With the news of Robins Williams' suicide, why are so many of us taking it personally?
I always said that Julie Andrews would be the only celebrity whose death would make me cry.
Now I know that it is not so much that a celebrity dies, it's how.
Robin Williams was found dead of apparent suicide Monday, August 11, 2014, following multiple reports over the past few months of another battle with depression and addiction. Just last month he checked himself into a rehab facility in Minnesota for some maintenance work on his successful 20+ years of sobriety. (He sought treatment again in 2006, after quitting drugs and alcohol in 1982.) Having dealt with depression for more than half of my life, I understand the importance of getting help before things become too hard to manage. I respect his decision to get help, and have always been thankful to have him as a spokesperson for depression, addiction, and mental illness.
But here's the thing about his death that is hurting so many people right now: when someone who publicly advocates for a disease that you're intimately familiar with decides the pain is too much to bear - even with every resource available to him - what hope is there for the rest of us who battle this disease on a daily basis? I don't have money to "fine-tune" my addictive personality, hell, I don't even have reliable health insurance.
I've been very open about my recent struggles with depression. I know I'm not alone in this fight and I know Robin Williams wasn't either. I was just watching The Crazy Ones last night, grateful for the funny people in this world who make us laugh no matter the terrible pain we may personally feel. How could someone who made so many of us laugh throughout our lives see himself as useless to this world? It's a rhetorical question, because while I know I'm important in the lives of my children, my family, and my friends, I still know exactly what it feels like to not want to exist anymore.
If you were a Robin Williams fan and still don't believe depression is a disease that tricks its victims into believing terrible and crippling lies, let this be a wake-up call.
I'm only 32. I have an entire lifetime ahead of me that will never be free of mental illness. Most recently, I've been able to push that nagging thought aside relying on the "one day at a time" philosophy every morning when I get out of bed. It's crippling to realize that depression could hurt even more than it has these past few months. The idea that no singular medication or treatment is a guarantee. The idea that this is a lifelong fight with something that cannot be seen on an X-ray or cut out with a laser.
A tweet from NY Times film critic Bilge Ebiri read, "You start off as a kid seeing Robin Williams as a funny man. You come of age realizing many of his roles are about keeping darkness at bay." Creativity often comes from a very dark place, but it's a spectacular way to hide the pain one might be feeling. It's been documented that painters, playwrights, actors and comedians are all a bit 'mad' and that that madness allowed them to think in more unique and creative ways and that making people laugh may also very well be a method for self-medication.
Being human is complicated enough without the tangle and mess of mental illness in all its forms, and as someone who has fought the fight somewhat valiantly so far, I will continue to do the work, to tell my story, to bring awareness to those who do not otherwise understand the pain and fear associated with depression and suicide.
I will continue to take care of myself and ask for help when I need it.
I hope we can all do the same.
"And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn't see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain." -Robin Williams, The Fisher King