celebrities, mental health, modern problems, psychology

Repost: Depression is not the “common cold” of mental illness…

I wrote the post below on June 9, 2018, when we were blissfully ignorant of the oncoming pandemic and all of the other shit that has happened in the past few years. I’m going to leave this post mostly as/is. I still feel this way in 2022, and I think that now, more than ever, we should be very careful about blowing off people who seem depressed.

This week, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two much beloved, highly successful, incredibly talented people, suddenly decided to end their lives.  The news of both suicides came as a total shock to me.  I was especially blown away when I heard about Bourdain.

There’s a trite saying that depression is the “common cold” of mental illness.  I usually cringe when I hear that, though, because most people don’t die of the common cold, which can cause temporary misery, but usually goes away without any lingering effects.  Depression can be serious enough to cause death.  When depression is a factor, I don’t think of suicide as someone selfishly taking their own lives.  I think of it as a terminal event, much like people who have cancer or diabetes have terminal events that kill them.  What’s more, depression can go on for many years unabated.  It doesn’t necessarily clear up in a week or two like a cold does.

At this point, I don’t know why Anthony Bourdain committed suicide.  Kate Spade’s husband has publicly come out to say that his wife had struggled with depression for many years.  Maybe Anthony Bourdain was also depressed.  I hesitate to assume I know why Bourdain decided to end his life.  The truth is, at this point, I really don’t know.  Most likely, he also suffered from the so-called “common cold” of mental illness.  Except depression is not really like the common cold at all.  

When Robin Williams committed suicide in 2014, many people were angry and outraged.  Initially, it was said that he’d had terrible depression, and he most assuredly did.  Many people felt he was simply weak and gutless for taking his life.  Then, some weeks later, it came out that Williams had been diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia.  A lot of people don’t know anything about Lewy Body Dementia.  It’s not one of those diseases that gets a prominent face in the media.

My father had Lewy Body Dementia with Parkinsonian features.  I watched it take him from being an independent man with a sharp mind and a strong body, to a frail shadow of himself.  My dad was in his 70s when he was diagnosed with it.  It was devastating for him and for my mom, who spent at least six years taking care of him.  In the weeks before his death in July 2014, he was getting so debilitated that my mom was considering putting him in a nursing home.  It was becoming too hard for her to take care of him, even with the home health aides she had helping her.

Robin Williams was 63 when he died and, according to his wife, his case of LBD was very severe.  Although Williams died by his own hand, it was really the LBD, co-morbid with depression, that killed him.  Perhaps Bourdain was also facing a health situation that led him to kill himself.  Or maybe not.  Maybe he was just very depressed and simply decided that living was too painful.  I don’t know.  I actually couldn’t blame him in any event.  I have no idea what he was dealing with in his personal life and could never fully understand it even if I did.

I read that Bourdain died in Kaysersberg, France.  Bill and I were in Alsace two weeks ago and had made tentative plans to visit that town while we were there.  We didn’t end up going, but resolved to visit on a later trip to France. (2022- We did finally visit Kaysersberg two years ago, months before COVID took over the world).  It’s strange to think that this man, whose innovative food and travel journalism I only recently discovered, was just a mere two hours away from me when he died.  The area where Bourdain exited this existence is absolutely beautiful.  Given that he had very French roots, it almost seems fitting that he chose to die in France, even if I’m sorry it happened the way it did.

I only recently– like within the past three weeks– started watching Bourdain’s show, Parts Unknown.  I started watching it because Bourdain had visited Armenia and I was curious about what he thought of it.  I was so impressed by the show he did on a country where I spent two years of my life.  My years in Armenia were pretty difficult.  In fact, my own issues with depression worsened significantly when I was there.  However, twenty-one years beyond my time in Armenia has left me with mostly good memories.  I don’t think as much about the profound feelings of worthlessness I experienced there… and so many years hence, I realize that my time there was not at all wasted.  It only seemed that way at the time, partly due to my life inexperience and partly due to the distorted thinking that comes from being depressed.

One thing I’ve noticed all week is that some people are sharing their own stories about depression.  Other people are imploring their friends and loved ones to “reach out” if they feel suicidal.  Many people are also sharing the suicide hotline.  I’m going to be frank and say that the repeated posts about the suicide hotline kind of get on my nerves.  It’s not because I don’t think people should know about and use the hotline.  It’s more because simply sharing that phone number is about as effective as offering “thoughts and prayers”.  Besides, not everyone who is depressed actually realizes they are depressed.  I didn’t know I was depressed until it had been going on for years.

Clinical depression causes a host of symptoms that make “reaching out” extremely difficult.  Depression robs people of their self-esteem and energy.  You might encourage your withdrawn friends to “reach out” and remind them that you’re always there to listen.  But in the mind of a depressed person, you’re not really talking to them.  Even if you were specifically talking to them, reaching out takes energy and courage.  And sometimes people say they want their friends to reach out, but then they aren’t actually available or interested.

Sometimes, instead of really listening and empathizing, well-meaning people try to cheer up their depressed friend by telling them about all the “good” things they have.  Personally, I think telling someone who is depressed and anxious to “buck up” and “get over it” is pretty much the worst thing you can do.  It’s very likely to backfire.  Someone who musters the courage to reach out, especially to someone who has encouraged them to do so, does NOT need to hear about all the apparently awesome things they have to live for.

Please don’t tell your depressed friend that they are being selfish, overly dramatic, or self-centered, either.  Shaming doesn’t help.  It only makes things worse.

What many depressed people really need is someone who listens to what they have to say and assists them in finding their way to a person who is qualified to help them.  Listen to your friend without interrupting.  When they tell you what’s on their mind, say something that validates their feelings and indicates that you understand that they need help.  You could say something like, “It sounds like you’re very overwhelmed right now.”  If you can’t help them yourself, you could say,  “Let’s find someone who can help you with these problems.”  That’s certainly better than, “I can’t believe you’re depressed.  Look at all this cool shit you have!  I’d kill to live in your house with your hot wife (or husband, as the case might be).”

On the surface, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had everything to live for.  They were both very successful in their careers.  Both were parents of young daughters.  Both had achieved financial success and had friends who adored them.  They were adored by strangers, too.  Still, somehow they both still made the decision to commit suicide.  They aren’t alone.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is on the rise in the United States.  Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain no doubt had access to medical help that too many people in the United States don’t have, yet they still died by suicide.  Common colds don’t usually end that way, at least not in people who are basically healthy.    

I may have to watch more of Bourdain’s shows.  I’ll have to read at least one of his books.  He left behind so many gifts. Although he died by his own hand, and some people think that was selfish of him, I think he was a very generous person to share his talents with the world.  While I don’t own any of Kate Spade’s quirky creations, I’ve seen a lot of pictures of handbags my friends own.  They’ve been sharing those pictures all week, letting everyone know that Kate Spade mattered to them.  Sadly, when you have depression, you don’t notice that you matter to others… and when they tell you that you do matter, you don’t necessarily believe what they say.  Depression is a major mind fuck.  It’s really nothing like a cold.  And getting over it takes time, effort, money, and the ability to give a damn.

ETA in 2022: Fellow blogger and frequent commenter Alexis wrote this on the original post…

It’s interesting that you mentioned the “common cold of mental illness” analogy. A psychiatrist lecturer I heard in my second year disputed that analogy, saying that if a physical illness metaphor were needed or in any way beneficial, that depression would more correctly be described as “the ‘lupus’ of mental illness.” As with lupus, some people with depression mostly manage to function with medication. Others are never well but aren’t quite terminal. Others with either lupus or depression will lose their lives to the conditions. Depression is far from being a mostly self-limiting condition.

I had read another person refer to depression as the “diabetes” of mental illness. That also seems more like a realistic comparison of depression to a physical illness than a cold. At least if it’s clinical depression and not a situational depression.

Another commenter– DaBrickMaster– wrote this…

Depression should not be underestimated by any means, and it’s hard for someone who has never experienced it to understand. I went through a depression that slowly crept up on me several years ago, and it felt like I was trapped in an unescapable despair that I just wanted to end. I’m thankful for my parents and doctors who were there to support me to successfully get me out.

