I now risk entering the glutted fray of commenting on Robin Williams’ death.
There are likely lots of reasons why it hit so many so hard. He was a contemporary of so many of us. He almost always seemed to smile and he brought laughter to so many. Many would say that he “had it all.”
I recall with a smile the first dates with my wife, Lucianne, in the late ’70s. Lacking funds, those early times together were often in the TV room at one of Southern Seminary’s dormitories watching “Mork and Mindy.”
The sitcom was set in Boulder, Colorado, where snow was often on the ground.
Once, when Mork came inside, he opined, “Boy, it’s colder than a witch digger’s brass monkey out there.” I still use that tidbit on some of Virginia’s frigid January days.
I think I was a junior in high school when I was introduced to the poem, “Richard Cory,” by Edward Arlington Robinson. It was later set to music by the popular music duo, Simon and Garfunkel.
It told the story of a rich man who was admired by all, respected by many and coveted by most who “went home one night and put a bullet through his head.”
I understood a bit of the point of the poem then. Years, experience and maturity have driven it home often.
Those of us who have wandered back and forth across the emotional spectrum from overwhelming, almost blindingly joyous light, and then found ourselves in the depths of inexplicable darkness—that realm where life holds no hope and death holds no horror—can relate to some degree.
No one can know fully what another person thinks or feels when one of the worst possible options seems like the most valid one.
Only those who have been there know how pathetic our logic and determination seem in the presence of that darkness.
No matter how many times we have been there and somehow returned to the light, there is still that sense that we won’t escape this time.
Even if we do, there is still the knowledge that the darkness will return, and that knowing may take some of the joy out of the light, no matter how good it is.
The list of famous people, noteworthy people and celebrities who have gone the route of suicide is astounding.
It is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, exceeding that of automobile accidents.
Most every pastor has dealt with it. I suspect most do the “Why did I?” “Why didn’t I?'” and “What if?” things like other loved ones do when it occurs.
Thus, as a human being, pastor and struggler, I run the risk of saying again many of the things that have been said millions of times about depression.
1. Take care of your body.
Moods aren’t normally determined entirely by physical health, but the two are often connected.
Poor nutrition, fatigue, stress, burnout, overwork, underwork, too little play and poor physical conditioning often accompany a largely sedentary populace.
For all our preaching that “our bodies are temples,” they are often treated like trash dumps.
Do not self-medicate. Alcohol is the drug of choice for most that do, but it is hardly the only option, as Robin Williams admitted.
2. Take care of your mental and emotional self.
Knowing the truth about something doesn’t always fix it, but it can help to retain hope and motivate one to get help.
A good family life, a good church life, good friendships, recreation and good counsel are crucial.
Feeling alone while facing the darkness is bad enough. There is no point in actually being alone.
3. Take care of your spiritual self.
Read, listen to and see good things, including, but not limited to, the Bible. Include devotional things, funny things, educational things, inspiring things and healing things.
Take time off. Include others in your struggle and let them help you.
4. See a good doctor who knows what he or she is doing.
General practitioners are fine for many things. Most good ones will recognize when a condition is beyond their areas of expertise and send you elsewhere.
5. Take the medicine.
Most modern psychotropic medicines are not narcotics. Neither are they cures.
They are designed to provide a piece or pieces of the body’s biochemical puzzle, which yours may be lacking.
It may take time and some experimentation with a variety of the plethora of new and old meds.
However, when your wife, husband or loved one says something like, “I feel like I have you back at last; welcome home,” that can be more than worth the effort.
There are many other things that can and need to be said, things which others can and will say more ably than I.
However, the above may be a starting place for some young pastor or person whom I hope will not spend any more of his or her life unnecessarily in the darkness.
Reggie Warren is pastor of Union Hill Baptist Church in Brookneal, Virginia, and a former member of the board of directors of the Baptist Center for Ethics.