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Robin Williams & Depression

I used to believe that suicides went to Hell. Self-murder is a sin of which you cannot repent. I don’t know when I quit believing that, but any sympathy I might have had for that view did not survive my own bout with depression last year. I wasn’t remotely suicidal, to be clear, but I remember thinking on more than one occasion, “If it’s this bad and I have no desire to kill myself, how much worse must it be for those who do have suicidal depression?”

My own depression didn’t just come over me. It was a despairing response to events I could not control. Eventually the chronic anxiety I was going through sparked mononucleosis, which became, yes, chronic. The constant fatigue was an emotional and psychological beatdown, and it didn’t take long before it was impossible to tell the difference between my mental and physical states. I didn’t want to leave the house. All I wanted to do was sleep, read, and blog — blog, because that was the world I could control.

As longtime readers know, I finally got help. I was prideful, and didn’t think a therapist would do me any good, so I had to hit the wall and be ordered there by my doctor and my wife. To me, it was humiliating to go, but it turned out to be the kind of humility to which Dante had to submit at the foot of Mount Purgatory. He could make no spiritual progress in rebuilding his life and being liberated from his condition until he embraced humility. I had it thrust upon me, and thank God for it. So much good came out of that therapy, and even more good came out of discovering the Divine Comedy in that period of my life.

I will always have the Epstein-Barr virus to deal with — it’s like a wound that will never heal — and I’ve recently had a flare-up that, Deo gratias, may not be as bad as I initially thought it would. But thanks to the truths that I learned through Dante, I’m trying to find the blessing in it. I think this might be part of it: a much greater sensitivity to people who suffer from depression and mental illness, in particular the way one’s mental state can affect one’s body, and one’s perception of reality. It seems so elemental — of course your mental state affects your perception of reality, duh! — but unless you’ve lived through it, it’s hard to understand how profound it can be. I walked around the house as if I were wearing a heavy wool blanket soaked in cold water almost all the time. Reason is largely powerless in the face of it. You can’t just snap out of it. You can’t make an argument for why you shouldn’t be depressed, and why things are really not as bad as you think they are. I mean, you can try this, and maybe it will help a bit, but it’s like being tied up and thrown off a pier, and being told by well-meaning people standing on the pier how you can save yourself by swimming to safety.

Some people — like Robin Williams — are not going to be able to save themselves, or be saved, for the same reason that some people who are thrown into the water bound by knots they did not tie will drown. I could be wrong about this, but I trust in the mercy of God in the case of poor souls who suffer so much that they cannot see any other way to relieve their pain.

Like I said, my depression was relatively minor as these things go, but exposure to depression taught me how much people who are seriously afflicted with it suffer. I had not really understood the scope of it before. If this is you, and you haven’t sought help for what you’re dealing with, please don’t delay another day. Drugs and therapy can help you far more than you may be able imagine. You don’t have to live this way. You don’t have to die this way.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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