I realize now that many people out there aren’t so fortunate, and I just can’t imagine how one can get out of depression on your own. So if someone is stuck in a rut, I won’t hesitate to be there and help out.

Thanks for sharing this post, @knotty, and I’m terribly sorry that you and your family had to suffer from depression and LBD. They are most definitely NOT like a common cold.

And this was my response…

Thanks for the comment and for reading. I’m grateful I got through my depression and I’m happy that you got through yours. I think a lot of people just don’t understand it unless they’ve experienced it. The thing that made me realize that depression is a real illness was the process of feeling better and the rational thinking and mental clarity I finally had. It was like someone turned on a light.

I still have my blue days, but nothing so far like what I experienced twenty years ago. I hope I never feel like that again.

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book reviews

Repost: A review of Dave Itzkoff’s Robin

I posted this review on my original Blogspot version of this blog on August 30, 2018. It appears here exactly as it was posted then.

Sorry about the lengthy intro to this review.  If you just want the review, skip down a few paragraphs.

In August 2014, Bill and I had just returned to Germany so he could start a new job as a government contractor.  That summer was one of the most stressful and horrifying of my life so far.  Weeks before our international move, my father died somewhat suddenly.  And just after our return to Germany, I got the news that my mom had breast cancer (she had surgery and is fine now). 

Robin Williams’ suicide on August 11, 2014 was just one of many traumas during the summer of 2014.  I remember being absolutely shocked to hear about this man, who had been such a big part of my young life, had suddenly killed himself.  From his time as Mork, the gentle alien, on Mork & Mindy to his standup routines featured on HBO, to his many wonderful movies, I had so many memories of watching Williams be a genius.  And now he was suddenly gone.  He was 63 years old.

Robin Williams as Mork.

I seem to have a knack for being in Europe when legends die.  I was in Europe when Princess Diana was killed.  I was also here when Michael Jackson died.  I lived in Europe during 2016, which was when a whole host of legends passed away, and last week, we lost Aretha Franklin.  Still, I was pretty blown away when I heard about Williams’ suicide.  At the time of the announcement, many people thought he had simply been an addict suffering from depression.  Quite a few people were angry about the suicide; some even went as far as to call Williams a coward.  They didn’t know the truth.  Robin Williams suffered from Lewy Body Dementia, the same neurological disease my father suffered from during his final years.  Having seen it firsthand, I really can’t blame Williams for what he did.  It’s a horrible way to live, and ultimately die.

When I saw that Dave Itzkoff had written an exhaustive biography about Robin Williams, I decided I wanted to read it.  I downloaded Robin in May of 2018 and just finished it last night.  It’s taken me a few weeks to get through Itzkoff’s book, mainly because it’s quite long and detailed.  Also, I don’t have the attention span I used to have.  Back when I read real books, I’d whiz through them in a matter of days.  Now, I read most things on my iPad and get distracted by social media, games, or email.  Add in the fact that I usually read in bed and you might guess that sleep often also interrupts my reading sessions.

I see that I bought Robin just five days after it was released.  It was also just weeks before celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain killed himself.  When Bourdain died, many people compared his situation to Williams’ situation.  Although they may seem similar on the surface, I truly believe Robin Williams’ decision to commit suicide was caused by a very real neurological illness.  I have seen Lewy Body Dementia in person.  It really brings the “crazy”.  Not only do sufferers lose their physical faculties, they also have hallucinations, experience paranoia, and lose the ability to articulate their memories, even though they still have access to them.  It really is a special kind of hell. 

I don’t know if Williams killed himself because of acute symptoms of the disease or because he got a glimpse of what was coming.  What I do know is that I can hardly blame him.  In fact, his death was probably a blessing, not just for him, but also for those who love him.  I can speak firsthand about how hard it is to see someone you love turn into a stranger who has lost all ability to take care of themselves.

Anyway… about the book

Robin is an extremely detailed accounting of Robin Williams’ life.  Itzkoff knew Williams, having interviewed him for the New York Times.  I get the sense that they were friendly, if not outright friends.  At the end of the book, Itzkoff reveals that he and Williams shared a love of comics and Williams had even invited him to go shopping for collectibles.  The author notes that many celebrities, hoping that the reporter will be kind to them, will try to ingratiate themselves.  In Williams’ case, the offer to go shopping was genuine and based on a real desire to get to know the man who shared his love for comics.

In Robin, Itzkoff starts at the very beginning, detailing Williams upper class but lonely lifestyle.  His parents each had sons from other relationships– two half brothers, with whom Robin was close.  However, Williams himself grew up by himself, playing in attics in empty mansions and attending private schools.  It was during those years that Williams found his voice as a comedian, which he later parlayed into standup routines at open mics in the San Francisco area.

Williams’ big break came in the form of Mork & Mindy, an adorable sitcom that aired in the late 70s and early 80s.  I was a young child in those days and I loved that show, which also starred Pam Dawber.  Williams played Mork from Ork, a kind-hearted, gentle alien who had come to Earth to learn about the ways of mortals.  Every week, at the end of each episode, Mork would communicate with Orson, his boss on Ork.  He’d deliver that week’s theme mallet/moral, often with witty aplomb. 

During and after Mork & Mindy, Williams started making films.  The first one I remember seeing him in was Popeye, which was released in 1980.  I actually remember seeing that one, probably in the theater.  Itzkoff writes that Popeye was one of a number of films Williams did that wasn’t all that popular.  But when Williams hit the right project, there was magic.  I want to say it started with 1989’s Dead Poet’s Society, which was a huge hit.  He went on to make a string of other good movies, as well as a few that flopped.  Itzkoff offers some good analysis about the vehicles that worked, as well as the ones that were less successful.

Williams had three wives.  His first wife, Valerie Velardi, bore their son, Zak.  While Williams was married to Valerie, he hired Marsha Garces as a personal assistant.  They ended up falling in love and Williams divorced Velardi and married Garces in 1989.  Garces had a knack for helping Williams pick out projects.  She kept him stimulated and organized his life.  She also had his daughter, Zelda, and son, Cody.  Twenty years after he married Garces, the marriage fell apart.  Williams’ last wife was Susan Schneider, an artist and fellow alcoholic who had sort of a healing effect on Williams.  He married her in October 2011. 

As lovable as Robin Williams was to so many of his fans, he did suffer from many demons.  Williams struggled with drug addiction, alcoholism, depression, and anxiety.  When he was sober, Williams was unstoppable.  When he was under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or mental illness, he crashed into misery.  Williams would use his experiences in his comedy routines and characters, making him likable and relatable to many more ordinary people who had struggled with the same things.  I appreciated that Itzkoff took the time to explain Williams’ demons and why they helped make him a better performer, even if they also tortured him.

Another important message from Mork…  I have to admit, Mork was probably my favorite incarnation of Robin Williams.

Robin Williams was also a good friend.  Itzkoff includes a very informative section on Williams’ relationship with the late Christopher Reeve, who was his roommate at Juilliard.  The two made a pact that they would always be there for each other.  When Reeves had his horseback riding accident in May 1995, Robin and his second wife, Marsha, where there for him immediately.  Robin even dressed up like a Russian doctor and made Reeves laugh at a time when laughter seemed impossible. Williams was also friends with Billy Crystal, who would call him on the phone impersonating people like Ronald Reagan.  He was friends with Bobcat Goldthwait, too, and appeared in a couple of Goldthwait’s movies.  Williams would go to open mics, even when he was very famous, and hang out with young comedians just getting their start.  He’d be one of the guys.

Robin is basically well written and loaded with details and information, as well as pictures and an extensive reading list.  I really think Itzkoff did a good job capturing who Robin Williams was, reminding me that Williams was a warm, funny, real person who was incredibly unique and irreplaceable.  But he also reminded me that Williams was fallible and did have his disappointments and failures.  As amazing as Williams’ talent was, he was still a man. 

Some readers have pointed out that this book has some factual errors.  I’m sure an obsessive Williams fan would be able to point these out better than I can.  I liked Robin Williams, but I wasn’t someone who studied his life on that level. 

A criticism I could personally make is that this book is very long– to the point of being exhaustive.  It took me considerable time and effort to finish this book, and I’m usually a pretty speedy reader.  If you prefer brevity, Robin may not be the best book for you.  I see on Amazon.com, many people had the same complaint I have.  This book could have used a talented editor to help pare it down just a bit.  440 pages is a long haul, even if a book is enormously fascinating.  On the other hand, as a writer myself, I can understand how easy it is to get bogged down in minutiae.

Overall, I liked Robin.  I learned new things reading this book and got an appreciation for who Robin Williams was.  If I were going to assign a rating, I’d probably give it 3.5 stars out of five.  If it had been maybe 100 pages less, I’d bump it to four stars.

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bad TV, celebrities, nostalgia

Repost: The evolution of Lifetime TV and the regression of Kirk Cameron…

This post was originally written on December 5, 2017. I am reposting a slightly edited version of it because it’s about a fun subject that has nothing to do with current events.

Back in the 1980s, when cable television was still fairly new, we had some very interesting programs to watch.  The mid 80s saw the birth of the now female friendly network called Lifetime.  Many people recognize Lifetime as a channel for women with lots of women centric television shows and movies about bad men.  But if you were around in the mid 80s, you might remember that Lifetime used to be a health channel. 

February 1, 1984 marked the first day of Lifetime TV.  Prior to that, it was known first as Daytime, which was a channel dedicated to “alternative” women’s programming.  Then, for about nine months, it was called Cable Health Network.  Then, in November 1983, it was Lifetime Medical Television.  I remember the programming aired on that network was mostly medical stuff… I mean, stuff doctors would be watching.  I remember the channel’s logo featured an apple…  an apple a day keeps the viewers away, I guess.

Some of the clips in this video came from Lifetime Medical Television.

Something had to be done…  the new network was losing a lot of money.  Some people even thought it was a religious channel.  That’s when Lifetime started its incarnation of what it is today.  It was around 1985 that it started featuring Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the tiny German sex therapist who hosted a call in sex advice show on Lifetime.  Her show was called Good Sex!  With Dr. Ruth Westheimer.  In the 80s, it was cutting edge stuff… scandalous, even.  The tiny woman soon became a huge star.

I don’t know why, but for some reason, I thought of Dr. Ruth last night.  It was right before I read a nauseating story about Kirk Cameron, also an 80s icon who underwent a massive makeover (and in his case, not for the better).  Kirk made a statement about how wives are to honor their husbands…

“Wives are to honor and respect and follow their husband’s lead, not to tell their husband how he ought to be a better husband. When each person gets their part right, regardless of how their spouse is treating them, there is hope for real change in their marriage.”

I made the mistake of sharing the story and immediately got a comment from someone wanting me to know about the Bible verse from which this directive comes.  For the record, yes I know that the Bible says women should follow their husbands the way their husbands follow the church.  However, I think many “Christian” men misunderstand or misuse this passage and end up abusing their wives.

I’m not so sure Cameron or others like him do a good job of explaining it.  Moreover, my initial comment was more about how Kirk Cameron changed from a goofy, boyish, funny, likable guy to a religious zealot.  He probably could use some advice from Dr. Ruth.

Dr. Ruth’s show was saucy!  Even in the 80s, she had progressive ideas about homosexuality.

I didn’t watch Dr. Ruth’s show because it aired at 10:00pm and I was about 12 or 13 years old.  Although my parents probably would neither have noticed nor cared that I was watching her program, at that age I found it boring viewing.  Most talk shows that would probably fascinate me today were dull when I was much younger.  I couldn’t be bothered to sit and listen to anyone who wasn’t a musician.  However, she did become very famous when her show was on Lifetime.  I think she and Regis Philbin helped put the then fledgeling cable channel on the map.

Here, Dr. Ruth counsels Richard Lewis, whom I well remember as Rabbi Glass on 7th Heaven.  God, he looks so young!  

For some reason, I used to love to imitate Dr. Ruth’s voice.  It’s so distinctive.    

