(Although my name is at the top of the post, the author is Kent Ballard, one of my great guest columnists.)

By Kent Ballard

When the news reports came about the death of Robin Williams, most folks were stunned. How could one of the funniest men in America be gone so suddenly, with no warning? Within hours the press informed us it was a suicide. Further reports went into more detail—damn their eyes—that he’d hanged himself with his belt and there were superficial cuts on his arms. I think that information should have been kept private for his family’s sake, but then I’m not a mega-conglomerate interested only in how much money I can rake in selling dog food and beer commercials.

Yes, I was offended. Because Robin Williams and I were from the same family, in a manner of speaking.

In 1991 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Type II. For 23 years I’ve been with the same psychiatrist. In that length of time he’s risen through the ranks to become the head of the Indianapolis Psychiatric Association, because he’s good, very good, at what he does. I’m lucky to have him. I clearly remember our first few talks. There is actually very little known about Bipolar Disorder, much less than you might think. Even the discovery that lithium can treat some portions of it was made by accident. To this day no one has a clue what it does or how it works but it’s the prime drug prescribed to bipolars. Everything about Bipolar Disorder is mysterious in some way. It used to simply be known as “manic-depression” which is actually more descriptive, but now considered politically incorrect.

The symptoms usually manifest themselves in the late teens to early twenties, but there are many exceptions. People can develop this in their 40’s or 50’s. In my case, when I pressed my shrink, asking him when Bipolar Disorder took over my head, he gave me a straight answer: “Kent, you should have had lithium in your baby bottle. As nearly as I can tell, you were born with it. That’s rare, but not unheard of.” He then leaned in a bit closer, as if he wanted to get a point across to me in a manner that I would never forget. “Do you realize what that means? It means your entire sum total of life experience was lived as a bipolar. Every book you ever read, every movie you ever saw, every conversation in your life, every friend you ever made, everything you ever learned, every date you ever went on, all of your experiences, every one, was lived through and understood and became part of you filtered through Bipolar Disorder. You’ve never known anything else. You probably never will.”

As you might guess, THAT rocked me back on my heels. I sat there and blinked for some time, then quietly asked, “Doctor, are you telling me that…that I’m crazy?”

No, quite the opposite was the case. Take a moment and do something interesting. Google “famous bipolars” and see what you get. You’ll see a list of some of the world’s greatest artists, military leaders, composers, physicists, doctors, a whole galaxy of people you’ve studied in school or know about from their sheer fame. In that sense, I’m in wonderful company. What made them famous, regardless of their field of expertise, was their ability to think outside the box, to see around corners, to think thoughts and dream up concepts no one ever had before. As Patty Duke Austin wrote in her magnificent autobiography of a bipolar life, “A Brilliant Madness,” “Manic-depression is the only mental disorder with a GOOD side.”

And it is. Believe me when I tell you there is no high like a bipolar high. If they could put that into a bottle the world would become addicted overnight. I’ve had moments of nearly superhuman strength, of being involved in affairs where people would later say I was either the bravest—or the craziest—person they had ever met, of days when I required no sleep, of having every child I ever met fall in love with me, the ability to tell almost instantly when I am being lied to, and ten thousand other things that have been pretty handy over the years. But it’s no free ride. There is a price to pay for all this, one so heavy it literally kills people.

And this is what took Robin Williams. Sir Winston Churchill used to write about the “black dog” of depression in his private journals. Many bipolars have days when they cannot force themselves out of bed. And all bipolars drink. And they will drink to excess as soon as they can supply themselves with alcohol. I started at age 13 and never stopped until 1999, and it damned near killed me in the process. Science at least has an answer for that. They now know it to be a misguided–almost pitiful– attempt at self-medication.

Go through YouTube and look at some of Williams’ work. Can you imagine how incredibly fast he must have been thinking? How he seems to come at you from all sides at once? How he appears to be almost maniacal in his thoughts? He wasn’t acting. Bipolars think faster than other people. But they often think so fast they become erratic. Watch enough of his films and sooner or later you’ll see spots where he was not controlling it. It was controlling him.

The leading cause of death among those with Bipolar Disorder is suicide. More bipolars die of that than any other cause. With typical perversity, it can simply pop into a bipolar’s mind that this is the answer to the questions they’ve asked all their lives. It can and will kill bipolars in mere minutes. A sudden depression so deep no human can withstand it. Also perversely, bipolars tend to leave behind cheerful suicide notes. My shrink told me fascinating stories of some he had read. Many were actually so happy and funny that he found himself laughing until he remembered what he was reading.

