In Response to Robin Williams Dying

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“You didn’t know him personally. Why are you sad?”

Those words have been going through my mind all week. I have been suppressing my emotions, because I’m not supposed to grieve over someone I don’t even know. Like countless others, Robin Williams played a part in the backdrop of my life. Dead Poet’s Society was my absolute favorite film when I was younger. It may be one of the reasons that I became a writer. (It is so sad now to think back on that movie and the centrality of a suicide in the plot line.) Good Will Hunting touched me on a very deep level since I have suffered through some of the same things as the main character in the film. I cried and cried right in the theatre when Robin Williams said to Matt Damon’s character “It’s not your fault…” And then there were so many other films of his that made me laugh…

But an actor of some of my favorite movies dying is not enough reason to actually grieve I thought.

Finally, I read some articles about Robin in Time magazine tonight, and I just started weeping as if he were my friend. And I let myself weep. I let myself grieve because, damn it, things are not supposed to end like this.

Have you ever wondered why death feels so wrong, so foreign, even though it surrounds us every day? It feels foreign because it is foreign. It is not what we were originally meant for. Even more so, suicide feels absolutely out of place, wrong.  Never, ever, was life supposed to be so hard that we wouldn’t want to live it any more. It feels foreign because it is foreign. We were meant for life. We were meant for love. We were never meant to die alone.

The question that is so morbidly ironic that I am asking is

How could a man who has arguably made more people laugh than any other person in our generation be so sad, so very very sad, that he couldn’t make it through another day?

The world is asking that question as well. All we can say is that Robin Williams was a man of paradox. He could play a magic genie and make you laugh until your belly ached, or he could play a professor inspiring a class to live life beautifully and make you weep. He was weak and strong, sad and hilarious, childlike and wise.

Maybe part of the problem is that the world only wanted one part of his paradox. The happy, hilarious, endearing Robin. People didn’t know what to do with depressed, quiet, hurting Robin. “You make everyone laugh! How could you be sad?” They might have said. “You have everything in the world! What you could possibly be sad about?” The answer for Robin and me and the thousands of other people who have suffered from clinical depression? I have no idea why I am so sad in this season. I just am deeply, deeply sad, and I don’t know how to fix it.

If Robin was anything like me, he hated the sad part of him. It was the part that drove all the people he loved away. If he was anything like me he believed that when you take away the lights and the creativity and the stage, all you have left is this person that is just as unsure of himself as anyone else is. No one is expecting that person. And so they reject you.

I think what we all need to do for each other and do for ourselves is to accept our paradoxes. To love and accept ourselves and others before we are ever perfect. Because we never will be perfect.

I might say to myself “all right Kate. I am looking at the first side of you, the side that everyone likes. You are creative and musical and loving and wise. I accept and love all of that. But here is the other side, the one you try to hide. This is the side that gets deeply sad at times and has a hard time trusting and is rarely at peace. This is the side that people don’t often like. The side that you think is the reason people reject you. Look at me, weak Kate. You are beautiful too. You are valuable too. I love you. God loves you. You are precious.”

In Esther de Wahl’s book Living with Contradiction: An Intro to Benedictine Spirituality she says “This polarity, this holding together of opposites, this living with contradictions, presents us not with a closed system, but with a series of open doors…We find that we have to make room for divergent forces within us, and that there is not necessarily any resolution of the tension between them. I find it immensely liberating and encouraging to be told that this is the way things are, and that they way things are is good.”

Let me be clear here and say that I don’t think we should live in sin. We should always be trying to move from “glory to glory.” (2 Cor. 3:18.) But while we are striving to be more and more like Christ, we should have compassion on the parts of us that we don’t like. We should also do the same for others.

Last year, for about two months, I went through a horrible depression, worse than anything I had ever experienced before. There were hard circumstances, but nothing that could explain how drastic my emotions were. It was obvious that it was less of a circumstantial thing and more of a brain chemistry thing. I had to keep telling myself over and over again “there is something wrong with your body. It won’t be like this forever.”

I was on staff at a church at the time. They were incredibly supportive through this depression, but I still felt the need to hide. I was afraid people would say “how could she be this sad if she is trusting in God? Does she even deserve her position of leadership?” For the most part, I put on a fake smile and led worship without anyone knowing. I wonder how many times Robin Williams did the same thing?

I can say firsthand that our Christian culture often puts a lot of pressure on people to be happy. Just pray more. Just trust more. They joy of The Lord is your strength. Have more faith and you will be healed.

It is this kind of rhetoric that makes people hide their pain. It is this kind of thinking that over time produces inauthentic communities. It is this kind of pressure that eventually could lead to things as drastic as Robin Williams’ death.

If we are not careful to accept the paradoxes of the people we love, we will produce an entire generation that hides behind our happy facebook status’, like this guy…

To end this post, I’d like you to close your eyes for a while. Think about your own paradoxes. Think about the things in you that you dislike. The reasons you believe people have rejected you. Now let God come in and hold you. Let him tell you that you are accepted and loved and treasured, even in you weakest places.

We don’t want people in our churches despairing like Robin did. So let’s create a culture where we love ourselves and love each other, paradoxes and all.

In Response to the Death of Rick Warren’s Son: My Battle With Depression

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I have thought about writing a post like this for a while. But I kept shying away from it. It seemed so risky.

Risky because I didn’t know how you would respond.

Risky because some of you might believe I don’t trust God.

Risky because people I know and love read my blog and might look at me differently.

Risky because I am a Christian minister of the Gospel. I am not supposed to feel this way.

But after the son of Rick Warren took his life this week, I feel like it is needed.

Henri Nouwen said “what is most personal is most universal.”I love that quote because it gives me courage to say what I have to say, knowing that many of you out there are in the same place. You need to know you are not alone.

So here it is: I have struggled on and off with clinical depression since I was fourteen years old. It is a disease I inherited from my father, who self medicated for many years. I feel so much compassion for my dad, because he never even knew that he needed help. He just thought that he was incredibly sad and that there was nothing he could do about it except self medicate. I am at least blessed enough to recognize that there is something physically wrong with my body, that I don’t have to live like this if I don’t want to, and that I can escape a life of addiction by getting the help I need.

If you knew me, you would be really surprised that I struggle with this. Most people have no idea. As my roommate said to me, it’s not that I hide it, it’s that I fight hard to see that it doesn’t take over my life or ruin my relationships. That’s why people don’t often know.

My first bout with the depression was in middle school. My family was in shambles. My friends at school had all abandoned me. In my mind, I had no reason left to live. I had suicidal thoughts and cried all the time.

Thankfully, about a year later some wonderful believing friends came in and became like family to me, introducing me to Jesus.

I thought that was the end of my depression. I was wrong.

In college, I went through the worst bout of depression I have ever suffered through after a bad break up. I would cry for hours at a time. I would even hit my head on the wall sometimes without wanting to. I didn’t know how to control these emotions. They seemed to overtake me.

Then, I had a life changing experience in Mexico, where God told me that as many times as the ocean waves kept crashing to the shore, that’s how many times he would heal me. I believed him. It changed my life.

That story became my testimony for ten years. I have told that story a hundred times. It always ended it with “I threw away my medication, and I have never been depressed again.”

But I was wrong. That wasn’t the end of my depression.

I felt small bouts of depression throughout those ten years, but I would push them away. These are just attacks of the enemy, I thought. If I just say the right words, (in the name of Jesus! Do not be anxious for anything!) everything will be ok. The leaders in my life supported this kind of thinking. Any time I ever mentioned medication, people looked at me like I was crazy. Of course you don’t need to do that, Kate! Jesus is your everything! Just step into the joy he has already given you! So I tried and tried to do that. It just didn’t always work.

Some time in the middle of those ten years I contracted Lyme disease. I was very sick for seven years, as a lot of you know. The worst symptom was extreme insomnia.  I would go four nights without sleeping day or night, sleep for three hours the next night, then go another four nights. It was like this for six years. It was horrible.

I thought this insomnia was just a symptom of the Lyme disease and that it would go away now that the Lyme disease is cured. But I found out from a psychiatrist recently that the insomnia that was initially from the Lyme disease  actually jacked up the chemicals in my brain until I was suffering from a more permanent disease called cyclothymia. This disease can make me depressed during the day and then revs my brain up so much that I can’t sleep.  Cyclothymia was not a disease that was in conjunction with my inherited depression. It was ON TOP of the other depression, two totally different diseases.

I finally realized that the problems were so bad that I needed to get medication. When I got on the right medication, I started sleeping through night for the first time in years.

Did I stop loving God when I started taking medication? No. Did I stop trusting that God could be my everything and my joy? No. I still love God, just like someone with cancer still loves God when they choose to use radiation.

I have read before that if David were alive today, he would probably have been diagnosed with bipolar. He was an extreme, brilliant man who went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. All symptoms of mental illness. Yet he was a man after God’s own heart. In the midst of David’s bouts of highs and lows he prayed this prayer:  “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5)

David talks to his soul as if it is another person, and I understand that, somehow. My soul feels separate from my true self. My soul is the part of me that gets so sad that I can barely handle it. My soul is the part that feels like I have no hope. But my soul is not all of me. I may never be able to make the sadness go away, but the sadness is not who I  am.

Maybe I can say, like David “Soul, I love you, but you are not the boss. My spirit is the boss. And my spirit says that we are going to get through this. My spirit says that it is not time to give up. My spirit says that we can keep praising God in the midst of our sorrow.”

Are those words a secret formula that will make a physical illness go away? No. They do however depict this truth: even in the midst of emotions that feel out of control and horrible we can still choose hope. We can try to find our spirit in the midst of our soul and ask that spirit to be strong. The sad part of us needs to be loved, but it does not need to be fed. We can visit the same places, but we don’t have to stay there as long.

(If you haven’t read my poem “You Are Stronger Than You Think You Are”  which is actually a response to my battle with depression, you should now, especially if you have similar struggles.)

I want you to look at me, now. I am a worship leader on staff at a church. I have a blog you read. I am an author. I make music and tour. I look totally strong and pretty dang successful. But I have all of this going on inside of me.

How many other people do you think are struggling with hidden depression and other mood disorders in your very own church? My psychiatrist has told me that half the population will have suffered through some kind of depression or other mood disorder in their life. That’s a lot of people hiding a lot of pain. We as the church need to make a safe place so that people feel like they can come forward and heal.

The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book says “When we are crushed by a crisis we could
not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that
either God is everything or else He is nothing. Choose.”

Tragedies make us choose. There is a door of opportunity that has opened before us because of the horrible death Rick Warren’s son.  We as a church can choose  to keep ignoring the problem of mental illness, or we can collectively turn around, our arms open wide, and welcome those that have felt ostracized for years.

Side note: If you didn’t read the last post, my book is here! I think you will love it! You can buy it by clicking the “My Book” tab at the top of this page.