In 2003, my dad came home. I was there when he shot himself. Only ten months earlier, a friend left a party, and I got a call about six hours later that he’d been found, dead, two hours before. No one ever thinks someone near them could do this. No one. It’s easier to think that someone will just snap out of it, or if you ignore the person’s depression, it’ll go away. The reality is, it doesn’t always go away, and in minutes, your life can go from same-ol’-same-ol’ to trying to make sense of what the hell just happened.
So many people think depression is a way out, that their family and friends will get over it, or be happy with them dead. I’ve been there. A lot of you reading this probably have been too. But guess what. You’re wrong. Suicide rips families apart more than any other death. Everyone wants to know if there was any way to have stopped it, any warning signs. It’s not uncommon for people to find a scapegoat (I was the “lucky” one), on top of the typical fighting over who gets what. When my great-grandmother Delia died, we saw it coming, and there was no blame. No one could have stopped it. Getting angry at the one who died for doing this is very typical. On nice days, the days my dad and I would have jumped on his Harley and gone riding, I still find myself unexpectedly tearing up. Damn you, Dad! I still need you!!
When it’s suicide, because it could have been prevented most of the time, there’s all that blame and guilt that will erode at the family bonds, and it’s not always reparable.
I found out much later that Jonathan Brandis, a teen heartthrob in my teen years, hung himself the day after my dad died. Popular opinion says he was depressed after his career started going downhill, which almost always happens to child- and teen-stars. In reality, being bummed your career is in the skids isn’t going to be enough to do it. The depression is already there, lurking beneath the surface of everything you do, and because it’s an evil demon, all the things non-depressed people can handle suddenly magnify in intensity. A stubbed toe might “be a sign” that you should drive your car over a cliff. Your kid saying “No!” might “be a sign” that no one could possibly love you. Your career being over may “be a sign” that no one cares, you’re undesirable, so why not end it. Depression is a magnifying glass.
About five hours ago, Robin Williams was found dead. Asphyxiation. He hung himself in an apparent suicide. You know him. This guy.
His career wasn’t on the skids. He was, and still it, and always will be, revered, not just in Hollywood, but in hearts and homes around the world. Mrs. Doubtfire 2 was in preproduction, and even though at least Mara Wilson wasn’t on board (she’s got every right to not be in movies anymore), the rest of the cast seemed gung-ho, and fans, weary as we might be, would have lined up to see him take back the role of Daniel Hillard. That’s his character who put on the disguise of an elderly British nanny to be nearer to his kids after a divorce. In addition to cross-dressing, this movie also featured a gay couple in a role that, rather than making then out to be the butt of jokes, showed them to be mentors of a sort, his supporters and the sole people who knew what he was doing and why.
Often forgotten somehow is Mork and Mindy. You say the name, and most people know. The lack of syndication isn’t helping. This is the role that made him. Before this, his character was in a dream sequence on Happy Days. Mork was so popular with audiences that the studio decided a spin-off was in order, and you bet it was popular! Nanu nanu! Largely forgotten or not, this role is to thank for bringing us Robin Williams.
Robin had an ability to give roles the heart they needed. In 1996, he played gay nightclub owner Armand Goldman in The Birdcage. This is before Ellen Degeneres came out as a lesbian on Oprah’s talk show. The world wasn’t kind to gay people, and gay characters were often passed off for laughs. He gave his character the heart and humanity needed to turn bigotry on its head, and made the homophobic ultra-conservatives into the laughing stocks. I remember when this movie came out and people simultaneously loved it for its superb acting (Nathan Lane and Hank Azaria are both amazing as well) while also reviling it because the expected gay-laughs were sweet while the fools were the bigots. This was a big deal, and a big risk.
Whether he was giving the world Peter Pan in Hook (which I watch once or twice a week, and have for years), or Patch Adams in Patch Adams, Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting, or John Keating in Dead Poets Society (a film which, incidentally, has a suicide), he made you laugh, even when he would make you cry. He had a magic to him. The world loved him, and loves him still. He’s a legend.
Yet still he felt compelled to kill himself. A rich, white, straight man with a solid career, adoration, and things to look forward to, still fell to the demon-serpent that is depression, and partook of the suicide-apple. All of his privilege in life couldn’t save him from the grips of depression, of that little monster that can claim any of us.
To make it worse, getting help doesn’t always work. Many times it does, but not always. Telling someone to think about how it would affect their families might not help, but may help someone else. Telling another person to think of what they have to live for and look forward to might be what another sufferer needs to hear instead. For me, it was always books when I was growing up. My idea of hell was to die without knowing how a book ended. These days, I get through my bouts of depression not my thinking of my family, but by thinking about the projects I have in the works that I need to see through to completion, and that is basically the anchor helping pull me through the doldrums. But someone people can’t find things to look forward to, or wonder why they should continue living in their own personal hell for their families. Wouldn’t their families want them to be happy, even if it means dead?
