Honestly, when I heard the “breaking news” about Robin Williams yesterday, my first instinct was to stand atop my desk and recite Whitman’s “Oh Captain, My Captain” in its entirety. Several realizations made me think better of doing so. (A: I would probably break my desk if I managed not to fall off of it long enough to stand up. B: I haven’t read that poem in at least 15 years and I no longer remember it by heart. C: This gesture wouldn’t be as rad without at least six other people to spontaneously do it with me.) Although I don’t generally write about current events or pop culture, I feel very compelled to write about this tragedy here because it speaks to a much larger issue that has everything to do with why I continue writing this blog.
I think most of us remember at least one Robin Williams movie fondly (I am sure many more than that). For me though, the one that touched me most was “Dead Poets Society”… but this isn’t about that movie or how it inspired me (Although, when rereading “Oh Captain, My Captain” after all these years I must admit it is eerily applicable in this situation. I will close with the poem today so you can read it.). Robin Williams inspired all of us so many times over, in so many ways. He was a great talent who has left us an incredible body of work which will continue to inspire us for countless years to come, but this isn’t even really about him.
Most of the world is in shock right now. This is always how it is with celebrity deaths, especially when it is a celebrity so beloved, even more so when a suicide is involved. There will be television specials; the late night comedians will give very truly heartfelt speeches, the news will give a few updates, social media has already and will continue to blow-up for a few more days, but people will move on. People will move on and then, as my friend “Pirate” Rob just pointed out to me, the joke memes will start. Not because people are as rotten to the core as we want to think they are when they mock things like suicide, but because it is an uncomfortable subject and if we don’t collectively find something to laugh about; we will all drown in our tears (OK, and some people are just purely rotten assholes, but through my rose colored glasses, that is a small portion of the population).
This is why I write about such personal shit here on Evil Seamstress. Not because it is comfortable, because it most defiantly is not… my in-laws; my ex, my son, my family, complete fucking strangers all have access to this and I don’t always want all of these people to know the things I talk about. I write because there is such a huge stigma about mental health struggles in this world. I write because I hope that in my own little way I am making it easier for someone out there to talk about their mental health struggles. I hope that I am a small part of de-stigmatizing this subject. I hope this because the fucking stigma is a big part of why people don’t ask for help when they are in the depths of mental health struggles; the stigma is why a lot of suicides happen.
There will be the cynics who say the discussions resulting from this death are nothing more than the talk of a bunch of weirdos, just as sure as there will be weirdos out there who take this as an attention seeking opportunity. There will be those who accuse me, and those who are speaking out as I am, of jumping on this weird-celebrity death-hanger-onner bandwagon… I considered not writing anything because of that concern… but these are conversations that NEED to happen and although I know nothing about him, I have a feeling that anyone who has struggled with addiction and/or mental health issues and lost, would posthumously give approval to use their tragedy as an example when speaking out against the stigma that is so stuck to mental health issues. And I would like to believe that a man who spoke as openly about his struggles as Robin Williams did would be more than thrilled by anyone being moved to action by his story. It is with this believe and a hyper-sensitivity and extreme contempt for to the weird-celebrity death-hanger-onner shit, that I continue (In other words, of you don’t have anything positive to contribute to the conversation; you can suck a bag of dicks.)
I am just going to come right out and say this. I have contemplated suicide more than once in my life. Thankfully, I have never got past the thinking about it phase. I still think about it on occasion. I have never planned what I would do. In fact, I have a bit of a phobia that I will become truly suicidal… I struggle with depression and anxiety and I have since I was a teenager. Over the years I have learned how to keep my mental health in check. I know when to ask for help (which is why I am currently seeing a therapist) and I know when I am in crisis. But here is the thing… I am a funny person. I like to laugh and enjoy life. I love making people laugh. I like being social and spending time with my friends and loved ones. I don’t think most people would ever spend time with me and walk away thinking anything other than “what a fun/silly/clever lady!” Only those closest to me know that I occasionally struggle with anything more than the sporadic down day.
Yes, I joke about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, I joke about it because it can be really hilarious. But anyone who truly understands anxiety disorders knows that there is a much darker side to them. I struggle with perfectionism to the point that it is truly crippling depending on the situation (like the fact that I haven’t finished a piece of art in three months). I fall apart when I am in situations that I find uncomfortable and I can’t somehow gain the upper hand in… that I can’t control the outcome of… when I feel trapped in an unhappy/threatening/or dark place. These are the times that I slip into those creepy conversations with myself. These are the moments when I become scared and angry and think that maybe, just maybe there is a way out. Maybe there is a way to end the feelings I am having. I hate those feelings and I hate those moments.
