Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Dark Path

Disclaimer... this is not a normal Pretty & Putrid post. 

I'm Nathan, Kitty Pandemic's husband. Normally I write horror books and the occasional humorous post for my darling wife's apocalyptic blog. Kitty allowed this departure from fabulous survival to discuss the loss of the funniest man in the world.

Serious topics ahead - proceed with caution.

A Dark Path by Nathan Barnes

The first non-animated television show I have clear memories of watching is Mork & Mindy. I remember watching its reruns (since the comedy was off the air a couple years before I was even born) and having my little mind blown at how much I enjoyed something not drawn for the Saturday morning circuit. Even now I can imagine me as a little boy, big head and neon socks, giggling at the funny alien man in colorful suspenders.

From then on I was a fan. Robin Williams pulled me back in with various roles throughout my life. Seeing his face made me feel brave enough to watch Hook. I wanted him to baby sit me after seeing him wear a wig and a dress in Mrs. Doubtfire. I rubbed random pots and pans after hearing him in Aladdin hoping that a genie with his voice would offer adventure. My taste matured through age and I discovered his dramatic roles. It wasn’t until my second time seeing One Hour Photo that I could fathom the darkness portrayed by someone so silly. Around the same time, his standup brought me to the brink of losing control over my bladder. How could I not be a lifelong fan? Enjoying such variety from the same face is a sure indicator of brilliance.

Ripples of Robin Williams’ tragic end continue to travel throughout the world. Days after his death we are seeing a flood of touching tributes to a man that was far more giving than anyone knew. His generous spirit and overwhelming warmth brought joy to millions. It is so important to focus on these happy stories because each one confirms his zaney onscreen personality was extended long after cameras stopped rolling. Now millions (myself included) are trying to cope with how this exuberant personality could abruptly end in such a horrible place.

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone that hasn’t experienced sadness from the headlines. There are those that are naturally sad for the loss, and others outraged by the wakeup call for care of the mentally unstable. Then there are those who relate to that wretched word - depression. We hear the word whispered often. But why whisper? Why does it need to be a secret? So taboo?

What is most unfortunate is that the silent struggle of a unique man never found enough volume to bring him potentially life-saving relief. Struggle is an integral component of life itself. We cannot have the highs in life without the lows. The infinite capacity possessed by our minds inherits more challenges than benefits. Depression presents itself as a break in the processing of struggle. It puts a wall around the switch that could illuminate a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Bad days happen to everyone - depression bridges the bad days to step past the good ones.

There are varying degrees of depression, of course. Robin Williams reached a point where the only feasible course of action was to end it all. Thankfully, for every person that reaches his level, there are a thousand more that don’t. We know all of this but we may not want to think about it, discuss it, or properly address this insurmountable scourge. So why the hell am I rambling about it?

I’m writing this as an outlet for thoughts that have surfaced since Mr. Williams ended his journey. You see, a couple years ago I accomplished a long time goal of becoming an author. Few things are as gratifying as spilling your thoughts onto a keyboard into something remotely coherent. So I’m doing what authors do best - ignoring a deadline in favor of another project. This isn’t a project as much as it is therapy. So here’s my dose of reality...

When I was a teenager I wanted to kill myself. My perpetually moving mind took me down a dark path where I felt that the best outcome would be an end to my life. I pondered methods and outcomes from fulfilling what I knew I needed to do. Thankfully, I never acted on these feelings. After dwelling on temptations of release from the veritable pit in which my brain had become trapped, I opted to ask for help. Imagining what my departure would have done to my parents was enough to keep me among the living. At the time I didn’t give a damn about me; however, subjecting those two people, who are saints by all standards, was a more than I could ever do.

Through the lens of adulthood I can easily look back at that time as nothing but a stupid teenage phase. What teenager doesn’t go through emotional turmoil? I want to say that I was overdramatic, that it was something absurd from a lifetime ago. I’d love to think this, yet, every few years I feel myself sinking back into that place. Even after finding the love of my life, fathering two mindblowingly great kids, working a steady job and writing books that don’t entirely suck, I still feel the pull of that dark path. I’m thankful that it never gets as bad as it once was but I despise the fact that I still feel it at all. Depression is a blot on your soul that can never fully wash away. Every day is a painful blessing once you’ve experienced it; it’s a day you’re left with a relic from the brink where death actually seemed better.

