I generally try to keep the main posts of this site dedicated to others, trying to leave myself out of it and give others a forum for their voice to finally be heard. For the most part, I consider that my voice should be limited to the one page of my own story.
However, recent tragic events have compelled me to speak here. The tragic death of Robin Williams.
Only, I probably don’t mean tragedy quite the way other people do.
This may not directly have to do with the subject of this blog, but for those who follow it, it still has likely touched you. And will continue to in the time to come. Because it’s far more likely that we understand the depression that drove Williams to his end than most people can. And I would guess many of you have been as affected as I have been by the reactions people have had to not just his suicide, but suicide in general.
I first saw the news of his death on Facebook. As I’m sure many did. I dismissed the first post as one of those ridiculous posts you see go around about some celebrity’s death, only to click on and realize is actually a joke. When I saw more of the same posts, I realized the voracity of this one.
My initial reaction to the veiled wording alluding that he’d committed suicide, was to cringe. Not as many did because of the mostly taboo notion of suicide itself, but because of the knowledge that from now on, the life’s work of a man will forever be overshadowed by his death and those who would politicize it for their own opinions and beliefs.
Never again will people mention him without also mentioning that his death was by suicide.
Are we not missing the point here?
A man is dead.
Can we not simply spare a few silent minutes to mourn the passing of a man that was a husband, a father, and to the rest of the world, a beloved actor and comedian?
He will be greatly missed.
And in my mind, remembered not for how he died, but how he lived.
I hope you’ll take a moment to consider that and remember how he lived, too.
And now, to do the very thing I’ve cringed at, I’d like to speak about how he died. Or more specifically, about suicide in general, and the far too prevalent response to it.
I’ve heard that word tossed about so many times in the past few days that it literally begins to make me sick.
I despise those who rant so angrily about how selfish the act of suicide is. Don’t they see the irony in their diatribes? Why are thousands of people taking his death do personally that they feel the need to tell others how they should feel or what another person should or should not have done. 99.9 % of these people never met or personally knew the man. So why must they be so selfish as to decide that their opinions of his death are right and above others’ opinions?
The vast majority of people who are so deeply affected and disturbed by the notion of suicide are the ones that cannot understand it. Yet, they’re the ones most loudly proclaiming the wrongness of it. The selfishness of it.
And maybe it is selfish.
But to someone who can understand the notion of suicide, to someone who has quite literally stared down the barrel of that gun, I can understand that act of selfishness. Because I can empathize with the countless selfless times a person didn’t commit the act.
As I said, the people who seem to find suicide so abhorrent are the very people who understand it the least. Now, that’s not to say suicide is necessarily right or wrong. I live in a world of gray, not black and white. I think life is a complicated thing.
So, too, is death for many people.
Most people who commit suicide have made multiple attempts before. And thought about it countless more times. But when they don’t follow through on the thought, or rethink their attempt, it’s very often an act of selflessness. They’re not following through on an urge that’s been begging them to follow through. And quite often they don’t because of the others in their life.
People might be surprised at the knowledge that they actually saved someone’s life. And they never even realized it. All because someone thought of them, and rethought their own decision. Yet when a person does give in and finally decide to act selfishly for once…that word is all people can bandy about.
Now I’m not saying that survivor guilt isn’t real and isn’t a completely valid emotion to have in the wake of such a death. But believe me, causing someone else to feel survivor’s guilt wasn’t that person’s thought or intention. They were just looking for release from a pain you don’t understand. And probably never can.
Quite likely, the depression has driven a person to see only the ways other people would be better off without them. And to forget the reasons they know that isn’t true.
And trying to make someone who has contemplated suicide feel guilty isn’t helpful either. All it tells them is that you can’t possibly understand them or what they’re going through. Making them feel even more alone, guilty, and isolated. Further feeding the very emotions of pain and loneliness driving them to that brink in the first place.
People who live with those levels of depression often become very good at hiding it. At wearing a mask for the world to see. So that that very world doesn’t brand them with the stigma of being different. Because they already feel different enough. Lonely enough.
They let the world see the mask of a happy, bubbly person. Or sometimes even the funny clown. So afraid for the world to knock away the last grip they’ve got on trying to fit in with the world by assuring them of their fears: that they are indeed alone. That no one else understands them. That no one else actually cares about them. But it’s not true. Because there are so many feeling just as they do. Just as alone.
Life for someone who deals with depression and masks it from the world isn’t a carefree stroll. It’s a grueling marathon.
Some of us get through it and onto easier tracks. Many struggle through that marathon for the rest of their lives.
And some just get too tired to see the marathon through to the end.
Only to find themselves demonized for showing weakness. As if they shouldn’t have been allowed to be human.
But people are weak.
People get tired.
People make mistakes.
And yes, sometimes, people give up.
Is it right? Should they have?
Stop asking questions with impossible answers. It’s not black and white.
It’s not just about the survivors who feel guilt for being left in the wake.
It’s not just about people who buckled to the pressure to act selfishly just one time.
There are no easy answers here. No right or wrong. No way to cushion such a thing to make it more comfortable for those who simply cannot understand or even fathom that kind of depression, or suicide itself.
But don’t demonize a man for the weakness of being human. Don’t remember just that basic fault that some seem to forget we all share. Remember all the times he thought of you first. And made you laugh when all he wanted to do was cry.
I choose not to remember Robin Williams for the so-called selfish act that ended his life. I choose not to tarnish his life that way.
Instead, I choose to remember the selflessness of his decades of comedy. Making the world laugh despite how far apart from that world he felt.
And I ask the world to honor his memory, not by touting their own belief that his act was selfish, instead, thinking of all the people out there who chose not to give in that day. That selflessly choose continue the marathon of their life a little bit longer, despite how weary they are and how much they ache. Body and soul.
Honor his memory by realizing that while you can’t fathom the humanness of his choice, that someone else can’t imagine the strength it takes to go on another day. And realize that they don’t need further isolation from the world by being told their emotions and struggles have no validity.
And if you still can’t bring yourself to at least empathize with those you don’t understand, at least feel good knowing that you may have saved someone’s life today because they thought of you and couldn’t bring themselves to give in just yet. And at least in your mind, congratulate them on winning their battle that day. Just please don’t take it too personally should they one day loose the battle.
I honor Robin Williams by remembering his life…and continuing the marathon of my life.
For however long I can.