It was a Monday when Robin Williams killed himself three years ago – Monday 11 August 2014. His death was shocking even if in hindsight it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the world’s funniest man might also be the most sorrowful, too – a person despairing to the point of ending it all.
It’s a date I remember well, because I’d spent the previous day trying to do the same thing. I was in the psychiatric ward of the Berlin hospital which I’d been manhandled into by friends the day before, and I was waiting to see the doctor who’d asked me to promise that I wouldn’t kill myself.
In her consultation room I’d thought about it for a while; I’d already told her all I could about what led me to try to die. I’d described the methods looping ceaselessly through my mind as I was slumped on the pavement near Berlin’s TV Tower: the gun, the noose, the blade, the pills, the bottle. The gun, the noose… the mantra that would not stop. Since the only thing to hand was the nearby spätkauf (off-licence), I’d resolved to drink my way to unreality.
I’d told the doctor my history of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, drink, drugs, meds, love and fear, my crises of faith and existential dread, and all the other things that seem to go with being human in the 21st century. I had few words left in me, but mumbling through endless tears with my hands in my lap, I’d mouthed the words to her: “I promise.”
I hadn’t gone through with the act, but God knows I’d wanted to – wanted to end it all and wanted it all to end. I was outpatiented for a while, and friends and loved ones looked after for me. Three years later, they still do.
How had things got so bad? In 2009, fed up with London, I bought a one-way ticket to Tegel with vague plans to hang out for a couple of months and run the Berlin marathon. Two months turned into six, then a year and eventually half a decade in that beautifully confused city. In the teeth of this current crisis, I’d been struggling to hold things and myself together at the magazine where I was working. I’d begun, falteringly, to deal with the dependencies that had got a grip on me (I’d long been a heavy, problematic drinker, and Berlin is an easy city in which to hedonise, although by the standards of Berghain regulars, I was a total lightweight).
Meanwhile, depression and anxiety,…