I’ve waited a bit to write this. One reason is because of my own battles with mental illness and my son’s recent diagnosis with Bipolar 2, Robin Williams’ death has impacted me on a deeply personal level. I know I’m not the only one, but each person experiences grief in their own way. For me it’s important to share my story of depression and hospitalization as I think honesty and openness takes away the stigma. People who knew me before the hospitalization realize just how sick I was and those that have met me after are sometimes shocked by the fact that I once tried to kill myself. I don’t hide it. I’m not dwelling, but I am evidence of a life after being sent to the nutbin. I am evidence that things can get better and that life is often the proverbial bumpy road, but if you slow down you won’t knock your head on the ceiling of your car.
When I first heard of Robin Williams death, I knew instinctively that it was suicide. I don’t cry over celebrities, but did as soon as I heard. He was a kind man, local to us, funny, inspirational, and willing to talk about his disease and struggles quite openly. The only thing good that could come from his leaving us was that I thought with someone as loved and cherished as this man, maybe, just maybe, people would start to talk about suicide in a way that didn’t include the words selfish, or coward, or crazy. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Henry Rollins has effectively crossed Robin Williams off of his list of celebrities who deserve to exist in his very narrow view of life. People on social media adamantly state that he has given up, one family going so far as to send his daughter a picture of a dead body photoshopped with Mr. Williams head. I find these people vile. Yes, some of them have had their own experiences with suicide or depression and have an ingrained belief that if you commit suicide you’re a coward. Abandoning children often comes up in these discussions. What they have is a misunderstanding most times informed by ignorance, stigma, and an idea of conformity that is so ingrained into our consciousness that anyone with mental illness is somehow “wrong”. Or scary. Or pretending. Making it up.
Let me tell you, I wasn’t making it up.
When I swallowed pills I had heard the arguments. Don’t leave your children. Don’t be a coward. Don’t be selfish. It didn’t matter. When you are in the depths of depression you often don’t feel. There’s a numbness that you produce in order to protect yourself even just a little bit. Because the other side of that is a protracted battle with feeling too much. Everything hurts, from washing the dishes to hugging a child that you truly believe will be better off without you, to going to bed at night. It is both physically and emotionally so painful to be that deep into the disease that you cannot wait to escape by any means necessary. People can tell you that there is help, but sometimes it’s too late and you swallow the pills or cut your wrists or hang yourself with a belt to stop and endless battle with pain, misunderstanding, and the need to stop.
Tragic secret that I don’t share very often, but I am now. I took the pills right in front of my 14 year old daughter. Why? I have no idea. I just wanted out. I regret it to this day and sometimes I think that has impacted our relationship irreparably. Which is why I speak out.
I did get help. My heroic daughter kept her cool and called 911. After a stint in the mental hospital off and on for 4 months and a realization that I didn’t need anyone else to define me, I was marginally better. I still struggle sometimes, but it’s become more of an agoraphobia thing (I have no idea why) and I rarely consider the world as a place better off without me.
I once spoke to Robin Williams on the phone. He told me everything was going to be okay. I’ve never forgotten that conversation, through laughter and tears and hope. He gave me hope when I was still vulnerable because I thought this wonderful man understood me and we would win the battle together. To be honest, since it was on the phone, I’m not sure if it was really him or not, but if it wasn’t he was a damn good impersonator. But, whomever it was saved me that day, and then the next, and then the next, just as much as the hospital and the doctors did, until I was strong enough to save myself. Sadly, the many posts, and discussions, and tweets about suicide prevention have started to fade away which is what happens. People rally around a cause for a few minutes and then the next one comes along and they move on with an international ADD complex. Pay attention. 40.000 people die every year from suicide. Everyone I know has been impacted. It’s not a weakness, it’s a disease just like cancer, or the current popular cause, ALS. Be aware. And protect your loved ones because you never know when they’ll break.
If someone you love has any suicidal ideation do not judge. Help them. If you are suffering from deep depression, suicidal ideation, or have a plan, please call 1-800-273-8255.