Days 10, 11 & 12—Living as an expatriate in Italy—depression, loss, loneliness

By now everyone on earth knows of the untimely death of comedian extraordinaire, Robin Williams. I, myself, was a big fan of his. The man had a comedic genius that was in a category all its own. He was an accomplished actor, a philanthropist and an intellectual. The outpouring of grief over his suicide continues which shows how universally loved he was.

I was aware of his struggle with chemical dependency but somewhere along the line I missed the information about his depression. While it might seem unlikely that a man who had it all—beautiful and loving family, respect, talent, wealth, fame and a social conscience—would commit suicide, those of us who struggle with depression understand.

I’ve discussed this issue before and I’ve even alluded to it in my book. I am bipolar. I was diagnosed in 2007; I had known for years that I struggled with depression but I didn’t know how to get help. All I ever did was talk to my physician and he would prescribe some stupid drug like Prozac or Zoloft. Now, for some people those drugs might work. For me they didn’t so my depression continued and spiraled out of control until 2007 when I was finally able to find someone who could help me.

Now, you might be asking what all this has to do with a blog dedicated to living as an expatriate in Italy. Good question. The fact is, I will be somewhat alone in Italy. Granted, I will have my family there, half an hour away. But, day to day activities and the evenings will be lonely. I won’t have television (despite my hatred for it) to turn to. Fortunately, there is the internet and I can stream my favorite shows like Frasier on YouTube. It will provide familiarity.

Nevertheless, I’m entering an environment where I will be a stranger, an alien. I’m not fluent in the language. I will be reduced to my own devices to figure out labels in the store, directions and timetables for the bus and train. And if I want to just chat, I won’t be able to pick up the phone and shoot the shit with anyone because “anyone” will be six thousand miles away. I won’t be able to call someone and spontaneously grab a beer or a burger.

Will my depression be exacerbated? Possibly. I’ve got a year’s supply of medication. But, as I was told, bipolar disorder can increase as one gets older. Will this impact my depression? Will I sink with no one around to help me?

I have to admit that the death of Robin Williams impacted me. In the past the death of a celebrity hasn’t had any measured influence on me. I’ve always seen celebrities as untouchable icons breathing the rarified air of the uber-famous. The last celebrity death that really bothered me was Lucille Ball’s twenty-five years ago.

Hearing of Williams’ death and learning that it was by suicide impacted me. One, because I loved him and his talent. Two, because it caused me to consider the result if I were to do the same. Williams’ suicide has had a worldwide impact. In a time when Americans’ attention span lasts twenty seconds and any news item is immediately usurped by another news item, the news of Robin Williams’ death has lasted four days. A lifetime in the viral world.

Now, if I were to follow in Williams’ footsteps, it would not have the impact of a Robin Williams. But it would have an impact. It has been stated that suicide is the ultimate in selfish acts. I’ve been reading articles where people have taken issue with that. I’ve been reading so much about depression and suicide and it’s all been very eye-opening and educational.

The death of Robin Williams will, if anything, cause conversations to occur and that’s a good thing. It will shine the light on suicide and depression and the relationship between the two. In my case, it causes me to re-consider the thoughts that I’ve had. Will that reconsideration be ongoing? Who knows? Will it influence me if I get those unconscionable feelings again? I don’t know.

I do know that, although I will be living in Italy near my family and enjoying the glories of that nation, I will be faced with loneliness and the opportunities that arise from loneliness for depression to kick in. People don’t realize that depression is always under the surface lurking, lurking.

One can be having the time of his life with everything going well. But depression is always there waiting for the right time to rear its ugly head and wreak havoc on a person’s psyche and life. I will have ample opportunity to linger over past hurts and fears or to obsess over nothing as the cancer that is depression takes over and pulls me into an abyss where there is seemingly no hope. Will I go tghere?

A recent development will also have the capacity to increase the potential for depression. My ex’s mother recently died. She had been on dialysis for six or seven years. While we all knew she would eventually pass, when she did it was still devastating.

I learned the news through a Facebook text by my ex’s niece. I felt a sickness in the pit of my stomach. I pictured in my mind a sweet little lady who was always very proper.

In speaking to my ex, he told me that I was to stay out of his life, that there would be no more contact between us. That devastated me. To know that we could never share a laugh or a conversation was a kick in the gut. Twenty-four years were gone. He’s moved on with someone else. I’m alone, again. And I’m facing the real possibility that life will remain this way. After all, I’m moving to Italy. What are the possibilities of meeting someone at my age in a new country?

