The Killer Among Us.
4 Votes

Robin Williams  Person    Giant BombWhy Robin Williams?

I’m not a fan of celebrity worship, nor do I feel especially comfortable perhaps taking advantage of human suffering and loss by writing about a total stranger’s suicide.  That said, Robin’s suicide disturbs me. It touches a sore nerve, it hurts. He seemed a safe, reliable positive out there in the world, a source of joy and humor and, well, life. He was fine as far as I knew, just fine, then BAM!: dead. It’s shocking, saddening, makes the world seem less safe, less reliable.

Why me?

Clearly there is no “Robin Williams and me”, no relationship beyond talented performer and fan. I use the phrase in another sense. Why does his death hit me harder than most? What does it mean?

Events’ meaning partially come from our reactions to them, our responses. Like so many, I have thought over Robin’s many fine performances, the incredible eruption of intelligent banter he could produce like no other, the sensitivity and deep humanity of his calmer roles.

Still, my personal response centers on Robin the man, suffering from mental illness badly enough that he saw no escape but death. Like so many others, a man with friends, family and a life well worthy of living, I imagine a happy man much of the time because such is so common with depression. Like so many others, I imagine a man who seemed fine at one point, disappeared from view a bit without attracting concern, then dead. Just like that. Dead.

I don’t know much about such details in Robin’s case, nor are they my business, frankly. I conjure these details from the tens of thousands of American suicide deaths every year, and the countless depressed people I’ve worked with over the years. All people, each unique, yet themes emerge, not quite universal but quite common.

I also recall my suicide attempt. I was a student at Harvard Medical School with friends, no reason for sadness but impossibly high self-expectations I could never meet. One day I was fine, then not great but hiding it quite well, then locked up in my room. No one saw it coming except me. Ever the good student, I looked up the lethal dose of the antidepressant Imipramine, lined up the pills, took them. Woke up 36 hours later, emerged beat up and confused, having had seizures I guess, and a friend took me to an ER. I survived, and the depression passed. So it goes with these things. Blind luck matters, it always does, but I’d not count on it. My life is a bit of a fluke, a gift.

Since then, I’ve been depressed and suicidal from time to time, but mostly not. Depression is not sadness, or a “tormented soul,” it’s an illness that tells you lies: You’re worthless. You’re finished, doomed. Everyone will be better off without you. You’re a bad person, BAD. Why put off the inevitable? Get it over and done. These lies can be completely convincing at the time, and they make a mockery of the idea of bravery versus cowardice you hear about. Suicidal people aren’t battling reality: they’re battling ruthless demons. When a bout of depression abates, as it will with effective treatment or even, often enough, with time, the demons’ lies seem ridiculous nonsense, which of course they are.

That’s why Robin’s sad, unnecessary death hits me so hard. It fits the sad, sad pattern. He’s out there on the periphery of my personal world, fine for all I know, taken for granted, then he’s dead. That’s how it goes, unless someone notices and intervenes, or the sufferer can seek help. Many learn to do so with some experience and education, BUT.

But what? BUT they must survive to learn and grow and get better. Otherwise all is lost.

Unless we take an interest in each other just a bit more, and stop avoiding and shunning these SO common illnesses, and DO something about it, unless we do these things, we will continue to lose tens of thousands of Americans, far more worldwide, every year. Lost neighbors, friends, parents, children. And yes, lost entertainers.

Depression is a social disease, in a sense. The death rate reflects our isolation, our distrust, our unwillingness to share uncomfortable vulnerabilities. Our culture, in this sense, is all too often lethal. Suicide mostly happens in isolation.

We shape an event’s meaning by our response to it. We can bring much good from this awful event, if we so decide. I’d like to think Robin would find it comforting and a worthy tribute if we did, far better than talking about his films.

Will we learn and grow? Will we make it better, as we easily could?

I don’t know. I hope so, certainly, but I don’t know.


Sensitive People Have Gifts That Often Come with a High Price

Here is what writer Anne Lamott posted on her Facebook page today about Robin Williams:

Here is what is true: a third of the people you adore and admire in the world and in your families have severe mental illness and/or addiction. I sure do. I have both. And you still love me. You help hold me up. I try to help hold you up. Half of the people I love most have both; and so do most of the artists who have changed and redeemed me, given me life. Most of us are still here, healing slowly and imperfectly. Some days are way too long.

