August 13, 2014

Jim, Peter and I learned yesterday, as we were driving back from nine days in Yosemite, that Robin Williams killed himself a few days ago.  It’s a painful story–but not uncommon–about a gifted, beloved guy tormented by depression and despair who just couldn’t get right with his world.

I appreciated, as I often do, the way Mark Morford, a columnist for the SF Chronicle, wrote about it–the difficulties we have in trying to wrap our hearts and minds around suicide; he said:

“…Because most of what I’ve seen so far in the wake of Williams’ death is lots of powerful, informative outpourings about the illness of depression itself, its anguish and its savage mystery. Personal stories, anecdotes, shocking glimpses into the pain.

It’s all in turns hugely illuminating, frightening and sad, even as it remains impossible to locate exactly. Hell, even the late, hyper-articulate David Foster Wallace, prior to his own depression-induced suicide, couldn’t explain his illness’ source or its significance, only the staggering agony it induced…”

It’s fascinating and crazy and unbearably sad to see how relentlessly mental illness grips people and how, for some, there just seems to be no escape.

For this post, I just wanted to remember Katy, who killed herself 10 years ago in the most violent of ways.

Katy was my next door neighbor and one of my best friends for most of our growing up. We stayed friends through college, our various career and life paths, her marriages, my wedding, our kids. She was incredibly well-liked and high achieving. Everybody would have said she was a bright and charming person living a bright and charmed life.

I knew, though, that she was dissatisfied–she called from time to time to ask for advice or ideas or support, and I never understood that because she was always the star and the leader. But as the years went on, she was quick to say that I had it all together and she was flailing, which I could hardly process because it always seemed so wildly off the mark.  I knew she was unhappy, because she said so, but I didn’t understand why. She seemed always to be searching for something better for herself and her kids but I could never, never have fathomed she was that anguished. Her despair didn’t make sense to me at all, because she was so beautiful and smart, but mostly because she had always been so optimistic and hopeful and eager, curious and energetic. She was quick to laugh, but also very thoughtful and intentional in her approach to life.

I actually never knew, until I read her mom’s Facebook post yesterday, that Katy had a diagnosable mental illness. Never, ever knew that. But it helps to explain the disconnect between who I knew her to be and what was going on inside her head.

In the aftermath of Robin Williams’ death, this is what her mom posted, including a photo that must have been taken at some kind of performance in high school:

As we contemplate the tragic death of Robin Williams by suicide with our sadness and for some, our anger, we must realize that mental illness, along with the effects of the drugs given to the mentally ill in therapy, are usually the triggers to the final decision to act. Those who have experienced a suicide by family members or friends know this to be the case. Not all of my FB friends know that ten years ago, my beautiful and talented daughter, Katy, who like Williams seemed to have everything to live for, took her life. She had been diagnosed as bipolar, or manic depressive, and was given a number of different drugs, which she hated.

I wrote this poem at the time and read it at her memorial service celebrating her life.


Somewhere beyond the sands of time.
beyond the words of rhythm and rhyme,
beyond the barriers of limited space,
in some magnificent, glorious place,
She’s free!

Her spirit soars among the stars
and dives beneath the sea!
It blooms in pink and purple flowers
and climbs the highest tree.
She’s free!

Love came and said, in some strange way,
“This is the minute, the hour, the day.
It’s best you leave this earthly plane.
There’s little here for you to gain.”
She froze!

And, in that moment of following her heart
and losing her mind,
of believing her doubts
and acting as blind,
She chose!

Now, she asks of you and me
to hold her close, yet set her free.
Let love step in and hold her place,
so in our hearts and our embrace–
She knows.

Breeze Bryson


I just realized this moment, as I was posting this, that today would have been her 58th birthday.