So this will weigh on me, too. Depression will emphasize everything beyond a normal level. The loneliness factor is now heightened. I can’t even Skype with him. I can’t text or email him. I’m fighting to put it out of my mind. I figure I have six weeks to get over this before I leave. I am comforted by the reality that I will arrive in Italy with too many things on my mind to accomplish to obsess over this loss.

But in the quietude of my apartment when I’m struggling to make cannoli will the loneliness and sense of failure overwhelm me? Moving is a major stressor in a person’s life. Moving overseas aggravates that stress. Moving after a major break-up places yet another level of stress on the situation.

And this is why I discuss this issue on a blog about living as an expatriate in Italy. If one moves alone, the loneliness can be debilitating. If you have a companion or a family, the loneliness is less crushing. And a person must be aware of this very thing before making a decision as huge as moving overseas. I’ve always had the loneliness issue in the back of my mind but I haven’t discussed it because I guess I felt that by ignoring it I wouldn’t give it credibility or potential influence in my life. Somehow, by hiding, loneliess wouldn’t find me.

But, I have plans for myself. I will seek out an expatriate community of English-speaking people. I will seek a church. I will immediately look for work. Any work I find will help to occupy my time. I will be familiarizing myself with the community and looking for a Vespa. There will be a lot to do.

But when the day is over and there’s nothing I can do to strike items off my list, that’s when the lurking, lurking can become reality, reality.

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5 thoughts on “Days 10, 11 & 12—Living as an expatriate in Italy—depression, loss, loneliness

  1. There are several family members within your adopted family who are bipolar also. Your insight on the subject of depression is admirable. As someone who struggles from anxiety/agoraphobia daily I can certainly relate to depression struggles. I hope you will not suffer such loneliness in Italy. Enjoy reading your thoughts greatly.

  2. Bob, this post makes me sad but also I see how you are aware of the things that could affect you and are open to discussing these things! I hope and pray that if you ever need anything you reach out to all of us who love you!

  3. Bob–I have been mulling the death of Robin Williams too. It always seemed to me that he must be bipolar, or manic depressive; where else would all of that [100-mile-per hour] free association have come from? I’ve also always been very moved by his more serious films, and “What Dreams May Come” intrigued me on an almost cellular level. I’m going to watch that again soon. “Dead Poets Society”–and especially the scene in which he reminds his young students to “carpe diem”–is one of the best scenes in film, in my opinion.

    Now moving on to the topic of depression.

    People are so sympathetic about Robin Williams, but honestly, when a friend or family member struggles, it’s more of a “quick—get me out of here!”

    Most people don’t understand depression. I would say that most people have struggled a bit with break-ups, or situational depression. A break up occurs; a grandparent dies; a job doesn’t work out.

    My losses in life have been extreme, and I suffered situational depression early, when my brother died in his red chevelle malibu supersport. For a decade, I packed sadness around, but I was so busy over-achieving in college and university that I could kind of compartmentalize and tuck it away in a corner. I think now of the decade of my twenties, and realize that I would NEVER wish that prolonged grieving on anyone.

    In my thirties and early forties, a cheating husband–who I absolutely had trusted and followed halfway around the world–along with two lost pregnancies (three, if you count the one I refuse to talk about) drove me to the brink of a more serious bout with the big D, but getting back to the USA and meeting a man who values family, love, and faithfulness–and getting back into university, a safe place for me–salvaged me and gave me hope.

    But then it happened. The real deal. You know what I’m talking about–the severe, clinical depression that occurs when your adrenals and emotions take a huge thrashing. Losing both of my parents….being with them when they took their last breaths….running an in-house hospice program for my dad….dealing with his insane girlfriend, who was furious that I was “intruding” and had the audacity to imply that he was ill, so extreme was her denial. The sadness of elderly parents dying was not the kicker. It was the adrenal fatigue, the constant up at 5 am, bed at 11 pm, and no hope for rest. It damn near took me down.

    So, I guess I will say this….I get it. I never really understood depression until I had to sit opposite a doctor and admit that I did not think I could function without some help. And help I got.

    I hope that you–my friend Bob Mulkey–know that you are handsome, kind, intelligent, and very worthy of a new relationship. That your ex will not speak to you is heartbreaking; I know how close you were. But the very idea of you in Italy, with other dark-haired, dark-eyed people who understand your passion, your laughter, your zest for living gives me hope, and that is what I wish for you….hope!

    Thanks for letting me fill some lines.

    Your dear friend always,

    Debra Harman

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