I’d give anything to have nothing to write about this week.
There are going to be four million blog posts and articles and tributes in the coming weeks, and months, and maybe even years about Robin Williams, and how funny he was, and inspiring, and wonderful. There will be expressions of shock and horror at the fact that such an apparently happy man, a man who by most definitions had everything, took his own life. People will misunderstand. People will call him a coward. He was anything but. My post is sure to get lost in the shuffle, but I just have to post it anyway.
I wish I could say I was shocked, or that I didn’t understand why he did what he did. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Robin Williams was always a man who had problems. His substance abuse problems were talked about openly and often. His choices in dramatic roles were almost always in films centered around mental illness or suicide. He struggled with it all his life. No, I’m not shocked. In fact, that’s why this has hurt me so dearly.
I have contemplated suicide. I have done it many times in my life, in varying degrees of seriousness. In those moments, more than once, I have thought about films he made. What Dreams May Come. Patch Adams. Dead Poets Society. Hell, even Jack, which I never liked very much. It wasn’t the laughs or smiles he brought to my face that helped me. It was seeing that he Knew. This man I had never met not only understood what I lived through. He not only turned that experience around to try and teach others about it and explore it from all angles. More than that, he was making it work. He took those bursts of energy and turned them to his advantage. He took those lows and made them work for him. Everything he did was in open defiance of his mental illness. He seemed so powerful to me. He was a man I could look up to in every way imaginable.
I do not know how I am going to reconcile this fact in my head. How can it be that the man I so often turned to for inspiration and motivation to keep on going has succumbed to the very illness he helped me fight?
This question brings me to the point of my post.
The fact that he took his own life, as far as we know, is an incredibly difficult thing to understand, but it can teach us one more valuable lesson: No one is untouchable. Depression, bipolar, anxiety disorders, all other forms of mental illness, can hit anyone. He was a man with all the support and love in the world. I can think of not one other person so universally loved. Not worshipped from afar. Not adored, or idolized. LOVED. Truly and deeply, like he was a member of the family. Despite all of this, despite his honesty about his problems, despite his supportive friends and family, despite his BILLIONS of loving fans… he felt he had to leave this world. That needs to be understood and accepted, as hard as it may be. Depression is that powerful. It strips you of everything.
If you deal with depression or other mental illness, feel free to skip the next paragraph. If you haven’t please, please read it. It’s going to get rough, but you need to understand.
Those of you who have never suffered from depression, I want you to think for a moment. We all put up a wall to separate the real person we feel we are from those around us. Now imagine that that wall is stripped away. Next, imagine that you have all sense of self-worth torn from you as well, leaving you with nothing but your insecurities. Imagine the world feeling cold, and dark. Imagine being alone in a small, lightless room, with nothing there but the very worst parts of yourself, the very worst things. This is as close as I can come to describing what depression feels like. All joy, all purpose, all sense of meaning and love and support that you have ever known is gone, and there is nothing that can truly make you certain that it will ever return. Now understand that in our society, we have spent our entire lives having it drilled into us that only weaklings feel this. That it’s sick and wrong to feel like you need a way out. That asking for help is laughable, and awful, and people will think less of you if you do it. It’s Hell on Earth. Plain and simple.
Depression is an illness like any other. It’s treatable, like most mental illnesses. It can be lived with, and dealt with. You can live a long, happy life. It’s always there, though. You need to be armed against it, in order to help yourself or any loved ones you know who suffer from it. The most important thing you can do, for a loved one, or for yourself, is to find a way of remembering that it IS only temporary. Depressions end. Staying alive is the most important thing.
It is not weakness to contemplate suicide, any more than it is weakness to be mentally ill to begin with. It’s natural to want a way out. However, it does show incredible strength to ask for help. Of all people on this planet, I know how hard it can be to do so. It took me years to open up enough to admit that I needed help to myself, longer to admit it to friends, and longer still to admit it to my family and doctor. You need to do it, though. You CAN do it. You can be strong.
Those with mentally ill or depressed loved ones, or even just loved ones who always seem to be putting up a front? Just make sure you’re there with them through the tough times. Make sure you’re there to help them see that there is an end to their pain that isn’t an end to their joy as well. They may be hostile. They may be difficult to understand. You may find yourself unable to communicate with them the way they want. You must understand, there are no easy fixes, and patience and understanding and empathy are paramount.
Above all else, if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please, please tell someone. If you want to keep it anonymous, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s free, it’s anonymous, and it can save your life.
Robin Williams was a wonderful, wonderful man. He brought me joy, and tears, and moved me in ways that so few have. Without even knowing it, this man has been a part of my support system for years, and losing him has left a hole in me that may never heal. I just want to conclude this by saying thank you, Robin. Thank you for all of it.
I know it’s already a cliche, and millions have said it, but what else is left to say? These words, though written by a great poet about another great man, nevertheless sum up my feelings perfectly.
O Captain, my Captain.
I’m afraid we haven’t won the prize, yet. May this tragedy bring us a step closer.
O Captain, my Captain.