This poor guy is a 21 year old virgin.  I was a 30 year old virgin, so I can relate to his angst.  He seems kind of sweet, though.  It was brave of him to be on Dr. Ruth’s show.  I hope he has since gotten laid.

Dr. Ruth was born in 1928, which makes her quite elderly.  She still has a channel on YouTube and, if she’s the one who is actually running it, appears to have a pretty good sense of humor.  I notice she favorited one of Robin Williams’ routines about her.

Bwahahahaaha!  This is pretty damn hilarious.

Anyway, I can’t help but miss the good old days sometimes.  Sure, the Internet is great and television has even become somewhat obsolete.  But I do miss some of the stuff that made it on the airwaves back in the day.  Lifetime and other cable channels like Nickelodeon used to be fun to watch.  Then they kind of evolved into crap… but then, that’s kind of the way of the world.  Radio used to be cool, too.  

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musings

Depression is an equal opportunity offender…

As I was waking up this morning, I read a sad news story about the late Saoirse Kennedy Hill, who died on August 1, 2019 of a drug and alcohol overdose. She was only 22 years old and studied communication at prestigious Boston College, in Boston, Massachusetts. Saoirse (pronounced Ser-sha) Kennedy Hill was the daughter of Courtney Kennedy Hill and the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968.

Somehow, I didn’t read or hear about Ms. Hill’s death when it happened. I guess I was too busy getting ready for our latest trip to Scotland. Today’s news item initially confused me, because at first I thought she had just died yesterday. Then I clicked on a link that took me to an earlier news report about her demise at the Kennedy family’s compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Hill’s grandmother, Ethel Kennedy, still lives at the historic house, which has been in the family for many years. It was originally the home of Joseph P. Kennedy, who was the family’s patriarch.

Saoirse Kennedy Hill was the daughter of Irishman Paul Michael Hill of the Guildford Four. He was falsely accused of being involved in the Irish Republican Army Bombings and spent fifteen years in prison before he was released. In 1993, not long after he left prison, Paul Michael Hill and married Saoirse’s mother. Part of Saoirse’s childhood was spent in Ireland, and she was reportedly very proud of her Irish heritage. Her name means “freedom” in Gaelic. Unfortunately, she was not free of clinical depression, which she had once written about in a school essay. She claimed that depression had dogged her since her middle school years, and she was plagued by “bouts of deep sadness that felt like a heavy boulder on [her] chest.”

I know something about Saoirse’s struggles with depression. I spent most of my youth depressed, isolated, and anxious. Although I have always been one to crack jokes and laugh a lot, the truth is that for a good portion of my life, I’ve felt like shit. It wasn’t until I found the right antidepressant that I realized how heavy the burden was, and that I really didn’t have to go through life feeling like shit all of the time. It was at that point that I knew major depression is a real illness.

I remember when I first sought help for depression. The reactions from the people in my life were interesting. Some were genuinely surprised to know that I had a problem with depression and anxiety, especially since I laugh all the time and crack a lot of jokes. One man even told me, the day after I was diagnosed, that I was one of the happiest people he’d ever met. He was surprised when I told him that just the day before, I’d been prescribed my first bottle of Prozac (fluoxetene), which was one of the many drugs found in Saoirse Kennedy Hill’s system after she died of an overdose at her wealthy family’s homestead.

One of my relatives seemed doubtful that I could have depression… or that depression is a real problem that requires medical intervention. She seemed to be a member of the “get right with God crowd”– those people who think that mental illness is a result of sin or not having enough faith in Jesus. Another relative warned me not to use antidepressants as a “crutch”. She seemed to think antidepressants are “happy pills” that make people high, which they don’t. In fact, Prozac was a huge failure for me. It turned out my “happy pill” was Wellbutrin, and all it ever did was even out my moods, perk me up a bit, and make me feel less hopeless and helpless.