There is no part of me that wants to die. I fucking love life! Love it I tell you! I love creating with my hands and mind… it is what I was put on this earth to. I love my son more than I will ever be able to express. I love my husband. I love my family. I love my pets. I love my friends. I want to be surrounded by all of this love all of the time. This is what people who have never suffered from depression or other mental health issues don’t understand. People who struggle with depression and other mental health issues don’t hate life. They don’t dislike people. And none of them really want to die. Not really. They just want to stop feeling the horrible feelings, and the saddest and most heartbreaking part of it all is that people who do decided to commit suicide truly feel like it is their only option.
But ultimately suicide doesn’t hurt the person who leaves us. That person is truly free of their pain. They are gone. They are at peace. It is those who are left behind that it hurts. I know this first hand. Perhaps this is why I never go beyond those fleeting thoughts. I know what it feels like to be left behind. To have the questions unanswered. To feel the earth shattering loss. I am pretty sure we all do. If I had to count right this very moment, off the top of my head, I could name two childhood friends to took their own lives as adults; a man who was my very dear friend and whom I truly loved (all unrequited love style), my husband’s best friend, a friend who I sadly lost contact with but still held close in my heart, and at least five acquaintances who committed suicide in the last 15 years. I don’t believe that I have experienced this more than is average. People seem shocked when it happens because it is a fucking shocking thing to happen… not because it doesn’t happen often.
I am not saying that we will ever reach a point where everyone who struggles with mental health issues will feel comfortable reaching out for help, and I absolutely believe that there are some who are just unreachable, but I do feel that the stigma that our society has spent centuries cultivating but only mere decades half-assed trying to change keeps a lot of people from getting the help that they need (I mean, many religions believe suicide is a sin for fuck’s sake! Why in the hell would someone speak out about those thoughts if they thought it meant being shunned from what is probably their core support system?!?!?!).
I also think that part of what makes reaching out for help so difficult is the fact that many people just don’t know what to say or how to help. Here are just some of the things I have heard in response to either reaching out for help or from people who have noticed my struggles: You just need to choose to be happy. Well, that just sounds like life, learn to deal with it. Oh, there is nothing wrong with you. You are just being dramatic. Just suck it up and power through it. Everyone gets depressed; just deal with it. You can’t always get what you want (and yes, that was being sung at me… you know, the Rolling Stones Song). I don’t know what is wrong with you, I am happy all the time.
Granted, some of those things are just downright cruel and/or abusive, but some are genuine and heartfelt pieces of advice from the misinformed. I am going to provide some links with some advice and resources in just a few, but I do want to give those of you who want to help your loved ones with depression some pointers.
Listen! When people with depression come to you with their feelings they don’t generally want you to try and solve their problems for them. They are not seeking advice. They don’t want to know what you would do in their situation. Unless someone specifically asks for advice just close your mouth and listen.
Don’t criticize! Trust me when I tell you that anyone who suffers from depression or any other mental health struggle beats themselves up enough for ten people. You may be frustrated because you think you know what that person needs to do… you might even really know what they should do, but criticizing them, for not doing it is only compounding the problem.
Ask how you can help! Don’t know how you can help? Just ask. Simply say the words “what can I do to help you”. Again, sometimes the only thing you can do is listen. But there might be other things. Do what you can but never offer to do more.
Now, on to those links…
Here are some that get more into specifics about how you can be there for those who have depression.
Here is a great list of numbers you can call for crisis situation or to aid in finding help (P.S. The Mental Illness Happy Hour is an awesome podcast that is doing great work to de-stigmatize mental health issues and you should check out the rest of the site.)
I also want to leave you with a link for the Nation Alliance on Mental Illness as it has tons of resources available. http://www.nami.org/
In closing, I want to ask that if you choose to comment on this here or on FB where a link to this will automatically post, please add something useful to the conversation. By this I mean please don’t respond directly to the things I have admitted about myself. I did not write this in order to call attention to myself, but to a larger issue. I am good. Like I said, I am in therapy right now. I am not suicidal, and I have a great support system that I have no problem going to when I need them. If you want to comment, share a little about your struggles or the struggles of a loved one. Be kind. Be understanding. Be part of the solution.
Oh Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done;
The shop has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! Heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! My Captain! Rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up-for you the flag is flung – for you the bugle trills;
For you the bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths- for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! Dear Father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.