This is why it’s a beast. There’s no way of knowing who depression will hit when the poorest woman could be one of the happiest people while the richest man can be so depressed that he takes his life. Getting help can be hard when we not only don’t know what will help whom, but when ongoing help, usually involving therapy, can be costly.
If you are feeling compelled to harm yourself, please reach out to someone. Anyone. Your best friend, a stranger on the street, a blogger, someone. Anyone at all. If you can’t find anyone, check this list for suicide hotlines in your country.
If you know someone who you think is planning to hurt themselves, err on the side of caution and call for help, even if you don’t know where they are. The last time I called for help, I only knew the girl’s city where she lived years ago, and she was found. The authorities will go in high alert to tack someone down, even at 1am, to make sure they’re safe. Taking someone seriously may save their lives.
Reaching out for help when you need it, and realizing it takes strength to ask for it, may save yours.
T.J. (@tjloveless3) said:
My beloved cousin committed suicide this summer. I still hurt. I’d called her the night before, we were making plans for a get together, and had made a date for another call the following week. Instead, I found myself driving to Austin wondering how I didn’t catch those little signs. *sigh* To see her ashes, and be speechless when I should have stood up and made sure everyone saw who she really was, not the urn in front of me.
Depression is horrific, and I have bouts. I’ve been suicidal, I still have the scars. There is no one cure fits all, just as in any other mental illness.
I truly mourn Robin Williams – he was a major part of my life. I’ve turned on movies and shows with his comedy to get through hard times.
Alys B. Cohen said:
Today will be known as the day the laughter died. Hook was one of my happy movies. Think happy thoughts. It may take a while to get back to that place.
I’m so sorry about your cousin. Unfortunately hindsight is what’s 20/20. 😦 The pain subsides to a bearable level, but it never goes away.
Alys….that was perfectly said…The pain subsides to a bearable level, but it never goes away. You’re absolutely right. I could not explain it to other people when they keep saying…’it gets better; NO…It doesn’t. It’s bearable but never goes away will be my answer next time. Thank you.
Author Alys B. Cohen said:
I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through the same thing. It’s an additional handful of salt in a wound for people to act like we should move on faster just because death was by suicide, as if the one we loved, and still love, is less worthy of mourning because their mode of death discounts their value in our lives. I still need my dad. He wasn’t perfect by any means, but he tried, and he loved me, and he was someone I talked to literally every single day. It was our “thing” for him to call me at lunch everyday, and we’d take motorcycle rides into San Francisco and get clam chowder on Pier 39.
I once read depression and suicide compared to being on the top floor of a burning building. The fire is right there, licking at you, and the pain is unbearable. The only escape you can think of in that moment is to leap out the window. You can think of nothing else but getting away from that pain as fast as possible. So you run and jump, without caring that it’s suicide, just to get away.
That’s what it’s like. Those who die like this aren’t dying because they want to (suicide-bombings aside). They’re mentally ill and broken, and in their heads is a torment and pain no one outside of it can imagine or touch. Sometimes they get lucky, and someone can break through in time, but sometimes all that’s left is to leap.
No, we don’t ever get over it. We get used to it, and move on in the sense that our lives go on, but that’s all. It gets bearable because we get used to it.
My father committed suicide when I was 4 and my mother’s brother took his life two years earlier. Both men had been battling depression but this was in the days when mental illness was not discussed in polite company and long before public awareness campaigns and support programs.
Yet even today, when so much is known about depression and so much help is available, someone as well loved by so many people as this incredible man who had the remarkable talent of being able to brighten the mood of millions can find himself so overwhelmed by it and isolated within his own hell that taking his own life seemed to be the path to choose. It’s so very, very sad, and a reminder that much more still needs to be done in the field.
Robin Williams was a huge part of my life. I have loved him since Mork and Mindy. I was deeply saddened by this news and will miss him terribly.
Alys B. Cohen said:
I’m so sorry about your dad and uncle. Such a double-whammy no one needed, and a daughter deprived of knowing her father. I get mad sometimes thinking about how my daughter won’t know her grandfather. It’s just plain not fair.
I hope that there will be a silver lining to this, and that that lining will be that the public comes to learn that literally anyone can fall prey to depression and the temptation to kill themselves. Despite there being more talk today, there’s still so much understanding, so many people thinking that, because it’s not tangible, you just need to look on the bright side and you’ll snap out of it, and so, so many people who don’t understand how even rich people can battle depression. There’s no way anyone can say Robin’s depression was just for attention when he not only tried to mask it, but took his life away from the world. Hopefully this will open eyes, and result in others getting help they might not have.
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