I don’t usually get all maudlin and soppy when a celebrity dies, but the death of Robin Williams has hit me unexpectedly hard. Maybe it’s because he was “one of us”, suffering from depression and addiction despite all the advantages of his wealth and fame. He was also reported to have had bipolar disorder according to some stories, although I suspect these may be anecdotal since the reputable news sources have mentioned “only” severe depression. But what scares me about this particular loss is that I completely understand the kind of desperation he must have been feeling to believe suicide was the only way out.
I wish I didn’t understand it. I wish I could be one of those people who can throw around terms like “selfish” and “cowardly” without a care because they’ve never experienced profound depression. But I’m not, and I wouldn’t wish the illness on my worst enemy.
Contrary to popular opinion, suicide is NOT a selfish or cowardly act. It is the act of a person who has reached the very end of his (or her) endurance and sees nothing ahead but more darkness and pain. It’s a myth that suicidal people don’t think about their families and friends when contemplating their exit from this world; in fact, they often leave notes that are full of love and regret. But once they have convinced themselves that their loved ones would be better off without them, it is very, very hard to go back over that bridge without direct intervention from someone they trust. And sometimes that help comes too late.
Robin Williams had access to the best medical and psychiatric care money could buy. He also had the love and admiration of millions; he made us laugh, he made us cry, he made us think. He was a complicated, deeply flawed, but ultimately decent human being who, in the end, just could not reach out for the help he needed so badly. What a heartache it is to see a life that brightened so many other lives end in such an undignified fashion.
If any good is to come of his death, let it be the end of the stigma that accompanies mental illness. No more sweeping it under the rug, no more stereotyping people because of it, no more ignoring its sufferers. No more.
The world has lost one of its lights. I hope and pray Robin Williams has finally found the peace and acceptance that eluded him in this life. RIP.