TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses suicide and depression.
Thanks to the sheer speed at which the internet helps circulate news, you have probably heard that Robin Williams was found dead on Monday, and that it’s been deemed an apparent suicide. There have been plenty of celebrity losses in recent months, but I freely admit that this one in particular hit me hard, and it seems to have had the same effect on countless others, including many who can’t seem to understand how someone who made so many people laugh could be so deeply unhappy.
Before I go any further, let me say this: I wish something happier had driven me back to blogging, I really do. Unfortunately, the topics we feel most driven to speak out about are not usually the cheerful ones. Speaking only for myself, I find that this is because happy is a feeling I can easily remember in snapshots, in the words and pictures I post on social media. Sadness, though, is different. I might write reams about it and never share it, as if I’m trying to purge it and forget it. (Hint: That may help a little bit, but it isn’t a long-term solution.) Anyone who’s been really, deeply unhappy, though, knows that having that experience will make you try even harder to commemorate the happy parts, to hold onto them, because when that awful miserable feeling comes back, it is so. damn. hard. to remember what being happy felt like.
If you’re thinking that I sound as if I’m speaking from experience, give yourself a pat on the back, because you’re right. Here’s something you may not know about me: When I was in my mid-to-late teens, about sixteen or seventeen years old, I was absolutely fucking miserable. There were a lot of factors, but I can mention some of the main ones. My parents were arguing with each other constantly, usually about how the other was going about raising us kids. If they weren’t arguing with each other, I was usually disagreeing with one or both of them. My dad had been working night shifts since I was fourteen and it was on me to run a household and also be a good student. My brothers and I were constantly at each other’s throats. I spent a lot of time hiding in my room, trying to pretend I was somewhere–anywhere–else. I lived for school and the time away from family, the chance to be with friends, even though school was yet another area where the pressure to do what was expected of me felt like a weight I couldn’t be free of.
I still hesitate to apply the term depression to what I felt, because–well, because I never got any help for it, and it seems to have left me alone. I’m one of the “lucky” ones who quietly slogged through and came out the other side, even managing to (mostly) leave it behind. However, whatever you call it, I know how it felt and what it was to me. It was never getting a good night’s sleep because I was up late getting everything done, and then there was too much stress about what would happen the next day. It was constantly feeling like there was a massive weight crushing my chest so that I could never take an easy, full breath. It was being the weird friend, the funny one, always cracking jokes because if I didn’t laugh, I would cry and maybe never stop. It was standing in a room full of people and feeling so alone that I could have been on a different planet. It was looking at the people closest to me and just knowing that they wouldn’t understand. It was telling myself, day by day, that it would get better, and asking myself if I could take another day, right up to the day when “it’ll get better” felt like a lie and when the answer to “Can I take another day of this?” was “I can’t.” It was trying to drown out the voice at the back of my mind that said it would be easier if I were gone, that I wouldn’t hurt if I were gone. It was pretending that voice wasn’t getting louder every day. It was resigning myself to losing, deciding that I would have to find a way to take my life without leaving a mess behind.
On a day that was worse than the rest, it was sitting on a bathroom floor with the fan on, even though I wasn’t showering, because we lived in a small apartment and the noise would keep my brothers from hearing me crying. It was clutching my cell phone in my hand, praying that somehow one of my friends would know I was drowning, because I didn’t have the breath to yell for help, didn’t have the words to say I needed it. It was curling up on the floor and sobbing into a bathmat until I couldn’t see straight. It was being afraid to stand up because I knew I would walk the two steps to the medicine cabinet and start swallowing pills.
I was lucky. The phone in my hand buzzed before I could stand up. One person texted me. One person got me talking and kept me alive, without even knowing it. I didn’t share the extent my thoughts had reached until later, but that night, I admitted that I was having a hard time. I shared some of what was stressing me out at home. For once, I didn’t make jokes.
And I stayed alive. Not everyone is so lucky, and that breaks my heart.
I have no judgement to pass on Robin Williams, only immense gratitude and respect for the laughter he brought while he himself was dealing with pain we know nothing about, and the sincere hope that he’s found the kind of peace life couldn’t give him. For his friends and his family, I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for their loss. If his death impacted me so strongly, I can’t even imagine what they’re going through.
For anyone else who feels like suicide is their only option–whether you have a name like depression for how you feel, whether it’s something you’ve been fighting with for years or you’ve just had a spectacularly rough go of it recently and don’t see a way for things to improve–talk about it. It leaves you so vulnerable to share those kinds of feelings, and it’s scary as hell, but I promise you there are people on this planet who would be saddened to see you leave it. Asking for help is terrifying and hard, but it’s so necessary, because if we don’t see you struggling, we can’t throw you a lifeline. We can only offer help if we know it’s needed.
As evidenced by the length of this post, I talk a lot–too much, several people would say. This is not news. I know damn well I talk a lot, and I will never apologize or be ashamed for that. I didn’t always talk this much; I used to be a lot quieter, a lot shyer, but the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve grown, the more I’ve talked. I talk as much as I do because for a while, I couldn’t. I was silent. Now, I talk about just about everything, whether to make other people laugh, because you never know who might need it, or just to keep my loved ones posted on what’s going on in my life, so that if–heaven forbid–that kind of awfulness is something I ever find myself feeling again, I can speak up. I can say that something is wrong. And I can get help.
I’m happy now, in the average, mostly-content-with-my-life kind of way. Sure, there are a couple of things I would change if given the opportunity, and I’ll never say no to winning the lottery, but overall, my life does not suck. The fact that I can state this and know it to be true is something I hope I never take for granted, because for a time, nothing and no one could have made me believe that. I’m alive and able to say this because I was lucky and realized I had someone who would listen to me once I was able to talk.
It’s time that we all start talking about mental illness, about depression, about suicide, about all the things we don’t want to talk about, because they are taking people from us every day. So I’ll ask again, for the last time in this post but certainly not the last time ever: If you’re hurting, ask for help. I promise, you are stronger, not weaker, for admitting that you need help. If you’re being approached by someone who wants to talk to you, listen, because you have no way of knowing if this is the last time someone will reach out. We need to talk, and we need to listen.
It’s time to start throwing more lifelines, and erecting fewer gravestones.