The world lost an amazing gift last week - Robin Williams. I was especially sensitive to this tragic loss for several reasons. First, he was one of my childhood heroes. Always one of my favorite actors, comedians, and voice over actors, I followed him literally all of my life as "Mork & Mindy" started before I was born and I was enamored with him from as early as I can remember. Second, I've been touched by depression and suicide several times throughout my life and I find it one of the hardest losses for loved ones and those left behind to endure and understand.
I am often think back to a commercialized depression drug that asks, "Who does depression hurt? Everyone." It's true. When you are the one suffering, you don't think that your actions hurt the people around you, but they do. And then add suicide to that horrible equation and you have a debilitating scenario.
The thing that struck me the most about Robin's death is something that I felt I could personally relate to and that is this - how could someone who brought so much joy and laughter into the world, be hurting inside so much to choose to take their own life? After an incident like this happens, people's reaction are often "they had so much going for them - everyone loved them - he was always so happy". Well, obviously there was a lot more going on than his smile let on.
I think back to my very tough early high school years. I wore the "mask" that Robin probably also wore. I was a cheerleader and in choir and theater and felt the pressure to always be "on". But I had a lot of trouble adapting after moving from years of private Catholic school into a public middle school with three times the population. Trying to find yourself as a teenager isn't easy for any kid, I don't think, but having a complete personality crisis as a 14 year old is an emotional mess.
I think the first time I tried to hurt myself was around 16. I swallowed probably 30 aspirin. I went to sleep and hoped I wouldn't wake up. But I did wake up and everything was still the same. There was a time in college I thought I would cut my wrist but turns out all I had in my car was a broken CD and not enough guts. I did get a scar though. In my 20's I learned that around 7 Ambien at once won't slow your heart enough to kill you, in fact, it does just the opposite and I didn't sleep for 3 days.
These "cries for help" as they are often referred to, always left me in a very reflective state of mind. Don't get me wrong, I am by no means romanticizing suicide. But there was a reason that none of those failed (and mostly half-assed) attempts left me here to face my demons. I must have still felt there was something to live for.
As I watched the Emmy's tonight, I was moved to tears through the tribute to Robin Williams. A man surrounded by joy and laughter, and I hope love, didn't feel worth enough to ask for help. That is the most inhumane part of depression - it can take even the strongest of character and shred them down to nothing. You can't ask for help. You don't want to be helped. And you certainly don't want to become more of a burden to someone else. That is why it is up to everyone, as humans, to look for the signs and offer to help. Sometimes it is just the simple act of asking that can change a person's entire reality. When their reality is a dark hole, a shred of kindness can be the light.
It may sound a little far fetched, but this super social world that we live in could just be the cyber road that leads to the end of suicide in America. We all use it for different reasons - to promote, to hide behind and judge, to share, to educate, enlighten even. I am guilty of all of these things including rants and tirades, and to ask for a pick me up. And it is so simple. Not too long ago, I was having just an off day and needed a little reassurance. I sent my plea in the form of a post out into the world and I was welcomed with joyous open keyboards sending me love and encouragement. It was just what I needed.
SMILE. I'm in hospitality and it's hard for me to smile some days. But I feel so much better when I do smile at someone and they smile back.
SAY THANK YOU. To the woman in the grocery store who asked me where I got my dress after I had been feeling insecure and sucking in for the last 2 hours - thank you. LOVE. To my husband who sends me a text in the middle of the day when he can feel that I am getting stressed out - I love you.
LISTEN. My mother goes beyond her needs to make other people feel special and loved. I admire her so much because I know that even when she is dealing with her own stresses, she listens to me and sends me a book in the mail to encourage me though.
And watch for the masks. Offer your help. Look deeper than you think is necessary - chances are you can feel when something is wrong. It's not Spidey-sense, it's human-sense. Depression and suicide are serious and they are all around us. DO your part to be decent, kind, and helpful and you just might save someone's life. Someone saved mine.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance