It’s been over a week now since the world was shocked with the news that Robin Williams, beloved actor and comedian, committed suicide. Celebrities die all time, but suicide? He’s not the first and won’t be the last. The rash of suicides filling the airwaves, from big name celebrities to small town teenagers, has had one positive effect: it has gotten people talking. Talking about tough questions like what does it really mean to have a mental illness, what pushed these people to suicide, how can we help, and what is wrong with our health care system?
For me, Williams’ death hit a very, very tender spot. Last month, I found myself spiraling into a deep, scary depression after my bipolar medications stopped working. Things escalated quickly from being just a little tired and sad to suicidal a week later. Even in my diminished condition I managed to reach out to people online. I posted a few comments on Facebook eliciting responses of “contact me” and “hope you are okay.” I emailed two friends to apologize for not being strong enough and made preparations to turn over control of my livejournal to one of them. I wrote down the passwords to my laptop and most important websites where I wanted my husband to leave a message about what happened to me. I wrote a letter to my husband explaining why I broke and couldn’t hang on any more.
Through it all, I cried. I cried because I didn’t want to die, but I could see no other way out of the constant pain. It was agonizing. I emailed back and forth with my two friends for twenty minutes, but the more they worried the worse I felt. At some point I had downed about ten Ativan, a few Klonopin, and two Trazadone (sleeping pills). I think in the back of my head I knew this combination at those doses wouldn’t kill me, but the intent was there. I told both friends good-bye, turned off my computer and laid down in my bed. I wanted to sleep and never wake up to the pain again.
It couldn’t have been ten minutes later when one of my kids came in and shook me awake. I was sleeping and confused, but followed him into the other room where the police were waiting to talk to me. They called for EMTs to transport me to the hospital because I had taken so many pills. During all of this, my husband and kids were in the rest of the house enjoying their lives and oblivious to the abyss I had fallen into. I couldn’t reach out to them. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t. It ended up being one of those email friends who called the police for a well check.
I spent the night in the ER–probably the best night sleep I’d had in weeks. There were no ill-effects from the pills I took. The next three and half days I lied in an inpatient treatment center where I had some therapy and got my meds straightened out.
So, you can imagine, hearing that one of my favorite actors committed suicide hit a little too close to home. Having just gone through the desperation, my heart broke thinking of how much pain Williams must have been in to end it all. In the days following I read articles and Facebook commentary on the death, mental illness, and suicide. Many times I had to shut my computer down and do something else.
While reading, I alternated between tearful joy at the number of people that understood depression–who had the same experiences I had–and rage at all the people that had no clue but spouted their opinion as fact. We’ve come a long way as a society in understanding mental illness, but we still have a long way to go.
I read some very hurtful and dangerous comments giving out false information and guilt trips equally. The outpouring of love from other sufferers and their family and friends, though, has outnumbered the haters, at least in what I’ve read. I have hope that in the future we will understand this awful disease and the people that suffer from it. No more will people have to languish in emotional torment with nowhere to turn. There will be no stigma in admitting you have a mental illness and people will all be willing to help you with only love and caring. No more will we hear news reports of ten-year-olds having hung themselves.
Robin Williams is sad. The world lost an amazing entertainer, philanthropist, and man. I’m not sure any one else could fill the hole left in his wake. It will take time for the country to mourn and heal from this emotional blow. In the meantime, we need to continue the discourse on mental illness and the lack of resources sufferers encounter every day. The best way we can do that is to simply keep talking. Tell our stories and not hide in the corner. It’s not easy, I admit, but the more people that share, the stronger we will be. Our voices will be louder than the ignorant haters that try to keep us down.
We are strong. All of us that suffer and survive every day–we are strong. And those that didn’t make it were strong until that last day when the disease won. They were strong to make it that long.