And I hate that, I want to say. I would much prefer that God have a magic wand, and not just a raggedy love army of helpers. Mr. Roger’s mother told him when he was a boy, and a tragedy was unfolding that seemed to defy meaning, “Look to the helpers.” That is the secret of life, for Robin’s family, for you and me.

I knew that those children at Sandy Hook were caught in God’s loving maternal arms at the second each crossed over, and the teachers were, too. I believe the shooter was too, another child of God with severe mental illness, because God loves, period. But this is controversial.

I know Robin was caught too, in both the arms of God, and of his mother, Laurie.

Robin Williams young

I knew them both when I was coming up, in Tiburon. He lived three blocks away on Paradise drive. His family had money; ours didn’t. But we were in the same boat–scared, shy, with terrible self esteem and grandiosity. If you have a genetic predisposition towards mental problems and addiction, as Robin and I did, life here feels like you were just left off here one day, with no instruction manual, and no idea of what you were supposed to do; how to fit in; how to find a day’s relief from the anxiety, how to keep your beloved alive; how to stay one step ahead of abyss.

We all thought after Newtown that gun control legislation would be passed, but no–not one new law. We think in the aftermath of Robin’s death that there will be consciousness raising about mental health, but I doubt it. The shock and awe will pass, like it did after Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death. Unless…unless we take action. But what? I don’t have a clue. Well, here’s Glenn Close’s astonishing organization to raise awareness and diminish the stigma of mental illness, where you can give OR receive help: Go there, OK?

In Newtown, as in all barbarity and suffering, in Robin’s death, on Mount Sinjar, in the Ebola towns, the streets of India’s ghettos, and our own, we see Christ crucified. I don’t mean that in a nice, Christian-y way. I mean that in the most ultimate human and existential way. The temptation is to say, as cute little believers sometimes do, Oh it will all make sense someday. The thing is, it may not. We still sit with scared, dying people; we get the thirsty drinks of water.

This was at theologian Fred Buechner blog today: “It is absolutely crucial, therefore, to keep in constant touch with what is going on in your own life’s story and to pay close attention to what is going on in the stories of others’ lives. If God is present anywhere, it is in those stories that God is present. If God is not present in those stories, then they are scarcely worth telling.”

Live stories worth telling! Stop hitting the snooze button. Try not to squander your life on meaningless, multi-tasking bullshit. I would shake you and me but Robin is shaking us now.

Get help. I did. Be a resurrection story, in the wild non-denominational sense. I am.

If you need to stop drinking or drugging, I can tell you this: you will be surrounded by arms of love like you have never, not once, imagined. This help will be available twenty/seven. Can you imagine that in this dark scary screwed up world, that I can promise you this? That we will never be closed, if you need us?

Gravity yanks us down, even a man as stunning in every way as Robin. We need a lot of help getting back up. And even with our battered banged up tool boxes and aching backs, we can help others get up, even when for them to do so seems impossible or at least beyond imagining. Or if it can’t be done, we can sit with them on the ground, in the abyss, in solidarity. You know how I always say that laughter is carbonated holiness? Well, Robin was the ultimate proof of that, and bubbles are spirit made visible.

Read more:

If I Am You, Who is She?

“We meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path of life.”  Carl Jung


If I am You, Who is she?

Written Christmas 2013

If I am you, who is she? You are the great experiencer of experiences. You help her to know herself as she helps you to know yourself. How long have you been looking out through her eyes? Seeing what lies before her. Effortlessly you scan the landscape before you, taking it all in. In a second, you perceive intricate details—the brilliant blue Colorado sky in contrast to the white glistening snow. The reflection is blinding, causing her to squint. A prism, in fact several, hang from the snow covered Ponderosa tree, reflecting rainbows in the white blanket of snow beneath it. A black horse with a thick winter coat moseys by hoping to find hay in her feeder. You don’t have to label these things but her commentary makes her perception personal to her. It defines her world so she doesn’t feel so all alone in it. Without you, her life would be an empty echo with no one there to hear it. Without you, she could not exist.

