There were just a couple years difference between us and Robin. We’d followed his career from the beginning. The new Jonathan Winters we’d said, loving Robin’s brilliant, madcap improvisational style.
What a tragedy that this unique, amazingly talented, laughter-inducing man who so boldly shared the healing gift of joy and laughter with millions was unable to find enough of that healing joy in himself to go on living.
It was another sad reminder that fame, fortune and adoring fans aren’t synonymous with happiness. Regardless of what many people think, all the money in the world won’t make someone happy. It’s not something we can buy or trade or bargain for. True happiness must come from within. We need to manufacture it ourselves…deep inside the internal factories of our minds.
One of the reasons Robin’s suicide tore at my soul is because I lost my sister the same way 22 years ago. A lifelong sufferer of depression, she took her own life while she was still in her thirties.
And I couldn’t save her. I was the oldest of four siblings. I was their protector. I had made it my mission to safeguard them from the pain and hurt and darkness of our daily lives. I tried so very hard…but I failed.
The soul-deep pain, shock and disbelief at hearing the news that my little sister committed suicide has never lessened. The hole in my heart has never healed. I miss her and all the joy and laughter we could have shared…if only she’d been able to realize that whatever the problems, no matter how incapacitating, they always get better. Always.
Suicide provides no silver linings. No pot of gold. No sunshine instead of clouds. For the sufferer it provides absence of feeling. Nonexistence. For those of us left behind, it provides an ongoing sense of cataclysmic loss, endless questions and, often, a pervading sense of guilt. Just because logic and rationale tell us there’s nothing we could have done to save the person, guilt nags, needles and remains, nonetheless.
I’d always feared that one day I’d received the fateful phone call that my sister had taken her life. She’d attempted suicide a couple of other times (as had others in my family, including both parents), as early as age eighteen, and she talked about it from time to time, usually in the form of making dark, awful jokes that were funny only to her. That was back in a time where it was believed that people who talked about committing suicide never actually followed through. Now, of course, that’s known to be a falsehood. If you hear someone talking about taking their life, please take it very seriously.
Our family life was the epitome of dysfunctional. It was both emotionally and physically abusive. In those days there were no child abuse hotlines. It was something hushed up. Although I can look back at painful experiences and find enough humor to write funny posts about them now, there certainly wasn’t anything even remotely funny about my childhood at the time. It was pretty bleak and scary, but I made it out alive…emotionally and physically scarred, but alive.
I had to learn survival skills early. I realized that brief periods of escapism from the harshness of reality were crucial. So as a child, with no one to provide a how-to guide, I created my own elaborate fantasy worlds where inside my head everything and everyone was happy and smiling and laughing and full of love and joy and acceptance and good times. I thought of it as my personal happiness factory.
Sadly, my sister wasn’t able to do that. She wasn’t able to rise above the pain and sadness. Like so many others suffering from severe depression, she was drawn in, captive to the bleak, dreary, insistent voices inside her head that whispered toxic messages to her, telling her there was no hope of escape…no possibility of lasting joy or happiness. The seductive voice of depression convinced her she was worthless and of little value to anyone.
One of the reasons I was able to cope while growing up in an abusive environment was my paternal grandmother, Daisy. She was my light in the darkness. My ever youthful Peter Pan. My sole example of what it was like to be a happy adult. She was my guardian angel…and still is. It’s because of my close bond with her that I use her first name as my pseudonym.
Grandma Daisy, who’s been gone for many years now, was Irish, complete with the rich, sing-song brogue, delightful tales of magic and wonder, and the ability to make me forget for the brief times we spent together that I had to go home to face the fear again.
While the other adults in my life were sedate, mature and ever concerned with what everyone else thought of them, Grandma wore bold colors, polka dots, shiny patent leather belts and shoes, bright red lipstick, and rouge on her cheeks. She skipped rope and played hopscotch and regaled me with her joyful Irish tales. The woman was a born storyteller and I was drawn to her like iron filings to a magnet. Interestingly enough, my siblings couldn’t see her charm or sense of enchantment. They’d make excuses not to have to go to Grandma’s.
I have a better understanding of their reticence now. I think I was the only one who recognized and appreciated the mystical charm of my grandma’s oddities. As an adult looking back, I realize Grandma Daisy was slightly off kilter. Okay, maybe more than slightly. She clearly had problems relating to other adults and felt far more comfortable relating to me. I don’t remember anyone in my family who wasn’t touched in some way by mental illness but Grandma Daisy’s particular brand of nuttiness was perfectly fine with me. I decided that if I had to be crazy, she was the sort of crazy I wanted to be. So I emulated her cheery, playful, head-in-the-clouds personality and made sure to smile and laugh as much as she did.
She gave me the healing gift of joy and laughter. I believe it was my saving grace.
I guess that’s why I have such an affinity for comedians like the late, dearly beloved Robin Williams. I feel a sort of kinship with them because I understand, really, truly understand from the depths of my soul, the immense, therapeutic importance of joy and laughter in our lives, especially when it’s shared with others.
That’s probably why I was the class clown in school. I was always a ham (and still am). I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love writing stories, drawing pictures, and doing whatever else I could to make sad people smile and laugh. It didn’t always work, but I never stopped trying.
Happily, I discovered at an early age that using humor not only provided escapism, it was also an excellent method of self-preservation and survival. I learned that if I could somehow detect the humor in a bad situation, it would be easier to cope. The very best fact I ever learned is that laughter is mighty powerful medicine.
I knew that one day when I grew up I’d be an artist and writer so I could spend my days creating pictures and stories to help people feel better when they were blue.
