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Los Angeles, California
I am 47 and thriving in Southern California. One day at a time.
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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Suicide is Selfish. (Mork and Me)

Isn't Suicide selfish?

The Cynical Sally in me is judging.

Judging all of you as I scroll through my Facebook News Feed and read post after post, dodge witty hashtag after lengthy link, about Robin Williams, the Academy Award winning actor who recently committed suicide by strangling himself.

But no-one is really grieving. Is it grief that's being sent out into not a deafeningly-silent, black hole of deep cyber space, but onto a public forum so unprivate it boasts over 1 billion members (Facebook)? Aren't these open letters and podcasts just masquerading as grief; an opportunity to jump on the social media band-wagon and have an opinion about Williams' suicide that might get you a little attention? A few more hits on your blog? A few more Facebook likes? None of us knew him, indeed none of the posturing and opinions comes from anyone who really knew what Williams was thinking and feeling. Even his wife.

No-one knew what Robin Williams was thinking and feeling except Robin Williams.

I am no different. Let's clear that up right away. I am jumping on the bandwagon, too, because Robin Williams was a celebrity and I feel like I know celebrities. They permeate my existence, by osmosis I come to recognize them often sight unseen. The timbre of their voices, their signature facial expressions, their style of dress. I also feel entitled to my opinion because I have 4 kidneys and a big mouth. I feel like I have something to SAY about this. And finally, I feel entitled because no-one is talking about the fact that Robin Williams was an alcoholic and a drug addict. This is not a criticism or a judgement. It is a fact. I feel entitled to state this because I am one, too.

I understand Depression is a disease with a capital "D". I know people who suffer from it and know relationships devastated by mental illness. I was medicated for Depression when my 1st kidney transplant rejected in 2008. But often, Depression is part and parcel of alcoholics struggling to stay sober and no-one is talking about that. The disease of alcoholism is often reduced to "demons" we just need to clear out of our closet. Alcoholism by definition (in the AMA) is a mental illness. Men more eloquent than myself have described alcoholism as an "obsession of the mind and a craving of the body" and when we are deprived of that medicine (drugs and alcohol) and do not seek the solution (spiritual in nature) it drives Men (and Women) to the brink of insanity.

I know because it drove me there.

I have heard it asked, "How do you know when someone is alcoholic?" and the reply, simple and plain, "The light in their eyes has gone out."

The light in my eyes went out in August of 2011. 4 months earlier, my husband had saved my life by donating his kidney to me. I had everything to live for. I was no longer a member of the living dead, barely existing on dialysis. I was healthy, had a loving husband, friends, could return to my career if I so chose, but all I cared about was popping pills and guzzling booze. I lived, obsessively, compulsively for more, more, more even as I cared less, less, less about myself and my existence. My noxious, self-pitying cry was often, "I am a waste of space. I have no purpose. I'd be better off dead." Until the day came when I tried to silence that endlessly screeching, scratched-up record by swallowing 130 benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin) and ended up in Cedars-Sinai for an Overdose for the 2nd time in my life.

I was lucky. I was hospitalized, rehabbed for 60 days and on October 17th, 2011, began the dance of 12 steps. I was slow to learn the dance, to remain teachable and I relapsed after 6 months. I lied for 8 months about being sober and then I really relapsed. I stole, I lied, I manipulated, I did the things like Williams is quoted as saying, "I was shameful, did stuff that caused disgust, hard to recover from." There are still things I have done to this day that only one other person knows about. But you can also be "dry"; not drink or use and feel completely insane. I wanted drugs so badly one day, I looked online at website after website on how to purchase drugs illegally. I was stone cold sober, completely, 100% out of my mind, searching hour after hour for a way to escape myself. This is not normal. This is a sickness, a Disease that wants you to stay Selfish and Self-Centered—like a talk radio station that Williams could perform more masterly than me, "Good Morning, Henriette! It's Henriette radio—All Henriette. All. The. Time!" This blared away in my head while the conversation my husband was having with a client in the next room served as a soundtrack for a normal life I couldn't seem to access.

Then one day, July 19th, 2013, I finally surrendered, and it's in my surrendering that all my greatest battles have been won.

I finally have 1 year of sobriety.

This Disease of Alcoholism waits for you, it wants to go to war with with you, because it knows It will win. This Disease is patient. It will wait for you forever. All it needs is a brief period of vulnerability, a weakness, a sliver of opportunity, like a hairline crack under the door and it will scurry inside; contorting itself to slither back into your soul. And then wait. And wait. Wait until day feels like the cave of night and night feels like the cave has collapsed around you. You've been kidnapped; held hostage; you can't breathe—bound, gagged and tortured by your own brain—drugs or no drugs—and you can't stand the pain a second longer. It feels like you will never be free.

And the light goes out.

I can see in the final photos of Williams that the light had gone out in his eyes.   

