When I learned of the heartbreaking death of Robin Williams, the news hit me in a surprising way. Naturally, it was saddening to realize that an incredible talent like Williams was gone, but as more outlets began reporting on the details of his suicide, my empathy began drifting to the actor’s family — most particularly, Susan Schneider, his wife. My heart went out to her, because as I looked at my own marriage, I realized that, one day, the same thing that happened to her might happen to me, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle it.
Like Williams, my husband suffers from severe depression. It’s something he has lived with for practically his entire life, and something I was well aware of before we married. In fact, I remember my parents even warned me: “You know that’s genetic, right? Do you really want to pass that on to your children?”
They were right. Clinical depression is genetic. My husband’s father had it, two of his brothers have it, and if we were to have children, it is possible that they might get it, too. But, none of those things changed the fact that I loved him. He was not his depression — he was more. He was funny, kind, smart and clever. He was a person I could talk to about anything, laugh with about nothing and cry with about the things that truly mattered. He was the only person I wanted to call right when I got off of work, because I couldn’t wait to hear what he’d done with his day; even more, he was the only person I really wanted to tell about mine.
In her statement, Schneider told the Associated Press, “This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend… I’m utterly heartbroken.”
I get it. Williams was to her what my husband is to me, and because of that, I suspect she knew that this might one day happen. Obviously, I can’t speak for her. I didn’t know the couple personally, and so, I am only speculating here. But I say this because of my own experiences. I say it because, as the wife of a clinically depressed man, I’ve been my husband’s confidant on several occasions, even when the things he told me were terrifying. No wife wants to hear about their husband’s suicidal thoughts, and yet, if we won’t listen, who else can they turn to?
It sucks that I know exactly how my husband would do it if it ever came down to it. When things get really bad, it sucks that I have to worry about what nightmare I might find when I get home from work. And, yes, it especially sucks that I’ve had to say things like, “If that’s the last memory you leave me with, I’ll never forgive you,” to remind him that it’s not just about him — he needs to also be courteous of me.
Already, I can hear the screams. “Get help,” you’re saying as you claw at your screens. So let me say this: We have, we are and we always will. Even still, as Williams’ death demonstrates, there are no guarantees.
This is something I have to accept, and to be quite honest, it’s the hardest thing. Knowing there’s no end to it is absolutely terrifying. There’s no magic wand that will change the chemical imbalance in my husband’s brain, and no matter what people tell you, even counseling and prescription drugs aren’t a perfect solution. The drugs numb him. They make him tired, nauseous and slow most of the time. They make chores like dishes, cleaning and laundry seem like grueling tasks. They affect every aspect of daily life — the ability to focus, to be productive and even to feel emotions — and so, at best, they are only a Band-Aid.
Williams knew this, which means it’s likely that Schneider and his family did too. As the loved one of someone who suffers from depression, it’s often difficult to know exactly what to do. Most of the time, you’re helpless. All you can do is be there for them, talk to them and listen. You can encourage them to get the help they need, research medications and doctors and even schedule appointments. But ultimately, it’s their life. No matter how badly you want to carry it for them, it will always be their burden to bear, and nothing you say or do will ever change that.
Do I like the idea that suicide is so real, and that it haunts my relationship so staunchly? Of course not. Am I comfortable with the fact that I relate so much to the family members Williams left behind? Not at all. And yet, because I connected so greatly with Schneider’s statement, I realized this was an aspect of suicide that people rarely talk about. Schneider reminded me that I wasn’t alone. In a way, I am her — and now I know there are others out there who live this reality, like me.
More on Robin Williams’ death
If you suspect someone might be considering suicide, or if you have struggled with those thoughts yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).