Bipolar Disorder is not genetic. It is not passed via genes from parent to child. But it is “familial,” meaning it tends to run in families in odd spurts here and there. There were once three bipolars in my family. When my niece committed suicide she left a warm, loving note telling everyone how much she cared for them. Later, when they were cleaning her apartment, they found a note they’d overlooked. In her handwriting, Gina said there were clothes still running in the dryer, and would someone take them out?

Whatever overcame her took her that fast. She could not and would not wait for the dryer to finish its cycle.

When I got the telephone call in 2008 that my only daughter, Annie, had taken her life my mind flashed back to the several conversations we’d had about the subject. I warned her time and again this was a possibility for all of us, to be frightened of it and to call me, her mother, anyone if she ever felt suicidal. She never had the time to do that. It was as if she’d been cut down by a sniper. Annie loved life and ate it in big bites. She had more friends than I could count, had recently gotten an impressive promotion at her job and a new apartment. Everything was going great for her. Right up until the end.

So don’t think me cruel or uncaring when I say that Robin Williams’ death came as no surprise to me. I’ve had 23 years of training and counseling, learning never to listen to the voice of Death calling me. He’s never far away and I know that. He’s whispered to me more than once and I had the ability to run away. I’ve been careful and lucky so far. Mostly lucky.

If you know someone who’s bipolar, tell them they can call you at any hour. You might make the difference for them. Generally, suicide is preventable among normally depressed people who’ve simply suffered a string of bad things which have happened to them. With bipolars it’s a crap shoot. Whatever hits us so suddenly, and with such speed and overwhelming force, there’s often nothing you can do except listen to your heart rip apart when you get the news they’re gone.

But were these lives wasted? Not really, not in my opinion. Because when they were riding that high bipolar wave they had more fun than you will ever know. They laughed and enjoyed life and were brilliant and deeply, truly, knew they were loved and gave tremendous love in return. They were not candles in the wind. They were, and are, more like skyrockets. It’s only after they roar and shriek up to their zenith and dazzle us all with blinding lights of many colors that, after a moment, we realize how dark the night really is. But friend, when they were firing, they were magnificent.

“My candle burns at both ends

It will not last the night

But oh my foes, and oh my friends

It gives a lovely light” ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay


  1. Kent: Thanks for this very thoughtful examination of bipolar disorder. Such a personal topic, and I’m sure, a difficult one for you to write about, and I appreciate your honesty and willingness to share this with us.

    I’m struck by this line: “With typical perversity, it [suicide] can simply pop into a bipolar’s mind that this is the answer to the questions they’ve asked all their lives. It can and will kill bipolars in mere minutes. A sudden depression so deep no human can withstand it.”

    I’ve always believed that people who kill themselves have wrestled with the idea for years; that they’ve most likely had several unsuccessful attempts in the past. This is the first I’ve ever seen suicide framed as a “sudden” thing, a spur-of-the-moment decision. That just doesn’t seem likely, even for people with bipolar depression. Perhaps it just appears to be a sudden decision, but I doubt that it was. Can you comment more on this idea? Thanks.

  2. You’re right of course, Sherri, but for most folks it’s an idea that comes and stays with them. They will decided against it, mull it over a few times again over the weeks or months, and in the end either live or die. With bipolars, it’s more like an idea that comes and literally goes–it goes completely out of their minds. It doesn’t even enter their heads when they’re on the upswing cycle. Lord, that’s the last thing they would do. Even having suicidal thoughts seems alien to them and while they may remember having them in the past, it’s more like remembering a movie you saw, or remembering something that happened to someone else, or the story line from a book. Each time most bipolars have suicidal thoughts it seems to them as if this is the *first* time according to the evidence, notes, and their doctors best guesses.

    You must remember this is still a murky area in the science of the human mind. There are as many contradictions, more actually, as there are provable known facts. And with each case being as different as the persons who have them, it makes me realize that psychiatrists really earn their money when dealing with us.


  3. Kent: Thanks for clarifying how someone with bipolar disorder might experience thoughts of suicide. I’ve never heard it described in that way. You have great insight about the condition which unfortunately, you’ve learned via personal experience. I hope that such insights–and your ability to write about them so eloquently–will keep you strong for many years to come.

  4. Kent,
    That was a great article! Thanks for sharing! You are always so transparent and I believe it helps others!

    • Thanks, Deb.

      The transparency is a choice. I figure I’m a little more acceptable to society if society knows I’m a little crazy. Folks will be quicker to forgive any faux pas or odd things about me. All of my life has been spent observing how others behave in different situations and then acting like they do most of the time. I still maintain you could pick a bipolar at random and put them in a TV or movie roll and people would think they were natural-born actors. They would never know how close they are to the truth. We can mask our inner emotions easily. I could be at a picnic and no one would know that I was actually very sad, extremely happy, enraged, frightened, or designing a yard shed in my mind. This is a defensive mechanism learned by very young bipolars. Teachers, ministers, even parents–anyone in authority–do not take well to kids who want to shun away one day, then bounce off the walls the next. It’s learned behavior.

      When Bipolar Disorder can be controlled by a “cocktail” of drugs, it can actually be quite useful. It’s been of endless good use in my writing. At family gatherings someone will bring up an old story we all already know, and someone else will interrupt them and say, “Wait! Let Kent tell that one! We all know what happened, but when he tells it I laugh until it hurts.” People were doing that when I was a child. It’s also been useful when meeting with nursing home staff or anyone in a hospital where I have a loved one not getting proper care. I keep my voice low, very low. I don’t use a single foul word. I generally fold my hands over my midsection. But while I am speaking to the previously disinterested person I can actually frighten many of them–and they don’t know why. I look at them as if I’m talking about one thing and actually wondering what the veins in their neck would taste like, and that I could launch myself at them with no warning and make them believe someone would have to kill me to get me off them. All I am doing is giving them a visual taste of what bipolar rage looks like and none have ever wanted more than a brief glimpse of it. It makes people see things my way.

      Like having a five thousand horsepower engine in a small car, you need to learn to control it before using it. A disaster is waiting if you do not.

  5. My doctor calls suicide “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Those words speak volumes if you think deeply about them.

    The worst enemy any of us will ever fight is ourselves. Even the most sane and stable people on earth experience this: the overweight individual trying desperately to loose weight only to be confronted with sweets, cookies, and cakes at every turn, the person who quit smoking fighting their cravings all through the night, the cardiac patient who looks longingly at that salt shaker on the table…

    You gotta walk that lonesome valley, and you gotta walk it by yourself. Nobody else can walk it for you. And some folks will go through scores of hours of counseling and never realize the simple but profound truths in that old gospel song.

    Had Zach’s column space been longer I would have briefly mentioned sex and the bipolar. As a general rule, bipolar men and women alike are oversexed. Since we all pretend to be normal to get along in this world most folks never know this. But our drives and desires are often several times normal. While in between marriages I dated a rather moody woman. Today I would peg her as another bipolar in an instant, but then I had neither the experience nor the years of professional counseling and training in what to look for within myself. Long story short, the young lady and I didn’t particularly even like each other, but we stayed together for a few months simply because of the sex. A peeping Tom would have thought we were two Klingons on our honeymoon night. We once literally broke the slats under my box springs in the bed.

    There are humorous things about this disorder along with the tragedy. I would argue that bipolars often make the strongest and most loyal friends you could ever have, the people who would stand with you through thick and thin and be at your side in the face of a hurricane simply due to the many sunny days and hellacious storms they themselves have faced. You’ve read the statistics which say poor people are more generous than wealthy people, and will give a greater percentage of what they have to suffering strangers. I’ve always believed that’s due to their intimate knowledge of poverty. They’ve suffered themselves, and do what they can for anyone in worse shape than they are. When a bipolar detects emotional suffering in someone else, they can and often do transform themselves to solid rocks you can cling to.

    I’m painting with a very wide brush, of course. Not all of this is from personal experience but twenty-three years of conversations with my doctor and a lifetime of observations. Every one of us, bipolar or not, is an individual human being and no two are exactly the same. I hope folks keep this in mind when they read my column.


