As a mental health professional, the death of Robin Williams struck a profound chord. He had it all – fame, money, respect, children, a new marriage. Many people are asking – how could he?
We’ll never know what happened in his head, but clearly he saw exiting the world as his only way out of whatever pain he suffered. He tried drugs and alcohol to escape and found that destructive. It’s a good guess that he was being treated professionally for his depression. His Beast could not be slayed.
Many writers suffer from depression, often called malaise or melancholia. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Virginia Wolff all suffered from depression. It grips you and won’t let go.
Believe me, I know. It occurred to me that that’s why I write. It helps exorcise some demons.
While there may be some root causes for depression (grief that sticks, then becomes a habit of sorts,) most is organic, meaning the chemicals in the brain are off and medication will help organize them back into shape and help balance out your moods. That, along with talk therapy, will often be successful. But it’s a lifelong process.
I don’t have the statistics, but I would bet that most creative people have some sort of emotional or mental issue. Artists, writers, most craftspeople, really, have a different slant on life. Geniuses abound in the creative world, and, coincidentally, in recovery centers. Not all geniuses are alcoholics, but a lot of alcoholics have IQ’s that are off the charts. Alcohol is a depressant; perhaps it calms the storm going on in their heads. I don’t know because I’m neither a genius nor an alcoholic.
People who abuse drugs and alcohol are trying to find peace through escape. The Beast takes a nap for a bit, but, like a vampire, he reawakens, ready to ruin your world, which is tight and dark with no windows and no options.
I am editing stories for someone who had a drug and alcohol problem for twenty-seven years – from age thirteen to forty. He never completed high school and therefore his writing and grammar skills can use some polishing. It’s an addiction problem with him – first smoking, then alcohol, then drugs, then working out. Now it’s writing.
When he’s not working, he’s writing on an old computer, banging out stories from his experiences in flophouses, making deals, living off the streets, in jail, and with others. The stories are tough – there is one where he’s in a hotel room with a young girl who shot up heroin and gave herself too much. She died, but, all by himself and with the nervous energy that methamphetamines give you, he banged on her chest and got her heart started again. It’s repulsive and riveting.
He says he can feel himself shifting with every story as he reviews the true happenings in his life and can examine them from different angles. I send them back with notes “go deeper”, and he does. He talks about the lack of feeling at the time, lack of remorse, lack of respect for himself and others. He’s learning about himself as he spills out the story of his life.
Writers are very seldom rich people. We don’t do it for money or fame, although that would be nice. We do it for ourselves and hope and pray that it appeals to others. Every idea, every story, every plot and concept comes from somewhere deep inside us, from our own experiences. It all means something very personal to us, even though we may not recognize it at the time. (“Where did that come from?”)
We need to get to know ourselves better, and writers have found a way to do that, creatively and hopefully artfully. But in the end it’s about going deeper, finding out the why, the how, and the lesson of each story of our lives.
The stories I’m editing have taught me a great deal and opened my eyes to giving permission to delve deeper, open those windows and shed some light on your past, and ultimately take steps to slay The Beast, one story at a time.