This creative strategy of mine didn’t work with my dad. All he did was criticize my creative attempts, destroying what I’d written or drawn, demanding I go back and work on them until they were perfect. I guess that must have been my first encounter with a steely editor and probably why turning in manuscripts that are as close to being as perfect as possible is of primary importance to me today.
Dealing with my dad was tough. He was a mean, abusive alcoholic. I was terrified of him, and with damn good reason. Oh the frightening tales I could tell! But it’s from him that I got my talent for art and my innate skill as a gourmet in the kitchen, so I’m grateful for that. Gratitude is so important. We have to focus on, and be grateful for, the positives to help attract more into our lives. Dwelling on the negatives merely attracts more of the same.
The times I spent with my father were when I was my most creative…inside my head, I mean. I optimistically pretended with all my might that everything was happy, normal and generally just peachy.
Sure, my personal brand of fairytale-like daydreaming may have made me a wee bit batty, but I don’t mind—it’s been a lifesaver. There’s one quote in particular from Robin Williams that hits home with me: “You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it.” I know I won’t. :)
Another form of escapism for me was watching old movies on TV. The first time I ever saw Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), I was amazed. It’s a hilarious screwball comedy directed by Frank Capra, all about a family full of crazy people. Cary Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, who learns on his wedding day that his sweet aunts are homicidal lunatics. He already knows one of his brothers is a violent maniac and another is totally nuts. Wow! Arsenic and Old Lace was the closest thing to my own family I’d ever seen. My favorite line from that movie, uttered by Mortimer Brewster, has stuck with me for all these years because I could relate with it so well:
You could easily substitute the word depression for insanity.
My sister and I lived several states apart. I often wonder how different our lives might be today if she was still alive. She checked out before the dawn of social networking. Oh how she would have loved Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, blogging, Googling and cell phones (long distance calls cost a small fortune before the arrival of cell phones). Even email was in its infancy then. It’s truly amazing how much technology has advanced in just two decades.
If only she could have found a way to hang on a little longer. We could have talked more often…she could have connected more easily with so many people around the world. Maybe she would have discovered a way to heal.
Perhaps she could have been helped by reading positive, uplifting bloggers like Marc and Angel Hack Life. There’s a great deal of helpful, healing information there, boasting the important message that we need to love ourselves simply because we exist. We are all worthy. We all have value.
Then there’s Allie Brosh of the wonderfully zany Hyperbole and a Half blog. Through her funny and sometimes heart- wrenching illustrated posts, Allie has made her battle with depression public, and developed a strong following of others hoping to heal from mental illness.
I think my sister also would have appreciated Jenny Lawson, better known as The Bloggess, who pens clever, amusing posts, peppered by occasional articles detailing her own ongoing battle with depression and thoughts of suicide.
I read Jenny’s book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, which, in my mind at least, cemented the fact that she and I have a great deal in common…like loose screws…
I enjoy both Allie’s and Jenny’s blogs but admit that I need to steer clear of their posts about being severely depressed because my “save the world” response immediately kicks in, making me worry about them while trying to drum up rescue ideas to save them from my sister’s fate. But, much as I’d like to reach out and wrap depressed people in loving cocoons of comfort and safety until they’re better…until they’re safe from themselves, I know I don’t possess the power to save anyone from battles with their inner demons.
Believe me, I sure as hell would destroy all their toxic, cunning, conniving demons if only I could. I’d get up in the middle of the night, sneak out, and go after those verbose demons when they’re at rest and least expecting their demise at the hands of demented but determined writer woman Daisy Dexter Dobbs.
The Bloggess says that depression lies. She’s right. It does. But, oh dear God, it does so much more than that. Depression cleverly and deviously permeates the mind, taking hold, digging in its claws, and cruelly violating its host. Like rape, depression is ugly and ferocious…but, unlike rape, it doesn’t cease. Depression so easily succeeds in consuming the suffering individual, convincing them there is little if any hope. No possibility of change. No light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. No reason to go on, enduring the pain, the sadness, the fear...
I believe one of the reasons people with suicidal thoughts don’t always seek help is because the lying, scheming depression monster has convinced them that nothing will ever get better and they mistakenly buy into the lie. I also believe many people are too embarrassed to seek help, believing that mental illness is a stigma and something to hide.
They sometimes try to rid themselves of suicidal thoughts by turning to alcohol or drugs, hoping those substances will provide some relief. Their logical selves might understand that being under the influence merely exacerbates the problem, making them more depressed and despondent than before, but they reach an irrational point where they’re unable to act sensibly.
Experience has taught me that life is full of cycles. It’s like a merry-go-round. At some time or other, most of us will experience some very bad days…days when we just want to chuck it all…days when it seems hope has abandoned us…
But the good news is that happier days always follow. Keyword: ALWAYS.
It’s really crucial to remember that things ALWAYS get better. Whatever happens, no matter how bleak things might seem, please don’t ever forget that, okay?
No matter how old you are or how tough things have been or how hopeless you’ve felt, remember that you have what it takes to rise above the pain & leave it in the past where it belongs.
Although my life started like this:
I’m happy, delighted, and thrilled to report that, with determination; the help of my personal happiness factory; the love of a good man (who also came from a crazy family); and the absolute joy of our darling daughter, it turned out like this:
NOTE If you look inside the windows you’ll see this:
NOTE: If you know of someone suffering from depression who might be helped by this post, please share it with them. And if you are thinking about ending your life, please, please, please don’t. Stay here. Don’t leave. You are important. You have purpose. You are needed. You are lovable, just the way you are, flaws and all. You are not alone. We’re all on this journey of ups and downs together. I care.
--Daisy Dexter Dobbs a/k/a Super Earthling…roger wilco, over and out
(Keep up to date with Daisy on her Facebook page!)