  6. I cannot add much to what has already been said here. My malady is straight up depression, not bipolar disorder, so I can’t speak to the highs and lows, only the lows. Despite all the progress made the past few years in mental health care and acceptance, depression, and mental illness generally, in men is still a societal untouchable. Don’t go public with it, live with the symptoms and outgrowths of it and get fired. Go public with it, become a social pariah and a liability to your employer and get fired. Your choice but the outcome is the same – you’re out of a job and most likely a home and family as well. I decided to finally take the proverbial bull by the horns and get treatment. I feel better, yes, and I am much more mellow in the face of things that once set me to outrage, but I also had to “retire” early because I tried to fulfill things missing in my life, like sex, with things that were unacceptable.
    Would I do things differently if I could? Probably. Would I seek help sooner if I could relive my life? Doubtful. I would still be a white male in a society that considers us little more than inmates not yet incarcerated. Even writing this reply might get me noticed by the PC Police, but so be it.

    • Dave, after all is said and done, it’s your life we’re talking about here.

      Even at the expense of your job, even at the expense of your wife and kids and home, you only come this way once.

      Believe me, I’m aware of the toll depression takes on a man. And having lost one family, I feel I can speak on that with some familiarity too.

      You must always fight back. Always. One of the worst things depression takes from anyone is the will to do what’s right. Depression can even make you blind to what “right” is and suck out all the fight a person has left. It’s like trying to fight the night, fearing it and cursing it but being so crippled by that same depression that you cannot light a candle. Depression can and will feed on itself until you take a positive stand against it. And yes, it is as tough a job as grabbing a bull by the horns and trying to wrestle it to the ground.

      Be advised there are many, many different types of antidepressants. Some are so wildly different they belong in completely separate classifications of drugs. Some boost serotonin in the brain. Others boost this or that. Others act alone in your bloodstream. My doc gave me a fingernail review of them once and lost me with his third or fourth sentence. Suffice it to say, there are a ton of different things you could be taking.

      What is CRUCIAL is that you keep your doctor informed about the success or failure of what he has prescribed you. If prescribed the wrong antidepressant, you might as well be taking nothing. And your doctor knows this. Never, ever, be shy about telling him your medications aren’t working and that you wish to try something else. He’s being paid well. Make him earn that money. You are not going to him merely for a shoulder to cry on. You are going to him to improve the quality of your life. If he shows reluctance or appears disinterested, fire him and never look back. A good doctor will thank you for being frank and open with him. But not all doctors are good.
      Neither are all antidepressants.

      Some patience, however, is a must-have on the part of the sufferer when it comes to finding a drug “cocktail” that precisely fits that individual. For all of their huffing and puffing on the subject, modern medicine can still be hit-or-miss on Bipolar Disorder and its evil cousin depression. If a doctor treats five patients successfully with Paxil, for example, the sixth can be prescribed the same thing and get absolutely nothing from it. If that patient does not tell the doctor, “Hey, this isn’t working for me. Let’s try something else,” the doc will continue to prescribe Paxil and think he’s doing the right thing. And the patient will have no improvement whatsoever and continue to waste money on a useless drug. Doctors are not mind readers. In every case, the patient has to be very descriptive and as informative as possible with them. You must work as a team, both of you ganging up on the same problem.

      It took me well over a year to find what worked for me. I went through almost the whole medicine cabinet of the pharmaceutical industry–all while taking lithium for my superhighs–to find anything that would even touch my lows. I began to despair that I would never find anything. But several of the drugs I had taken were in fact excellent medicines for many thousands of people–they just didn’t work on me. Luckily, my doc told me to expect this. He warned me in advance. And knowing that was what kept me going.

      You never said if your doctor was an M.D. or a psychiatrist. A good, trusted M.D. can be of great service, but it was my M.D. who made the first appointment for me to see a shrink. Again, luck was with me because I liked the guy right off the bat and was soon telling him things about myself that I had never shared with anyone. A few times, when his questions were embarrassing or extremely personal I simply lied to him. He saw through that instantly and he slowly, gently, let me know it. As our relationship grew, I threw privacy to the wind and learned that honesty is always the best policy when talking to doctors. People might know you’re going to a psychiatrist. They might be able to discover that in several different ways. But they can never know what is said in that office. Never. Not a word. Your doctor has to confirm you are a patient for your insurance to cover you. Your pharmacy has to look at your I.D. to give you most prescription drugs. But there will be no one on this earth who knows what you said in that office, or what was said back to you. Keep this in mind at all times. It’s about the last bastion of real privacy any of us have left.

      So I am very well acquainted with your monster. He’s as rotten as mine, although I did get breaks from him from time to time. During these times I was not depressed, but busily engaged in things like climbing up the outside of buildings for a joke, driving like a speed demon everywhere I went, flirting with all sorts of women, or carrying out other “great ideas” that popped into my mind. Forget suicide. It’s a miracle that I wasn’t killed a score of times just from the wonderful ideas I got while on the high side of my bipolar swings.

      To the sufferer, their depression or their manic state seems as real a brick wall. It is their reality, their universe, and they can’t understand why others don’t see the same reality they do. It’s like a drunk thinking it’s logical to ask the cop who stopped him to hold his beer for a moment while he gets his license and registration. Well, it seemed to make sense at the time…

      Depression IS treatable, Dave. Never forget that. Become proactive in your treatment. If whatever he has prescribed or suggested isn’t working for you, call your doc now and tell him so. And learn to tell Mrs. Grundy to go to hell. You don’t ask what other people go to the doctor for. Demand the same from them, and be blunt about it. “You know, that’s really none of your damned business.” And this demand for privacy can be extended, if you wish, to your spouse and children. Just tell them you are going to a doctor for the same reason anybody does–so you will feel better.

      Survival and living are two different things. You sound as if you’re in survival mode right now, and good for you. That means you have an inner strength that even you don’t appreciate. You may be stretching your fingernails, but you are hanging on. The trick now is re-learning how to live and get something out of life besides the next breath. Work with your doc. If he or she isn’t helping, find another. Remember there are scores of different antidepressants available to you. Talk therapy helped me a great deal too, and for that you need a shrink. If you have a friend you trust implicitly, even talking to them will help. The idea is to jerk down those black curtains and allow sunlight to pour into the room. And don’t give a damn what others say or think. If they refuse to respect your privacy, cut them off from all information and avoid them. This is your journey, not theirs.

      And keep your chin up, even when it weighs eight tons. We all have several different lives we could have–and still can–live. We can find happiness and comfort in other lives if need be. All of us have regrets and none of us can change the past. It’s what we do from now on that counts. Be strong, kind, and hopeful my friend.

      • Kent,
        Thanks for the very thoughtful reply. You make a lot of very valid points. I have been taking medication (Cymbalta) for the past five years or so and it does help a lot. I need to ramp up the dosage at Christmas in order to survive that nightmare, but otherwise I am much better than I was pre-meds. My doctor does monitor me at every visit and I have not seen the need to change my medication.
        I still harbor a deep-seated feeling that I don’t deserve my life. I have only seriously considered suicide a couple of times in my life and the feeling left quickly. It has also been my experience that the PC Police don’t consider Depression in men a real disease. I know, that’s probably nonsense, but the fact remains that men like me are thought of as weak and demanding because we may require a little extra consideration now and then. I just go off by myself during those times so I don’t alienate the people I may be with. They just don’t get it.
        Thank you again for the words of support and caring. It helps to have real friends out there.

        • Dave, I tried Cymbalta when I was searching for my personal “cocktail” of effective drugs. It’s used very frequently in the treatment of depression and is considered one of the best drugs available. I’m glad it works for you. For me it was like trying to treat depression with Wrigley’s chewing gum.

          Paxil is another antidepressant that thousands of people swear by. But it does not work well inside my body at all. Nasty side-effects.

          I’m currently taking 200 mg of Sertraline daily, and have been for years now. It may have been originally developed to poison coyotes with, I dunno, but I’ve found it to be the most effective medication for me. Hey, any port in a storm…

          Dave, are you sure that some of these ideas you have about depression in men are not self-imposed? We were raised in roughly the same generation, when little boys were NEVER supposed to cry, when we might crash our bicycles while speeding down hills and bash ourselves half to death and then be told to “get up and walk it off.” I saw adults telling kids who had just broken bones to get up and walk it off. It was a different era then. Our parents might have been the Greatest Generation, but not always sympathetic to a child who’d just fallen off a roof or out of a tree.

          That had an effect on us. Often it seemed we could never measure up to their expectations. And although they loved us and meant only the best for us there were times where they, too, zigged when they should have zagged. Wonderful people all, but they were human too. They were not perfect beings.

          As for society, we’ve learned to be considerably more conscious of things including diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and the genuinely mentally challenged folks we meet these days. In our youth they were often the subject of gossip or wicked jokes. Now such behavior is considered discourteous at best and crude and evil at the worst.

          Work with your doc. Tell him about the shunning you perceive. He can suggest things for you. He might also tell you some of the prejudice you feel could possibly be of your own making. Not all, no. But some.

          As I said in my column, I had days when I would spring out of bed, ready to take on the world. I was ten feet tall and bulletproof. Afraid of nothing. Supremely confident. Could solve any problem, see around corners, and was only aggravated by those who could not keep up with me.

          But when the down-swing in my moods came everything went to hell. I was introverted, didn’t want to be around people, had no confidence at all, had no humor or happiness or sense of purpose within me whatsoever.

          That’s no way to live. The high side will kill you by sheer misadventure and the low side will–if low enough–kill you using your own hands.

          You deserve your life. You do not deserve the illness you suffer from. I never asked to be bipolar either. Many of life’s wounds are invisible. If someone appeared in public with shredded clothes and bleeding profusely from a half-dozen serious wounds, most folks would immediately call an ambulance for them. But if your wounds are not visible, people cannot see the pain you are in and can’t really be expected to treat you any differently than anyone else because they simply do not–and cannot–know your condition.

          For the first three and a half decades of my life I wondered why everyone at school or work would be so cheerful and friendly some days, and so uncaring and cruel on others. Guess what. It was never them. It was me.

          You will eventually lift out of your lonesome valley if you stick with your doc and don’t do anything stupid. Even with treatment, it takes a while to get your head around this subject. No, it doesn’t make any sense. And yes, it hurts a lot. It often hurts far worse than physical injuries people could get and survive. You just have to harden yourself against your depression and become determined that it will not suck you down like a sinking ship. And when you get even halfway there you might not notice it at first, but you will be stronger and wiser than the average guy.

          You will have learned ten times what he knows about self-control, including even your moods, and you should take that gift because God knows you earned it the hard way.

          • Kent,
            I can safely say that I am 100% better now than I was before I began the Cymbalta but I am still 100% away from where I want to be. Does that make any sense?
            I agree that a lot of my perceptions about men and depression and society’s dealings with us are the hobgoblins of my own imagination. We did come of age in a era of keeping a stiff upper lip and all that stuff. I was told repeatedly to never let them see my inner feelings, keep it to myself because nobody wants to hear it, etc., etc. Then along comes the feminist movement with its “let’s blame men for all our problems and, while we’re at it, let’s pass some laws to validate our thirst for vengeance” stance and suddenly men are demonized and made to feel as if we should feel guilty if we simply live our lives. Shopping Alone While Male became a social crime. We may have thought we were just out buying bread and milk but in point of fact we were stalking our next molestation victim. Okay, I’m being overly melodramatic (you bring out the best in me, Old Bud) but this feeling shaped my formative years and that coupled with the depression created the beast within me.
            I am actually fairly happy with my life today. Even the loss of my job didn’t cost me my retirement, so I didn’t end up living under a bridge in a piano crate. We bought a home in Florida that we spend time in during the winter. I can still enjoy my passion for reading, writing and photography. So things aren’t as bleak as I make them out to be. I still look forward to the future, so I don’t plan to eat a gun anytime soon.
            Thanks again for the support and kindness.

  7. Kent, many of us are touched by the depression which brings on suicide. Illness, being overwhelmed, thinking the world would be better off without you. In that case, it’s overload. Mine was typical: I was the mother of several young children, was ill and could not take care of them. They were all in the living room watching TV. I was in the bedroom and I had the gun in my hand, thinking that if I were dead, someone would have to be hired to care for them, which I could not do. I don’t know how I got past that moment, but when I hear of a suicide, I always deeply grieve and think, “If they could have just got past that moment, they would be alive.” I had just enough sanity left to put the gun down and go out into the living room where everybody was. I never fell that low again. My family never knew how close it was or what I was thinking. I don’t know if I’m Bi-Polar, but I think everybody reaches that point at some time in his or her life, and most of us are able to fight through it. It is familial and there are whole groups of people who battle with it. The Welsh are known to battle depression in big numbers. (I’m Welsh.) Robin Williams has a Welsh last name. Maybe he, too, is Welsh. I think it’s in the genes.

    • Yes, Ms. X, many normal, everyday people come to the exact same point that you did, and almost all turn away. In their darkest personal moment they find that last ounce of strength and go back to facing their responsibilities and doing what they must. And almost all of them will keep that brief moment to themselves forever as one of their most closely guarded secrets, a thing they would be mortified for others to ever find out.

