PITTSFIELD -- Obviously, I was saddened by the untimely death of Robin Williams. But some of the comments in the wake of that event were unfortunate.

Let me explain. I have several friends who are battling depression, a situation that is not unusual. Depression is widespread.

Some of these friends have been generous enough to share their experiences with me. For that, I am grateful. It has helped me understand this issue.

So to say, as one Fox news broadcaster said, that suicide is a "coward’s way out" is frankly, ignorant of what depression is and what it does. And a cruel comment to those who deal with this disease as well as their relatives and friends.

Years ago, one of my friends made a parallel that I thought covered the situation fairly well, if not exactly.

Think of it this way, he said: You are standing in front of a stone wall. The wall is very high and very wide. On the other side of the wall is a large wolf. The wolf wants to kill you.

So every day, the wolf tries to get over the wall. Sometimes, the wolf can get his claws atop the wall, and you have to summon the courage to push them off. Or he’ll get over the wall and kill you.

The difference between a real wolf and our imaginary wolf is that the imaginary wolf never tires and never gives up. It may go away for a little while, but it always, always comes back. And if you’re on the other side of the wall, you know this.


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In one of the many clips shown after he died, in answer to a response as to what triggers his bouts of depression, Williams said, "Its just there, man. It’s always there."

So, to take this wolf analogy a step further, you also have to go about your daily life, knowing that you have to, have to, have to keep an eye on that wall. Or the wolf will eventually get over it, and you will die.

So when you get up, you check the wall. When you go to work, you check the wall. When you eat dinner, and retire for the day, the wall sits on your psyche. And the wolf is there, too. It is a pressure I could not imagine bearing, even with medication.

One of my best friends has been battling depression for almost 40 years. And she is simply a dear person, who is adored by many. She let me ask her questions about her disease one day years ago.

And I said to her, you know how many people think you are a special, sweet person. And you know how devastated we would all be if you decided to end your existence. Does that ever come into your head?

And she said, yes it does. But there are times when I still think, sometimes, that the world would be a better place without me.

It was a stunning remark, and I can remember feeling terribly concerned. But my friend understands, at least in the abstract, what is happening to her. And she knows she needs to get help.

So for about 40 years, she has sought and received help. And you really can’t ask your friends for help. It’s medication and therapy. You can ask your friends for support, and understanding and love. And if you know someone struggling with this disease, you have a sacred obligation to provide those things.

Robin Williams held on for 63 years. And one friend of mine is still holding off the wolf after 40 years, another friend for 34, and another friend for 30. It is still a battle for them.

Those, my friends, are not the actions of a coward. Those are acts of tremendous courage, in the face of something so debilitating that it makes people who have everything going for them still want to stop.

The world is not always a nice place.

To reach Derek Gentile:
dgentile@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile