"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Loss of Robin Williams and Why We Must Keep Talking About Depression

Yesterday, along with the rest of the world, I got the horrible news that Robin Williams had died. Even worse, he had taken his own life.

I found out via a breaking news email, tiny text in a few sentences on my cell phone. I gasped, and had to read it twice before I could answer my husband’s cries of “What’s wrong?”

I felt sick. Of course I didn’t know Robin Williams personally. I was just a fan. But anytime I read of anyone losing a battle with depression, committing suicide, I feel this way. It can be a stranger I read about in a newspaper article, a random obituary. It makes my heart hurt, because I know that pain.

After I read the email, my husband and I immediately turned to the 24 hour news channel on the television, and watched as the story unfolded. Already, stars and mourners were sharing their shock and memories of Robin Williams. I watched as social media turned into a place for people to grieve openly, and I was pleasantly surprised to see compassion dominate the postings. People were so shocked that someone who had given them such happy and touching moments in their lives was, in reality, suffering so much. They wished they had known--wished they could have helped somehow. It was hard for people to fathom how someone who had brought so much joy to the world could have possibly not felt that same joy returned to him.

Suddenly, total strangers offered their contact information out to the world—if anyone needed someone to talk to, just call, just write. YOU are important. YOU matter. People began to realize that if this could happen to someone like Robin Williams, it could happen to any one of us. They wanted to help. I found myself tearing up at the outpouring of love in honor of this man’s passing.

All I could think about was his last moments. I cannot claim to know his personal suffering, but like anyone who has battled severe depression, like anyone who has attempted suicide and been in that low, horrible place, I felt I knew something few people know. There is just a darkness that is like nothing else, that you can’t escape, that you can’t see a way out of, that envelopes you and hurts like nothing else. You feel worthless in a way that is bottomless. You feel like such a burden to everyone and everything and that you will be relieving the world of you and your problems if you are gone. There is nothing more painful, more confusing, and more horrible than those moments. You want to die and you don’t. You want to the pain to end, you want so badly to be anything other than this dark, horrible thing that you are.

I hated so badly that someone so gifted, so genuine, who had given so much, felt that way, and was alone like that in his last moments. But everyone who dies like that is alone in those moments, and it always hits me the same way when I hear about it. I hate it.

If we learned anything from Robin Williams’ death, we learned that depression can affect anyone. It doesn’t matter how rich, how talented, how popular, or well thought of you are…depression doesn’t discriminate. It can crawl in on shadowy feet into the minds and souls of any one of us. It isn’t a choice or a mood. It is a disease, and it can be fatal.

I was so, so fortunate to have survived my battle with depression, that lasted most of my adult life. I am one of those people who will always have to be careful, always aware that depression will be just below the surface for me, easier to inhabit my psyche. For me, it feels like a rope around my waist, loosely hanging now, as I am healthy and fine, but with the threat of it always being able to pull tight and drag me down. I have to know and understand my triggers, take care of myself, not let myself get too stressed by work (or life), get enough sleep, take medication, and seek help if I feel myself slipping.

What I think was also apparent as I watched social media erupt with love and grief last night, was so many people shared their own battles with depression. It’s almost absurd that we have the stigma that we do, when almost everyone either has suffered from depression or is close to someone who has. It’s as if we are all keeping this big, stupid secret about something that is painfully obvious and happening all the time to all of us right before our eyes. Because it is. Life is so hard. We all struggle. We all need help sometimes. Keeping quiet is what leads people into lonely rooms to take their lives. We have to keep talking.

If Robin Williams had been just another comedian, he wouldn’t have touched people the way he did. Sure, everyone loves to laugh, and someone who makes you laugh is always welcome. But the reason Robin Williams was so beloved is because he surprised us. He was one of the most gifted funny men out there. He could truly make you belly laugh like no one else. But then, almost out of nowhere, he appeared on screen in serious roles and showed all this heart and made us weep. There was such a true genuineness in his dramatic roles, they were as touching as his comedic roles were funny. There are so few people in the world with that much range, that much depth—to be able to pull off both comedic and dramatic roles the way that he did. I believe he felt things so deeply, he gave so much and we, his audience, felt that too.

To me, he always seemed a little tortured, fighting something—in a beautiful way. You could tell he felt everything, deeply. That’s why his performances rang so true. I have just felt so sad by this loss, all the performances we won’t see, what we will miss out on now that he is gone. But most of all, I can’t quit thinking of his last moments, and I am haunted.

My hope in all of this, in all of the compassion, the sadness, and the realization is that out of this huge loss, a conversation will start and continue. This is the best example of the fact that depression can affect ANYONE. Robin Williams has left an amazing legacy of his work onscreen, but my hope is also that another legacy will be that so many lives will be saved because we all kept talking, and more people came out of the shadows, and stayed out of their lonely rooms and more people reached out for help.

I think he would have loved that. Don’t you?

Please, if you are contemplating suicide, know that you are not alone. YOU ARE IMPORTANT. YOU MATTER. No matter how bad things are right now, they can get better. Reach out for help.
Call this hotline—I have called this number before—they save lives and they can save yours:

1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE)



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