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August 12, 2014

Robin Williams, depression, The Church, and me.

I suffer from depression and anxiety.  I thought about the many ways I could begin a post about the loss of Robin Williams and honestly, I think it's just best if I say this out loud: I was clinically diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and adult attention deficit disorder. But more about me in a minute...

Robin Williams killed himself yesterday. If that isn't a wakeup call, I don't know what is.

Depression is a subject that has a stigma to it, even though 1 out of 9 Americans report suffering from it. So why is it such a taboo subject? Why are we afraid to talk about mental health issues?

I am a worship leader and I believe that we in the Church (with a capital C meaning all churches) need to start talking about it. Regularly. 

We need to remove the stigma from mental health issues. People who suffer need to know they are not alone -- that they are not "doing something wrong". They need to know that it's okay to seek out help. And they need to know that it's okay to do more than just pray for healing. God gives us miracles every day through modern medicine.  

Four years ago I decided it was time to do something about my A.D.D.  I had lost a job over it and after leaving another job to pursue music full time I was having a lot of trouble getting anything done at home without the discipline that comes from an actual boss. So, after reading this article in Relevant Magazine, I decided I should go and do something about it. 

I went through a battery of tests and came to find out--and by "find out" I mean, admit--that I have depression and anxiety issues on top of the A.D.D.

And you know what? There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with me that can't be taken care of by medicine. Since going on medicine my life is better. It's not perfect and I still have a lot of work to do, but it's better. 

There are still long periods of depression for me. To be even more transparent than I've already been here, I'm in one now.  Often times, the other 8 out of 9 Americans who have never dealt with depression seem to think depression is conditional. So some people might hear me say that I'm depressed and assume it's because one of my heroes died yesterday. It's not. There is a chemical imbalance in my brain that medicine does its best to fix, but it's not always gonna happen.

The medicine does allow me to better cope however. If you take nothing else from this than that, take that. If you are suffering from depression or other mental issues, take it seriously. Take it as seriously as you would a bleeding wound that won't heal and go to the doctor.

I no longer lay in bed and fantasize about not waking up. Yes, that was me a few years ago.  This comes as a shock to people when they hear it from me. They equate that I'm funny with me being happy. I am a funny person. I don't have to be modest about that. It's just a fact. Ask anyone who knows me. I'm frickin' hilarious sometimes. If I didn't have musical ability I might have wanted to be a comedian. But to be honest, being a comedian is a heck of a lot harder. 

And a TON of funny people suffer from depression and other mental issues. That's why we've lost so many of them to suicide and overdoses. Comedic greats like Freddie Prinze, Richard Jeni, and Greg Giraldo all killed themselves. John Belushi, Chris Farley, Mitch Hedberg and others did it accidentally because they tried to cope using drugs that never produced the high that being on a stage making people laugh provided.

And now we add Robin Williams to the list. He was probably my first favorite comedian. The only other stand-up that came close was Bill Cosby. But Robin made me laugh harder. He made me laugh harder than anyone on television. He taught me on Mork and Mindy that, as Time Magazine said yesterday, "weirdness wasn't just o.k.--it was amazing."

Between his movies and his appearances on late night shows from Carson to Letterman to Fallon, he shaped my view of adults. As a grown up I know that it's okay to be silly sometimes and still expect people to take me seriously. I had never thought of it until this very moment, but he really had a great impression on that aspect of my personality.

Taking a cursory glance at Robin's IMDB page, I was amazed to see how many of his movies I not only had seen, but had loved. In fact, I've seen almost all of his movies. I mean, I am a cinephile, but come on...that's pretty rare. Come to think of it, within the past year I've shown my kids Aladdin, Hook, Ferngully, Jumanji, Happy Feet and the first two Night at the Museum films. That's seven movies in one year that my family truly enjoyed. (Yeah, we watch a lot of movies.)

He was like a family member that most of us never had the good fortune to meet. My cousin Jennifer and I have noted on many occasions that as he was getting older, Robin was beginning to look more and more like a Coomer. As I created the artwork above, I could not help but be overwhelmed by that.

There's a reason why there was a point yesterday where most if not all of the top trending topics in the United States on Twitter were based on his death. Robin Williams is a part of our fabric. It's why we (and the news stations) are talking about it so much when there are other things we need to be talking about like Iraq and ISIS and Ferguson, MO. and Israel. But in some ways...like it or not, this is more important to us. We've lost someone very near and dear to our hearts.

Two good things can come out of this loss. The first is that we will experience the healing power of laughter as we watch his movies and television appearances again. The top trending Twitter topic as I finish this post is #RobinWilliamsWillLiveOnForever.

The second is that we can begin to talk about depression. We can bring it out into the open. We can destigmatize it, demystify it. And we can begin to heal.

My friend Lindsey's tweet brings me to my final question: "When was the last time I was brave enough to ask (or even lovingly confront) someone about their depression... Or to open up to them about mine?"

How can we be the hands and feet of Christ and reach out to them to let them know we are here, to let them know God is here. How can we be the sign from God that they need? How can we be the butterfly on the cliff from which they're about to jump?


Beth said...

Thank you for sharing your story, Eric. Having lived with someone with depression/anxiety/addiction for more than 25 years, I know what it can do to a person (and those around him/her). I've often been asked "what's he depressed about?" My answer is always "it's not a REACTION, it's a CONDITION." If I'm told someone is depressed, my first question is "is it situational, or clinical?" There is a huge difference that so many don't seem to understand.

Eric Coomer said...

You are so right, Beth. Thank you for your comment.

Suzanne Wykoff said...

I myself have dealt with depression and it's definitely something that consumed my life. I would pray to die on a regular basis. I thought, why would I want to be here when I could be with the almighty in heaven? It took me many years to be able to see past the darkness. The things that brought me out were the correct medications and Christian music. I wish there wasn't such a stigma associated with taking medication. When diagnosed correctly, medication can do wonders. Robin Williams passing is a tragic loss and he will not be forgotten.

Thank you for sharing your story, Eric. It can be difficult to be open about it but you never know who you may touch by doing so.

Sam said...

Thanks for the sharing Eric. It's not the depression it is what is done for it and about it. One of the concerns many of us have is that the decision to take one's own life is just that a decision. And I believe but I don't know that there is a lot of information with respect to suicide and salvation. But of course we know that salvation comes only through the acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Savior. So I guess none of us know what was in Robin's head and heart.
And I'd hate to presume but dont think one can ask for forgiveness and salvation for future intentions. Just opens a hooge discussion. Again thanks for your sharing. I also have experience with A.D.D. family members. .but like you they diagnose accept medicate and move on. :-)

Tony Peterson said...

Eric, thank you for your courage. We have a son who suffers from depression and two children who deal with anxiety. These are not easy. Thank you for your vulnerability.

Tony Peterson

Michelle Smith said...

Hey Eric!! Thanks for this great read, wanted to let you know that Providence UMC is confronting depression and we are teaching a Live Well: Practical Tools for dealing with depression class, the first class begins tomorrow night and is full, but I would love to talk to you about how the class goes and perhaps help you start a program at your church!! Talk to you soon!

Michelle Smith said...

Hey Eric, thanks for a great read!! Providence UMC is confronting depression and we are teaching a class called Live Well: Practical Tools for Living With Depression. It starts tomorrow night and is full, I would love to talk with you about how the class goes and maybe help you get a class going at your church! Talk to you soon!


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