Zelda Williams and I are members of a club we never wanted to belong to…

by Vicky Townsend

I’ve been struggling these past few days with the tragic loss of Robin Williams. I’m so sad that we’ve lost a true genius, one of the most beloved dramatic and comedic actors to walk the face of this planet, and yet he suffered from such a dark and heavy disease, sadly the invisible disease of depression. What makes me even sadder is all of the vitriol I’ve seen and heard in the media about how and why he died. I would seriously doubt that those that have said something so ignorant or inappropriate (insert Rush Limbaugh, or Shepard Smith and many others) have ever seen or experienced the weight of extreme depression. Oh yes, I’m sure they’ve been sad, and maybe even depressed at times, but to even state out loud that Robin was a coward, or that he did it because his TV series wasn’t successful…well, you just don’t understand the disease.

How do I know? Well, Zelda Williams and I are members of a club we never asked or wanted to belong to. We are both the daughters of fathers that committed suicide. It took me a long time to understand why my dad did it, why he didn’t love us enough to stay. Then, I had my own children, and felt the depth of love that I had never experienced before. A love that cannot be described until the day you hold your own child in your arms. On the day my daughter was born, I experienced a bottomless pit of an incredibly deep love, and it was the most wonderful love I had ever experienced. I know that my dad loved me that much or more! You see, when I was a little girl, I had the best job in the world. I was a “Daddy’s girl”. (that’s the BEST!) I was loved so much by a man that, from the moment he came home from work, never let my feet touch the floor. He fed me, changed my diapers, told me bedtime stories that made HIM fall asleep, so I would have to go out and ask my mom to get him and take him to his own bed. He taught me to dance, by putting my feet on his, as we danced to Montovani in the family room and on our patio, he taught me to back the car down the driveway when I was 14. I’ll never forget the night I had a friend spending the night and we were completely loud and obnoxious running around the pool like the crazy girls we were! My mom was away for the evening, and dad was in charge. After several “threats” that if we didn’t settle down, I was going to be in trouble, (we would quiet down for about 5 minutes afterwards, but then get right back to the squealing and loud laughter) my dad took me into my room to give me a spanking (yes, I got those back in the day). As he laid me across his lap and raised my mom’s pink hairbrush to swat me on my butt, I had to think quickly! How can I get out of this mess??? Well, in a moment of sheer desperation, I said “You don’t love me!” Oh my gosh, you’d have thought I said the world was falling in. For the next 2 hours, my father held me in his arms, tears rolling down his face as he told me that he loved me so much and that he would do anything for me. I used to think it would have been easier if I had just taken the swat to the butt so that I could go back to the pool with my friend, Sherry.
My father loved me…SO much. It wasn’t until we went away to live overseas that he developed PTSD when he was living in Saigon. A series of tragedies that he witnessed came down hard on his soul. Slowly, I watched my father spend days in his bed. He tried to get through it the best he could. The years of depression took its toll, and finally, after I had picked my 6’5″ 240lb father up off of the bathroom floor at age 15, 16, and again at 17, put him into the backseat of my mom’s Oldsmobile Delta 88 and drove him to South Miami hospital’s emergency room so that they could help him….he told me of the sheer weight of the disease he was suffering with. He called it, just as Winston Churchill did, his “Black Dog”. Imagine, something so heavy that my 6’5″ father couldn’t carry it any longer. After close to 15 years of trying to do everything in his power to fight it, he simply couldn’t take the pain or carry it’s enormous weight any longer. The pain he suffered with was too horrific to lift it another day. In the summer of 1985, my father chose to end the suffering. My father left me, because the pain he felt was far worse and stronger than the incredible love he had for me. How can I judge that? How can I wish he had continued to suffer so greatly, so that I could have him? I love my daddy…I always will. I would hate to think that he would stay around and suffer one more day, for my sake. I’m not that selfish. I know my dad isn’t suffering anymore, and for that, I am grateful.
I miss him. I wish he had the chance to meet all of his 6 incredible grandchildren…he would have loved them all, but in the end, his quality of life was horrible. A darkness and a sadness lived inside him that I simply cannot imagine.
I was blessed to have the “happy gene”, and I have felt mostly sunshine in my life, despite this story. I will never truly understand the feeling of deep depression, but I know one thing. I cannot judge how another person deals with it, nor can I imagine their suffering. This disease is wicked, in that you can look fabulously healthy and happy on the outside, while the inside is filled with feelings that death would be easier. Robin Williams chose to end his life, on his terms. He was not a coward. He was suffering beyond his ability to lift that veil of darkness for one more day.
As for the haters, please don’t comment. I didn’t write this to wage a battle. I wrote this to speak to those that have lost loved ones, or find themselves feeling similarly to Robin, and to my dad. I wrote this to those suffering, to know that there are people that can listen, and can try to understand their pain. I wrote this for all of the club members. I wrote this for me.
There have been a LOT of improvements in the medicines that help with this disease. I pray, if this is your issue, that you will seek help to give everything a try. I’d love to say that, one day, we have no more club members…that’s my dream.