We’ve all thought about death. Curiosity is in our nature; what is more curious than the end of it all? How can you not imagine what the world would be like if you were taken out of the picture? The futility of this question is that you have to be around to obtain the answer. Each and every day I see the ones I love, I’m thankful it never got dark enough for me to lose sight of how important my continued existence could be.

Don’t see this as one of those ‘I know how he felt’ testimonials because that’s not my intention. I don’t know how Robin Williams felt, thank goodness for that. The ones who do know aren’t here to tell you. A rare few might have an idea because some divine intervention or dumb luck robbed them of that release. But the ones that really do understand aren’t suffering any longer, their path ended. What remains of that path is a trail of mourning family and/or friends that are irrevocably changed due to a mental war that was silently waged and lost. Moreover, there are countless others desperately in need of a chance to change course.

Could it have been prevented? Could Robin Williams have been saved? There will never be answers to those questions. I had a friend take her own life a few years ago. She was an animal lover that took a job as an exterminator. For months she learned about chemical pesticides, ultimately using that knowledge to end her suffering. This wasn’t a rash move brought on by a particularly bad day, it was a calculated action that required long term planning. Her planning went as far as writing a note advising what chemicals were used to protect first responders from exposure. Could that have been prevented? How do you stop a fully functioning adult from making that choice?

It’s logical to assume that if enough people suffer from it, then the medical community would aggressively chase the problem the way you would a cancer. There are treatments, programs, medicines and therapies for those afflicted. In spite of all those things, the dark path is still taken. Robin Williams had things that most of us can only dream of yet the result was the same. In the wake of his death we’re seeing a call to arms for reform. Yes, the world needs more devotion to treating the mentally ill. Yes, those affected must have better access to potentially life saving measures. But what can be done when most of the people needing help may not even know it?

I’ll finish my therapeutic rant with two messages...

To those threatened by depression -
You must understand that there is something wrong with you. Ignoring it is as effective as snuffing a candle with gasoline. However, just because there is something wrong with you doesn’t mean it’s your fault. Consider talking to someone if there are more bad days than good ones. In the times when you have no reason to be down, but are anyway, recognize that a problem exists. Anti-depressants or therapy aren’t a means to an end but rather a means to a beginning. They should not be permanent fixtures; they should give you a step to rise from the pit that currently holds you. Don’t beat yourself up if you sink back into it after recovery because scars rarely disappear entirely. And if you’re at that place where taking your life seems right… hit the pause button. Pausing before that final choice is made could turn out to be your most impactful hesitation ever. Death is easy; life is hard. You weren’t born into death so its important to give living a chance. There are people out there that will miss you, no matter what your thoughts currently believe. The dark path can end in the light.

To everyone else -
Imagine the worst day of your life. Now imagine having to experience those feelings multiple times a week. Sounds nightmarish, doesn’t it? It is. There are people around you that could be feeling some degree of this nightmare. Those people are ashamed for not experiencing happiness. They quietly fight a battle in their minds regardless of how convincing their front seems. Don’t accuse, don’t diagnose, don’t assume. Just be a human being! Your actions ripple in unseen ways. A random act of kindness could be the highlight of another’s day. Courtesy can be medicinal. Simply asking ‘are you okay’ might force that person to face the reality of the answer.

Rest in peace, Robin. Thank you for bringing laughs to multiple generations. I’m so sorry for what you went through. Now that it’s over I’m glad you’re at peace. The rest of us can take some solace in knowing whatever place waits in the great beyond is much funnier with you there.

Nathan Barnes is the author of The Reaper Virus, it's sequel due out in January2015, What Remains and My Friend Asmodeus. You can follow him or just stop by to see how he's doing on the book of faces or on the tweeter.  

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