Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Death of Robin Williams: A Failure of Imagination and what it means to those of us with CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) and other Cancers

The death of Robin Williams casts a long pall over millions of us, myself included.

How does the amazing and uplifting humor such as produced by Robin Williams' frenetic imagination and heroic real time risk taking come from one who told himself that he had run out of options? He died because he couldn't imagine a way out of his pain: a guy who made his living with his quick and witty ability to see and go where others couldn't.

Laughter has the ability to both heal and wound, to teach and deride. Mr. William's energy always seemed positive and honest. Despite that honesty, I never heard the pain in his material. Could he so compartmentalize his life? What was hidden and what was revealed? Was that dividing line getting dangerously porous? Was his light coming from a dark place? Did something snap? Did he give so much that he believed that there was nothing left for himself?  Was there a tipping point in his brain chemistry? I have seen depressions so deep, chemical balances so disturbed, that life and death get mixed up in the patients' head. Beside cancer and heart disease, psychiatric illness is a not so hidden killer.

It is the unexpected, the unimagined that rocks our world. How could he be so depressed, and so funny and by all accounts so kind at the same time?

It makes no sense. And it's so sad. I am left holding straws. What I thought was solid ground was either smoke and mirror or quicksand.

The drunk and/or broken artist is a worn out archetype, but is it?

Robin Williams' death has given me and millions of others a chance to stop and figure it all out, again. What does it all mean? What really counts?

We who live with cancer on the inside know too well how surface appearances can be deceiving. We keep going by imagining a different future. The cancer doesn't have to be our only driver. Our will and imagination can move us forward. We must keep those going and when we can't do it on our own, we must ask for help. Or better yet, help someone else. Or at least go for a long walk in the woods or on the beach and put off any irreversible decisions for another day when we are on more solid ground and can see and imagine more clearly. Just as we must be proactive in how we prevent and manage the visible complications of our leukemia such as infections or secondary cancers, we must be prepared to deal with that equally deadly if less obvious killer, depression.

So stay strong. And always remember that we are in this together.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robin had so many depression risk factors... Parkinsons, recent heart surgery, feelings of lost career, significant financial difficulties, and a fairly recent divorce from a longtime partner. All of the sudden I felt lucky just to have CLL! But the truth is, and I suspect this is true for anyone who has looked a potentially life shortening disease in the eye, I can identify with the despair he must have felt. Learning about your CLL diagnosis for the first time is a very tough moment. I wish he could have given himself more time to realize "this too shall pass", and each new day is a gift.

August 18, 2014 at 10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've had severe depression a number of times caused by long term use of sleep medication as prescribed by my doctor, eventually I felt a strong urge to kill myself. There is no logic involved, the utter misery and pointlessness of life equates to zero, death is a way out of the horrendous suffering, the urge to die is overwhelming. On more than one occasion I went out with a knife to slash my veins, another time I almost crashed my car at high speed into a concrete bridge. God stopped me, that's why I'm still here. He still has a purpose for my life, love God, love my family, love others. I stopped taking the sleeping tablets and the depression quickly left. Instead I took Melatonin and I could sleep again, it wasn't available from our health service prior to the depression, now it is. God works miracles, he changed our health system to save my life and others. Now I am soon to start treatment with a new drug for CLL in a clinical trial, another gift of grace from God, praise him.

August 19, 2014 at 1:52 PM  

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