How long have you been in there? Out here? Thousands of lifetimes? Eons of years in a timeless universe? Did you feel the deep gut wrenching loneliness of that thirteen year old girl as she danced alone on the banks of a moonlit lake? As her shadow sways gracefully in the moonlight, she dreams of a boy that didn’t know she exists. Did you have the call to feel the ache deep in her gut with more intensity in order to really get it this time? Whose loneliness was it that she felt, yours or her own? She reached down and threw a pebble in the water and watched the silvery ripples make their way to shore. She doesn’t know that when she is hurt and lost inside that you’ll be there to find her. She no longer believes you exist.

The little girl wearing a gray dress with small white flowers climbed to the top of the grass covered knoll and knelt down to pray. She was told in Bible School it was a good place to find you. She wanted to tell you that she didn’t like her teacher and she wished Mrs. Prusha wasn’t her teacher anymore. All she wanted was to be heard… but it happened anyway. She was sorry when they told the class the next day. She was afraid to tell her mom. Too young to understand, someday she would…but for now, she could only be consoled somewhere between constellations and dreams.

Who was that gazing into her parents’ vanity mirror? Did you recognize your face? She was sweet sixteen and had never been kissed. Her long sun streaked hair cascaded down her back and she had the face of innocence, all tan and freckled. Eyes beckoned to you in that mirror, peering curiously beneath her shaggy bangs. She brushed the hair from her eyes, searching for a hint of you in there somewhere. She used to know you. You must have seen her reflection; deep blue eyes lined with dark lashes painted on Twiggy style to make them appear bigger. Lips, which were almost too large for her new adolescent face, were tinted a glossy silver, accenting her tan. Dreamily, she stared at her lips, wondering who would be the first boy to kiss them. Did you remember what it felt like, that first kiss? How long have you waited this time? Did sixteen years pass by in a flash or did the long awaited time tick by slowly through eternity? Do you remember each and every kiss?

She didn’t know it was to be the captain of the football team who would first sweep her off her feet. She had no idea he would even have any interest in her. Did you imprint his mind during the Homecoming parade as he sat in the passenger seat of the fire truck? Was it your idea or his to grab the Mic and sing to her as she walked alongside the truck? “Hey there little red riding hood, you sure are looking good, you’re everything that a big bad wolf would want.” She blushed at his wolf howl. Were they destined or was life just made up of random acts, a boy’s passing fancy- a stolen kiss—a moment of impact to a young girls heart?

What was it like to feel the heart of that seven year old girl who had asked Santa for a puppy? What does it feel like when life delivers you a dream come true, a glossy black cocker spaniel bounding out from behind the tree with a big red bow around his neck? She named him Tippy. Was it her or was it you who first noticed that white speck of fur that freckled the puppies’ face? She was the one who suggested his name and you agreed wholeheartedly that it was a good one. You had always been there, her friend at a time when she was still able to hear you; that was before life shut down her heart.

The rabbit had instinctually killed its own babies… the babies that the little girl had touched just that morning. How did you ease her shame after she exploded in a fit of rage, projecting her feelings against a crime of instinct. How could she understand mirror neurons and the feelings of an empath; the thoughts and emotional patterns were set into motion long before her; stolen from her parents who stole them from theirs; generation after generation. She would become a mother to her own mother.

She grimaces as she climbs from her bed; her back now stiff from breaking. Her heart is scarred and her skin is wrinkled, yet she feels your youth burning inside her. In the glass you see your reflection, no longer the face of that seven year old, that teenager or a young woman. She’s no longer afraid to look deep in her own eyes, for she knows she’ll find you there. Unexpressed passion ripples through lifetimes, a primordial urgency that lives in her heart. She hears your whisper everywhere, from the voice of a stranger or the words of a song. She knows if you listen, passion will tell you why you came. Life is short now and she feels the need to live each moment. She craves your youth and one more chance to live life with your expanded point of view. Deep down she knows there lies an infinity of one more chances. She has missed your company and with you by her side, she throws caution to the wind. She has learned to navigate through life’s ups and downs with more freedom; no longer feeling the need to anticipate each turn in the road. Her appetite is quieted with the simple things, the smile on her son’s face, making dinner with her best friend, looking into a baby’s eyes and a cup of coffee in the morning sun. And, still she yearns for her lover; the one she never made time for; the one she left behind. No longer afraid of death, her only fear is not living until she dies.