Still others tried to point out all I had going for me and a deep breath and splash of water to the face were all I needed. When I was getting treatment, I was young, reasonably attractive, and I had a college degree and international work experience. I also have musical talent, and back then, I was taking classes to try to develop it more… something I did as a method of feeling better about myself and the world. The music lessons worked, even though my dad decided to horn in on the action by signing up for lessons with the same teacher. That’s a rant for another day. 😉

It’s been a long time since I last felt horribly depressed. I haven’t taken antidepressants in about fifteen years. Sometimes, I think I would like to take them again, but I hate going to doctors, so I don’t bother. Instead, I drink more than I should, which I know isn’t a good solution.

Saoirse Kennedy Hill was also a drinker. In fact, she mixed alcohol with a long list of prescription drugs, including: methadone, a drug used to treat opioid use disorder; diazepam and nordiazepam, which have sedative effects; and fluoxetine and norfluoxetine, which are antidepressants. Based on the list of chemicals in her body, it appears that Kennedy Hill was trying very hard to feel better. It sounds like nothing was working for her anymore.

Once again, against my better judgment, I read the comments on this news. A lot of people judged Saoirse for being rich, beautiful, and privileged. More than one person wondered why this is such sad news when no one cares if a homeless person overdoses and dies on the street. I kind of expect these kinds of comments from the insensitive. A lot of them are rooted in jealousy and ignorance. But the one comment that made me stop and write this piece today was one left by a middle aged man, who wrote “It’s hard to imagine such a beautiful girl suffering from depression, and that’s a big part of the problem.”

On reading this comment again, I realize my first reaction to it was wrong. It initially seemed like he was saying that someone so beautiful (and Saoirse was very pretty) shouldn’t be depressed. But now that I’m fully awake, I see that he’s actually written that people don’t expect young, beautiful, rich women like Saoirse Kennedy Hill to have any problems, and that is a problem in and of itself.

I’m sure plenty of people were envious of Saoirse, who clearly enjoyed a lot of privileges and advantages in her life… although I really couldn’t say what it would be like to be her. Yes, she was a Kennedy, but the Kennedy family has been famously plagued by tragedies. And who knows what went on in her private life? I’ve read enough books by the children of wealthy people to know that coming from a rich family doesn’t guarantee a great childhood. This isn’t to say that Saoirse had a bad childhood so much as it is to say that I don’t know what her childhood was like. I can’t assume it was excellent simply because her family has money.

Reading about Saoirse Kennedy Hill’s death reminds me a bit of Margaux Hemingway’s story. Margaux Hemingway was similarly rich, beautiful, and privileged. She’d worked as a model and an actress, and was the sister of Mariel Hemingway and the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway. To look at her, you’d think she’d have everything in the world to live for. But, like Saoirse Kennedy Hill, Margaux Hemingway died too young of a drug overdose. Her badly decomposed body was found in her Santa Monica studio apartment. She was just 42 years old, having overdosed on phenobarbital. Her death was ruled a suicide, while Saoirse Kennedy Hill’s has been ruled an accident.

Well, anyway… I am no rich stunner like Saoirse Kennedy Hill or Margaux Hemingway were, but having experienced major depression, and having experienced the depression lifting after drug therapy, I know it’s a medical problem. Assuming that beauty and wealth should prevent depression is like saying that only poor and ugly people get cancer. Depression strikes all kinds of people from every walk of life. Some people can take medication and talk to a therapist and get better. A few lucky folks can rely on good nutrition, plenty of sleep, and exercise and feel the fog lift. Some unlucky people can’t get rid of depression no matter what they do, even if it seems like they have everything in the world to live for. Don’t even get me started on Robin Williams, who not only suffered from depression and anxiety, but also had Lewy Body Dementia, which my father also had. I don’t know if Robin Williams died due to his depression or the sheer craziness that comes from LBD, but a whole lot of people who know nothing about either subject want to call him selfish and cowardly for taking his own life.

I know it’s hard to understand, particularly if you’ve never experienced it, but generally speaking, getting rid of major depression isn’t as easy as simply willing yourself to feel better. That’s like trying to will yourself to get over a broken arm. Looking on the bright side is helpful, but most people who are depressed need help to get to the point at which they can see that a bright side is possible. Saoirse obviously had a lot of medical help in the form of prescription drugs, but in the end, they weren’t enough. It’s tragic that such a promising young woman was cut down so early in life. My condolences to her family.

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