Saturday, August 16, 2014

Rest In Peace Robin Williams

I am sorry that I've been a bit M.I.A. this week, friends. It has been rather crazy and exceptionally sad and I just have not been able to collect my thoughts enough to write anything. But I'm going to try today.

When I got on Facebook Monday night and saw that "Robin Williams death" was trending, I thought certainly it must be a hoax. After all, how many celebrities has Twitter "killed" in the past 5 years? So when I clicked on it and read what had happened, I was shocked. And very, very sad. 

My Facebook feed filled with "Oh captain, my captain!" Joe and I listened to "Friend Like Me" from Aladdin. It didn't feel completely real, to be honest. Aside from the passing of Maya Angelou, most celebrity deaths I've read about recently have been names I hardly recognize, certainly not anyone who had had a real impact on me. But Robin Williams was Genie. He was Mr. Keating. He was hilarious and inspiring and knowing that he committed suicide breaks my heart.

Since Monday there has been a flood of responses to his death, many of them very respectful, but equally as many of them show just how little people truly understand about depression. Many people who don't understand depression, who are lucky enough not to suffer from it, have developed the unfortunate idea that it is something that can be concurred through sheer willpower. People who suffer from depression are often considered weak, and those who succumb to it are considered cowardly and selfish. 

This is the truth: suicide is not selfish, but the way our society responds to it is.

All too often the immediate response to a person's suicide is "how could they do this to their family/friends/etc." People insist that the person should have considered what this would do to the people around them. Do you see the problem with this? We as a society take a person's pain and suffering and immediately make it about us; the people left behind. Instead of asking what we can do to stop this from happening to someone else, we insist that it is the fault of the victim that it has happened at all. Rather than seeking for ways to combat the disease that took them, we insist that they are weak and selfish for allowing themselves to be taken. 

Depression is not the same as sadness. It is not the same thing as how awful you felt after your last breakup. It is not a response or reaction to something that has happened or to a situation you have found yourself in. It is a disease. The wealthiest most privileged person in the world could still suffer from depression. You cannot blame someone for their depression anymore than you can blame another for their asthma. It is not something they are choosing for themselves; it is something that is being done to them because something in their brain is not working the way it is supposed to. 

I do not know what depression was like for Robin Williams. But I know what it is like for me. And honestly, in terms of people suffering from depression I am extraordinarily fortunate. Mine is closely linked to my anxiety which means it is not constant. Whereas many people have episodes that last months, mine last days. And those days are awful. Those days are damn near impossible. So I cannot imagine what it must be like to have that horrifying voice in your head every single day. I cannot imagine how terrifying and painful it must be to have your mind leading a murderous mutiny against itself every single day for months on end. I am not saying that suicide is ever right, but I do understand why it happens. I understand how someone could feel like that was the better option, the only option. And telling them that they are weak, that the others like them are selfish, that does not stop suicide from happening. It encourages the already dangerous stigma that is preventing people from receiving the help that can save them.

I know this quote has been going around already, but I really do think it is the best description that I have read, so I want to share it here:
The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling. --David Foster Wallace 
What Robin Williams tragic death should teach us is that even the people that seem happiest of all, the ones who bring can get a smile out of everyone they meet, are not immune from the darkness depression forces upon a person. It should bring attention to how poorly our society handles depression and how badly change and progress is needed. Because as long as we continue to blame those living with depression for their illness, we will continue to lose people to it.

I hope Robin Williams has found the peace he could not find here. I am so thankful for every laugh and smile he has given me, and will continue to give me. He will be deeply, deeply missed. Rest in peace, oh captain, my captain.


  1. Thank you for writing about this - you write serious subjects so well. I couldn't bring myself to write a post about this. Hit a little too close to home for me :/ I was pretty upset at some of the reactions. I also found it funny how suddenly loads of people were oh so supportive of those with depression 'cos they're favourite actor had it. It's a shame that it took his death to bring it out in people. Support needs to be shown all the time instead of making the depressed and suicidal feel weak and even more isolated and alone. I could go on but you've said it all better than I could. x

    1. Thank you so much! These posts can be really difficult to write, but I just could not keep silent about it with so many people making such ignorant comments. I definitely know what you mean though. I've been wanting to write about Ferguson and I just get so angry every time I try that I can't bring myself to do it.

      I really hope that maybe this spurs the many much needed conversations about mental illness. We only want to talk about mental illness in this country when we want to use it as a scapegoat- when we want to blame violent acts on it instead of acknowledge that it stems from societal failures. It is extremely problematic because it just furthers the stigma that the mentally ill are violent and dangerous and should just be locked away from the rest of the world- which is obviously not the case in most scenarios. I truly hope that this will start proper conversation and maybe we can finally begin correcting the way we handle depression and other mental illnesses.


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