Do you remember the day that you first felt it; that white-hot lust blossoming in the heart of a young woman? Lust was placed to music as her mind was slowly infused with Benny and the Jets playing on the alarm radio; eventually awaking her from her luscious dream of him. They were meant to be together. You had agreed on the other side. She would remember when she heard the song; when she awoke from her dream. The song played in her head while emotions played in her heart; feelings so strong that they followed her throughout the day and then throughout her life. The song became an anchor that would forever stir those emotions. It was a song that he would never know and one she could never forget. Together, they saw each other in everyone and everything. They resonated in the unbounded magnificence of nature; the mountains, the rising moon, and a hawk on the wing. Trembling as chemicals raced through her bloodstream and together they reached spiritual ecstasy, she felt you there. Theirs was a love that would endure for eternity in a union never meant to be.

Duality is your teacher but experience has no name. It isn’t good and it isn’t bad; it just is. You see life form all around her as it unfolds within. You feel her emotions and hear the commentary rambling through her mind. The flow of inner emotions come and go but through it all you remain the constant, aware and calm; the receiver of all that is. Through her eyes, you can see beauty and ugliness. To you, it’s all the same. You hear the passionate vibrato of Il Divo and feel the swelling in her heart. You feel the frenzy of her nerves wired by Metallica. Through her senses, you smell the salt of the ocean breeze and feel the ominous power of the thundering surf. You crave the taste of chocolate upon her tongue and feel the soft touch of her skin. Life is rich with textures. You lay witness to life in all its drama and you love the thrill of the ride.

If thoughts are just energy, from whence do they come? Who do the thoughts belong to that drive her so crazy and separate her from you? The constant commentary tells her she exists and tells you of the world in which you live? You play with her thoughts just for the love of dabbling there. Do you entertain her with ideas expanding beyond her universe; causing her to see glimpses of concepts that have yet to be born? You love capturing your experiences in a word smith’s mind. While you play, she fantasizes, craving escape from her perceived reality.

She would become lost in a despair that would override the reptilian drive for survival. Each time, you waited compassionately and patiently for her to find the quietness of peace once again. You took her to her knees, not once, but twice. Attached by a silver thread, her fractured soul flew to you for comfort and safe guarding as together you watched, unprepared for the intensity of the circumstances. Silence roared through the atmosphere to drown the inconsolable wails coming from the parking lot where a sheriff, with tears running down his face, had delivered the bad news. Losing a child would prove to be a destiny that would either make you or break you; for her it would be both.

Oh life is so full, yet so taken for granted. A splinter of spirit, a tiny grain of sand from an omniscient beach, you descended, crashing downward through the realms of karma to be there with her. Are the thoughts of distortion and worry yours or do they belong to her alone? Through it all, the greater you was always there, timeless, ageless, pure love and light, watching life blossom through her eyes as she watched it blossom through her children’s eyes. You have peered out through a thousand eyes before hers; the eyes of a husband, a father, a disabled child, a murderer, a thief, a lover, and a soldier. You’ve repeatedly felt the pain of childbirth and felt the unequivocal bliss of birthing a new life. You’ve felt all of the lower fear based emotions of worry, anxiety, despair, and the higher expressions of love sprinkled with flashes of bliss and joy. You’ve felt pride, accomplishment, satisfaction and peace. You’ve become drunk on adrenaline and reckless abandon. Through it all you’ve gathered the secrets of the universe. You knew you could never be hurt… but she didn’t know. Sometimes it felt like life lived her more than she lived life.

When will you be done? All the experiences experienced? How many more times must you feel sweet life swell in her breast? How many more times must you feel the wind in her hair, the sunshine on her face and the power of her horse beneath her as it gallops through the meadows? She knows that the only risk is not to risk. Adrenaline courses through her body as once again she reaches for her limits? You love the earth below her and the sky above; the peace of a babbling brook and the force of a raging river. One last time, you long for the view from the highest mountain peaks and feel the bitter wind sting her face as the snow swirls around her. You will miss everything so much; the great mystery of a corporal life.