I saw the light go out in my Daddy's eyes when I was about 7. He was 36 and had suffered as a full-blown alcoholic from the age of 30 when he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus. He would pick us up from school, bestowing snacks of bananas and chocolate milk upon us, even as he chugged beer while chauffeuring us home. His teeth fell out at the dining room table. He was hospitalized 3 times for symptoms relating to alcoholism—bleeding ulcers, complete dentures—one time for 3 months—before he finally died at age 38. He had "everything" to live for, much like Williams did. He was a successful doctor, had a beautiful wife and 2 healthy children, a family who loved him, he loved his adopted home of Canada, but in the end, his Disease won out. He drank himself to death, unable to stop. A slow-motion Suicide, marinating in self-obsession and a voice drowned by alcohol.

Why is it so hard to ask for help?

We need to foster conversation about Depression as disease, as badly as we need to foster conversation about Alcoholism and Drug Addiction as disease. In the same way you can't "pull yourself up by your boot straps" or "shake it off" with Depression, there is no willpower involved with "Alcoholism". In surrendering to it, by accepting it, I have become empowered. By asking for help. Every single day. From therapists, from AA, from God. One day at a time. I can't do it alone.

Nor do I want to anymore.

Why would we all be on this planet together if we were meant to do it alone? And that's the trap of mental illness. Our Disease convinces us that we are alone. That we wander separate from you Earthlings, that no-one else has suffered this way, that no-one else will understand. It wants us to be miserable, to suffer and then die. Mork came down from Ork and struggled to fit in here on Earth. Perhaps Williams never quite shed the skin of the quirky alien character that put his career on the map. In being a double kidney transplanted, alcoholic drug addict, I felt like an alien. Until I found other aliens like me, a tribe, a clan that speaks my language.

["Nanu, nanu."]

I wish Williams had found his tribe.

The tragedy of suicide is that they feel so alone, when so many of us speak the same language.

I absolutely loved Robin Williams.

If I knew Williams was going to be on a late night talk show, I would tune in to watch, despite my loathing for the formulaic, pre-planned banter arranged before the studio audience arrives. It was always worth tolerating Leno's transparently-planted leading questions to watch Williams' talent ignite. His riffing, always electric, was borne from a thunderous physicality that shot lightning bolts of humor from his mouth at warp speed. There was no need to place a chair for Williams, yo-yo-ing up and down from his seat, his body unable to keep up with the volcanic brilliance erupting from his mouth. I would laugh until I snorted, until my mood elevated, my heart alight. 

I was a sucker for "Mrs. Doubtfire", enthralled by "The Fisher King" and delighted by "The Genie" in "Aladdin". But for me, I loved Williams in "The Birdcage". Armand Goldman was everything—funny, poignant, complete.

Is it odd that the night before the reports of Williams' death came streaming down our Iphones like a sheet of rain, or perhaps more appropriately, a flood of tears, my husband found "The Birdcage" on Netflix. We curled in bed, a happy, hairy cluster of 3—K., our basset hound, Wahlter, and I and we laughed and laughed and laughed. Even as Williams prepared to die.

I don't believe in accidents anymore.

Everything in life is a choice. I take it one day at a time. Some days are dark, but most days I walk a new path where the only baggage I carry is labelled, "Faith", 'Hope" and  "Love".

Suicide isn't the only choice. It just feels like it is. And that's inexplicably, horrendously unfair.

I wish he had been able to turn the light back on.

Was Williams a dry Alcoholic, was he bipolar, was he misdiagnosed?

I don't know and so I stand corrected. We are all grieving, because there is no way to make sense of the senseless.

So, yes, suicide must be selfish. What else can it be? This is just my opinion. Because if it's not a selfish choice, then is it the Inevitable? That would mean that some people are just predestined to suffer from mental illness, to endure horrific, desperate, unthinkable thoughts and then die?

I can't live with that.


  1. Oh Henriette...you write so eloquently....that is known by all...but your understanding of depression and voicing it Is one of the best contributions you have made. I too have a plethora of Xanax and Klonpin in stash I guess as a what I feel is a safety net. I live in a town of 200, 3 of which committed suicide this summer....one by gun shot two by pills. Others would never understand the darkness...darker then dark, no one would possibly know the dark that this disease brings.me....one cannot see it. I love so many do deeply...and yet become stuck in my bottomless pit no one can see. I recognize the selfishness in these thoughts and feelings and feel so bad about myself. I teeter on the cliff hoping not to fall. Thank you for being one that understands depression and a person I so admire. Please keep bringing the subject of depression to the forefront so all will know...it is so misunderstood....and more are affected than anyone could guess. Thank you for letting me have my say...I love you dearly.

  2. You have helped me to get thruto my friend and doctor, who really wants to understand but cannot, my"attitude"to my mental health situation. I need to make him want to see me, me under the happy joking Mork facade; and I feel you have given me the chance to show him how much more I understand than his medically promisingly trained mind does, and that I have something to offer him as he may also have something to gain. I don't really care if my words make sense, it has helped me a little & encouraged me to stay strong just that little bit longer& the dr can be inspired by me a little but more in order to help others even if I am beyond that help..