      Congratulations, Ms. X. You faced that sudden storm I tried to describe and came through with flying colors.

      All of us have a breaking point. Fortunately, most of us are never driven to it. But for those who are, all the money in the world will not save you, no amount of higher education can save you, not riches or fame or having your picture on the cover of a dozen magazines can save you. That strength can only be found from within when you’re in the darkest depths of that lonesome valley. But Death is a coward. If you can stand up and face him for just a few minutes he will flee. The crisis will be over and you will be victorious.

      There will be people who read what we’ve all written here and think we are weak. They could not be more wrong. If the same suicidal thoughts hit them, you and I both know we can take that thunder and lightning and keep on walking, even through the downpour. They simply have never faced the test yet, have not yet been forced to look Death in the eyes and tell him that he cannot have us today, not now and not like this. When others unexpectedly find themselves in the darkest part of that lonesome valley with a bony finger curling itself at them they will realize what strength really is. And I hope they find it in time to eventually walk uphill and back out into the sun.

  8. Kent, I know you are very observant. Thanks for your reply. Depression is insidious and thank God for me that moment passed. My dad was orphaned at age 7 and I’ve noticed that when children lose their mother while they’re still very young, it does something to their sense of security. My dad longed for his mother all his life and thus was very protective of us, his children. He was always afraid he was going to lose us, too. He could never be alone. He always had to be surrounded by those he loved. It was the thought of making my own kids that insecure that stopped me. For me, it was situational, but for others it’s something they live with all the time. I was so shocked by that moment I took the gun out of the drawer that I never let myself go there again, but for the others whose life situations or health keep them there, there is help available and in my opinion, they should certainly avail themselves of all the help there is. I do believe that lowest moment helped me in other times of severe stress, such as losing my son at Christmastime. I told the kids it had nothing to do with Christmas and that Christmas was a gift to all mankind. We had a tree, we had gifts and dinner. It was sad and awful, but Christmas now is never connected with his death as it would have been had we not done that. Life is not easy, but the rewards it gives us far outweigh the lows and we have to remember that. As they say, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

    • Unless I’m very careful to stay out of as many stores as possible and avoid the TV, Christmas is usually the worst time of the year for me. By the time it rolls around I’ve already heard all the dreary old carols a million times again. I see the endless commercials about gleeful kids opening some ridiculously expensive toy and think about the kids who would react the same way to just one good meal.

      I can’t get them out of my head. I know there are children without warm clothes or blankets. I know there are kids who look longingly at the same commercials I hate and wonder why they can’t expect anything at all for Christmas. I’ve felt this way all my adult life. Later events would only make it worse.

      To fight this in a very little way, I’m always as generous as possible at the Salvation Army kettles. A dollar given to them goes ten times farther to help people than just about any other organization. Though not a church member, I’ve worked with churches who gather canned goods and used clothing for needy families in the area. I do what I can but it’s never enough and never will be. But if I couldn’t do at least that much, I think I’d go mad at Christmas.

      Both my wife and I have lost close loved ones near Christmas, including Annie. Once the kids were grown and gone we never celebrated Christmas. Now we both quietly dread it, and my wife is not bipolar. I’m always glad to see the 26th of December. People drop all their fronts of false goodwill and their phoney merriment and forced smiles. It’s business as usual then, and I can live in that world. I wouldn’t last long in one where Christmas was year-round.

  9. Kent, as someone much wiser than I once said, you will always have the poor with you. As the retired Army chaplain for whom I worked for 21 years said, “You can’t do everything, but you can do something. And you MUST do that something.” We do what we can, alleviate suffering when we can, mourn with the deprived when we can’t do anything else, but we always need to remember this one major truth in the world: the good outlasts the bad. I have found that the one thing that alleviates depression is work. I don’t know if it’s a physical thing because the blood gets going and your mind is off the dreadful things in the world, but physical labor (which I know you do a lot!) really does help. All sorts of charities have been started because of a terrible plight of someone: youth programs, Alcoholics Anonymous, drug programs, etc. In those cases, someone who was deeply affected by tragedy did something to prevent others from having that same tragedy. In that way, caring for others is actually helping oneself as well as the recipient of one’s labor or money. I know you are helpful far beyond what would be expected, and I believe this is one thing that helps you in your battles with depression.

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