What is the measure of a life…. when it’s all said and done? Did you have the courage to stand in the fire beside someone you loved? Did you meet a child eye-to-eye just so you could truly hear him…so he knew he was understood? Did you honor the story of an aging parent…a story you’d heard a thousand times before, knowing they just wanted to be loved and to know that their life mattered. Have you surrendered to the choices made by loved ones even if you may never know the truth of their soul’s destiny or the gifts that they bring? Through it all, you have been waiting patiently for her ever since she first learned of what she loved. It cannot be taken away, for it has become a part of her as it is now a part of you.

As the ship sails towards the setting sun, slowly slipping from view, another appears on the horizon. Upon its approach, it grows from a tiny speck to luminosity made manifest. You have sailed many an ocean together, you and she, weathering calm seas and perfect storms. It’s all exquisite grace, with you at the helm as omniscient creator and she as your muse.

Truth and Grace is something we all can achieve simply by realizing our true nature.



When Tomorrow Starts Without Me 


Excepts from David M. Romano’s Poem “1993”

When tomorrow starts without me, 

And I’m not there to see, 

If the sun should rise and find your eyes

All filled with tears for me

I wish so much you wouldn’t cry

The way you did today, 

While thinking of the many things, 

We didn’t get to say.

I know how much you love me, 

As much as I love you, 

And each time you think of me, 

I know you’ll miss me too;

But when tomorrow starts without me, 

Please try to understand, 

That an angel came and called my name, 

And took me by the hand, 

And said my place was ready, 

In heaven far above

And that I’d have to leave behind

All those I dearly  love. 

But as I turned to walk away, 

A tear fell from my eye

For all my life, I’d always thought, 

I didn’t want to die.

I had so much to live for, 

So much left yet to do, 

It seemed almost impossible, 

That I was leaving you. 

I thought of all the yesterdays, 

The good ones and the bad, 

The thought of all the love we shared, 

And all the fun we had. 

If I could relive yesterday

Just even for a while, 

I’d say good-bye and kiss you

And maybe see you smile. 

But then I fully realized

That this could never be, 

For emptiness and memories, 

Would take the place of me. 

And when I thought of worldly things

I might miss come tomorrow, 

I thought of you, and when I did

My heart was filled with sorrow. 

You did some things

You knew you shouldn’t do.

But you have been forgiven

And now at last you’re free.

So won’t you come and take my hand

And share my life with me?” 

So when tomorrow starts without me, 

Don’t think we’re far apart, 

For every time you think of me, 

I’m right here, in your heart. 




Nike Says
Nike Says

This video sent to me by Chad a few years ago is so indicative of how he lived his life.   Were the lyrics a coincidence?  I don’t think so!  I have no doubt that he’s still Sailing…just in a lighter body!

Jeb Corliss ” Grinding The Crack”
“Sail” by Awolnation

This is how I show my love
Made it in my mind because
Blame it on my ADD baby

This how an angel cries
Blame it on my own sick pride
Blame it on my ADD baby


Maybe I should cry for help
Maybe I should kill myself
Blame it on my ADD baby

Maybe I’m a different breed
Maybe I’m not listening
Blame it on my ADD baby


Life is a Roller Coaster

Brandon Chad & I in Italy 2002

In Italy with my boys, 2002

My name is Jan and this is me with my two beautiful sons, Chad and Brandon. Chad died in 2004 when he was 19. Even though life with Chad had always been somewhat of a roller coaster because of his Attention Deficit, with perseverance; we usually chugged our way back to the top. We were at that pinnacle in the spring of 2004 before we took that final plunge that would steal the life of our son; essentially taking mine with him.  This is a poem that I wrote today about the roller coaster of life.

Chasing Life

I’m riding high;
A kite in a hurricane;
Illusions of safety;
Guarded lies of maybe;
I’m Chasing Life;
As life once chased me.

We came together
A spark of humanity;
Where past and present collide;
A dance of impact;
On a slippery slope;
Just for the thrill of the ride.

Jump on; Jump on the roller coaster of Life;
Take an ice cream along for the ride;
Feel it, really feel it;
Brace yourself, clinging for life;
Or raise that bar and reach for the sky.