Jack Ohman

Editorial cartoonist, writer and Joe King’s alter ego

Jack Ohman: What was Robin Williams thinking? You have no idea

08/17/2014 12:00 AM

08/18/2014 7:31 AM

Now that America has had a few days to psychoanalyze the late Robin Williams and his reasons for suicide, let’s step back a moment.

We have no idea what we’re talking about.

His family and friends say Williams was depressed. He might have been struggling with addiction, a waning career, Parkinson’s disease, heart problems or any of the other alleged causative factors. It could be all of it, or one of them.

But maybe not.

Oh, the noted trained psychotherapist Rush Limbaugh said that poor Robin Williams must have been depressed by his dark liberalism. You know, liberalism causes everyone to view everything through a dark, cynical, paranoid lens. Liberalism, meet Dick Cheney. And, in Limbaugh’s case, does conservatism lead to painkiller addiction? Hmm. No. It doesn’t.

Let me tell you something about depression. There are two types: organic and situational. Organic depression is a physiological change in the brain. It’s very tricky to treat. I have never been there and cannot give you a blow-by-blow description of what it’s like.

I can, however, give you a true-life description of situational depression.

In 2004, my marriage blew up. I was stunned by the explosive finality of it. It was like being in terrible accident and crawling in wet gravel over broken glass to get help. I survived. Congratulations.

Suffice it to say I found it all enormously depressing. I saw my young children 62 percent less than I had seen them before the separation, and I became untethered from virtually every mooring I had: holidays, family, friends, financial security.

It wasn’t my idea, so I was at the whim of someone else’s decision. It happens. And I became depressed. I managed to get to work, bathe, clothe myself, draw my cartoons and drive my car to places that weren’t where I had previously lived. That’s depressing.

I started taking an anti-depressant, but it didn’t work for me on a lot of levels. I don’t want to name it, because it does work for some. Talking to people didn’t really help; it was rehashing the reasons for the divorce. Not talking to people wasn’t useful either.

People would say things like, “You have so much to live for,” or, “Snap out of it. Lots of people have it worse.” It was true: I had a lot to live for and enjoyed many advantages in life. So I tried to snap out of it myself and went off my medication.

My depression got worse. As for suicide, let’s say I could see why people would go there.

Depression feels like a heavy, wet, gray blanket over your head. The rainy Portland weather wasn’t helping. You just want to lie down and stare. I cried until my face hurt. I did virtually nothing other than work and try to put my game face on for my kids. Mostly, I just sat there while they animatedly chatted among themselves.

Then, I went on Wellbutrin, which worked for me. I felt like doing things, like eating. In fact, I put on about 25 pounds. I since have lost the extra weight. I went out more. Before I took Wellbutrin, I felt angry that other people were happy. A therapist said when you feel anger, that means you are coming out of depression. You’re feeling something, anything. I am not sure Wellbutrin helped, but a year after experiencing my massive pain I started to come out of my depression.

I went off Wellbutrin in 2006. I just stopped. The first day, I felt woozy, like I had had a drink. I haven’t felt comparably depressed like that since.

I don’t know what Robin Williams was on, or whether he was self-medicating. His family says not. I do know this about Robin Williams: I don’t know anything about what he was thinking.

Neither do you.

About This Blog

Jack Ohman joined The Sacramento Bee in 2013. He previously worked at the Oregonian, the Detroit Free Press and the Columbus Dispatch. His work is syndicated to more than 200 newspapers by Tribune Media Services. Jack has won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Scripps Foundation Award and the national SPJ Award, and he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 and the Herblock Prize in 2013. Contact Jack at johman@sacbee.com. Twitter: @JACKOHMAN.

 

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