More often than not in this space, even though I try to avoid it, I talk about serious things. I try to keep the mood light, but sometimes – okay most times – it just doesn’t work out that way.
Two days ago, one of my childhood heroes passed away. I’ve read that he took his own life. As his death has positively dominated both the airwaves and the Internet, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that I’m talking about Robin Williams.
I’m not usually one who gets caught up in death. This especially applies to the deaths of people I’m not close to, as is the case with celebrities. As I’ve mentioned before, when my grandmother died I was out of the province and didn’t even come home until I absolutely had to (which was for her funeral). I try not to think about death because I truly consider myself to be one of the most sensitive people on this planet. If I think about death and dying for too long I start sobbing and am never able to pull myself together afterwards. Sobbing equals headaches, and hurts, and sore, puffy eyes, which is why I try and distance myself from it.
Robin’s death has had a huge affect on me. Truthfully, and it sounds strange to me that I’d even thought of this, he was the one celebrity whose death I always knew would hit me hard. For some reason I’d asked myself that question before: “Who is the one celebrity who I’ll be really upset over when I hear they’ve died?” The answer was always, always Robin Williams. I’ve been a fan of his since he was Batty Koda in Fern Gully. I was eight years old when the film was released and I just adored Batty. He was so funny, so out-there, and so loveable, just like Robin himself.
My love of Robin and his work only expanded once I saw him as Peter Pan, the Genie, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Jack. As I grew older and his roles seemed to switch gears into more dramatic ones, I only loved him more. I loved him as Sean Maquire in Good Will Hunting, as Chris Nielsen in What Dreams May Come, and as Jakob in Jakob the Liar. While in university, I became obsessed with his standup routines. When I was living in England for a semester, far away from most civilization in a 11th century castle, his Live on Broadway kept me sane during my isolated downtime, if that makes any sense at all (truly, you’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen it).
But now he’s gone. The story so far paints the picture of an amazingly funny, but amazingly depressed man. He struggled with both drug and alcohol addiction. He’d had some stints in rehab over the years, most recently a month ago. From what I’ve read, he was found hanging from a belt in his closet after trying – and failing – to cut his wrists. He left no note to explain his actions.
I think what hurts the most is that Robin, a man most of us thought as happy-go-lucky, wasn’t. I hate to make assumptions, but to take one’s life one has to be deeply depressed. Happy people don’t kill themselves on a whim. I know this because I’ve been both – depressed and happy, cycling through these emotions for most of my life. Right now I’m happy and such happiness only amplifies my desire and will to be alive, but I know exactly what it’s like to feel the opposite. I know exactly how it feels to so strongly wish to be dead and to desire complete and utter oblivion.
Despite my current state of happiness, I would be a fool not to admit there is a sense of fear that dwells just below the surface of my skin, wondering when my depression will return. Originally I’d wrote “whether my depression will return”, but I deleted it. It’s not a question of whether – it will return. It always does.
I am all-too aware of how people view me in my daily life. Just this weekend a friend of mine mentioned when she turns thirty she’s going to cry for two weeks straight. My response was to tell her it really isn’t as bad as all that; that turning thirty is actually quite enjoyable (as in my experience, it has been). Another friend of ours piped up to say that of course, turning thirty was enjoyable for me – I’m married, have a good job, etc. From the outside, I must come across as having nailed down this thing called life, maybe I even have one that’s enviable to others, but I truly don’t feel that way. I try and live a simple existence because I know how fragile life can be, how quickly it can change and twist and turn.
If you’re a frequent reader of this space, you know all about the abuse I endured for two years of my life. What I rarely talk about is the afterwards. The fallout. The months of living alone, the trying to pick up the pieces, the nights of sleeplessness, the aggression and fear and anger I took out on my own body because the pain was in there and I had to get it out somehow. Things I never told even my mother or my best friend. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and making sure I was covered at all times so no one could see the bloodied cuts and scabs that crisscrossed my arms and shoulders because I knew no other way to release the pain than to cut it out of me.
At this time, though, no one saw how depressed I was. They thought that because I was free of my abuser, I was happy. Many times people told me it was nice to see me smiling more; laughing more. Many times they told me my attitude had taken a complete 180, when the reality couldn’t have been less true. On the outside I was happy. On the inside I was dying. In public I was a smiling, normal twenty-five year old. In private I was a mess, barely keeping myself together.
Things turned around when Dave and I began dating. I don’t like putting my happiness in the hands of anyone but myself, but he did help me recover, whether he intended to or not. He has never made me feel unsafe, afraid, stupid, or unloved. Since we’ve been together my depression returned for a short time (when I lost my job), but not nearly as bad as it had been in the past. I don’t expect it to never come back just because I now share a great life with a great man. Depression doesn’t give a shit if you’re married or single, a parent or not, employed or jobless. Look at Robin: from the outside his life seemed amazing, but obviously there was something extremely wrong. He might have seemed like the brightest of stars, but we tend to forget stars are unpredictable. Stars become supernovas. Robin’s star shined so bright it burned right out.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the old adage is true: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” Just because someone is smiling doesn’t mean they’re happy. Just because someone is laughing in front of you doesn’t mean they aren’t in tears the very second they’re alone. Depression is very real and very scary and the stigma around it must be shaken and quickly. If you’re feeling down and afraid and bleak, please talk to someone. Please reach out. Please don’t live your life in fear. Please don’t think that leaving this earth is the only option you have. I know it might not feel like it now, but there are beautiful things here in this life and you’ll never know just how close they might be if you leave it all behind. You might not believe it, but there are people who love you and who will miss you more than you know. I’m not saying the sadness won’t ever return because I’m almost one hundred percent sure it will, just try and remember it won’t last forever. I refuse to believe depression is a constant. Change is the truest thing I know.
There’s a saying that I clung to during my times of despair: When it gets dark enough, you can see stars. It helped me remember that even in the blackest of nights there is beauty and light shining eternally, and even when I felt down so deep I couldn’t see there would still be light to guide me, if only I’d look up.
So look up. Keep searching for the light, because it’s there. I promise you, it’s there – you only need to look up.
If you or someone you know is suicidal and needs help, I urge you to contact the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention to locate a crisis centre in your area.