Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Robin Williams & being alone

"I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone."
Robin Williams
These words haunt me today, because I can't help but wonder about how alone he must have felt in the moments leading up to his decision to end his life. I wonder whether he might have changed his mind if he could see the outpouring of reaction to his passing. I wonder if things would have been different had we all been somewhat more evolved in our understanding of depression and other forms of mental illness. Somewhat more darkly, I wonder who he might have been talking about, and whether their actions, intentional or not, pushed him even further down the rabbit hole.

I wonder...I don't even know what I wonder, but I do know whatever we're doing, as individuals, as a society, to better understand depression and other forms of mental illness isn't remotely enough. And every time I think that we're there - like Olympic hero Clara Hughes riding across Canada to raise awareness - I realize we're nowhere near there at all.

The sad truth of life in 2014 is we continue to stigmatize those who suffer from mental illness. Look no further than the headlines. They say Mr. Williams killed himself. They don't say he suffered from addiction and mental illness. They don't say he was sick, a victim. They don't talk about his struggle, or what it must have been like to try to maintain career, family, facade to the outside world while knowing full well what was consuming him from the inside.

No one ever really knows. Because society still expects victims to suck it up, to just get over it. Because those who suffer remain fearful of the consequences of going public. Asking for help just isn't compatible with our increasingly Type A society, where people hold onto miserable jobs because they fear the alternative, then search for years in the hope that no one will learn their terrible secret. Where we often assume the worst in someone before we take the time, if we take the time, to learn what truly drives them. Where we wear cancer survivor as a badge of courage but depression sufferer as an admission of failure. Where self-identifying as such would be the Digital Era's equivalent of a scarlet letter (seriously, put that on your Twitter profile and see if your phone continues to ring.) Where no one would ever admit to singling out a known sufferer and selecting them out of a job or an opportunity, but we all know we would do exactly that, ashamedly, if we were in that position.

Because risk aversion, and the mindset of those who sit at the top of the corporate heap and make the rules for the rest of us, ensure we'd never willingly go with someone who admits to such a fundamental weakness. Lest we ourselves get punished for making a supposedly sub-optimal choice. So the suffering continues in silence. Until it doesn't. Until this happens.

I grew up in a house where folks who sought help were looked down upon, where "going to a shrink" was something so-called "normal" people just didn't do. It wasn't so much what was said, but how. The tone said it all. And I learned the power - and the peril - of silence in avoiding confrontation.

Except silence gives those who suffer no way out. That feeling of being alone? We can do better. We need to do better. Or we'll keep losing those who still matter.

As tragic as this loss is, it's the countless other non-stars who suffer in their own form of silence who scare me infinitely more. This touches us all, and that is as true if we choose to accept it as it is if we continue to ignore reality. Maybe the loss of a comedic legend will be the catalyst we need to stop paying lip service to the concept of awareness. Maybe we're finally ready to see it for what it is: Illness. And no one should ever feel ashamed for stepping out of the shadows and telling those around them what's going on. Ashamed for asking for help.

Yet, we still are ashamed. To ask for help, and to provide it. And I fear for the countless others we'll lose before we finally figure it out.

11 comments:

Cloudia said...

Thank You, Carmi






ALOHA from Honolulu
ComfortSpiral
=^..^= . <3 . >< } } (°>

tiff said...

And it just goes to prove that those who have achieved greatness are no different from us in many tragic ways. It'd be nice to think that those of their ilk were just frolicking the days away, complete in their achievements, supporting good causes and being a shining beacon to one and all about how beautiful it is at the top, but that's just not how it is. We are all flawed and broken, more's the pity.

young-eclectic-encounters said...

So well put

Robin Janney said...

Precisely.

And if you proclaim to be a Christian, that "failure" is twice a stigma.

Thank you for this article.

Linda said...

These conditions you speak of are what I work with every day. They do not discriminate. No one wakes up and says, "My life's mission is to be a bipolar alcoholic!" But somehow, a large majority of our society believes that the answer is simple..."Just stop." I assure you that every single person that has either or both of these conditions would gladly just stop, if they could. I happen to believe that this man's legacy is not his comedic or acting career. It is this...what's going on right now and the awareness it's raising because of the gigantic impact he had on virtually everyone. And, though I never knew the man, I think he would be thrilled if he could keep one other person from committing suicide, which he has assuredly done.

Alexia said...

Thank you for this, Carmi. It is so well put.

Susan said...

Thank you so much for this.

Michael Manning said...

So well said, Carmi. Anyone who seeks help is amazing in their attempt to overcome struggles. Robin Williams was a celebrity and a blessing. His passing still hasn't fully hit me. It was just a moment of vulnerability that overcame him. I see the world as tragically deprived of a wonderful human being with his death--celebrity or not. He's gone forever. A girl at my workout tonight was crying...

Tracey said...

So eloquently put, Carmi. I, too, am stunned at the news that Robin Williams has died. Death at his own hands. I cannot imagine the desparation, the despondence, the detachment, if those are even the appropriate descriptors, where the decision - among all possible options - is made is to end one's life. I wonder if in one's darkest moments there is even the semblance of tradeoffs or options. Or simply ending the pain. I wonder if the science of depression, "deep depression", of mental illness in general is sufficiently developed. I wonder how someone experienced in rehabilitation, aware of the value of "being among others" in recovery, with seemingly endless resources for professional support, who spoke openly about his battles, who experienced the suicidal death of close friends, who had love and friendship, still found his way to suicide. To hurt that deep. To hopelessness.

I pray there is a day when this disease is sufficiently understood, taught, discussed, treated that in one's own quiet moments, in one's lowest moments, self harm is no longer among the options. That mental illness, like depression, stands as an equal beside breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, and the like. For everyone.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

My mother had cycles of depression all through her life.. I witnessed it since I was a child.. I know for her, she just had the feeling of giving up.. Life overwhelmed her.. and when she got those feelings, she wanted to give up... she even attempted to take her life.. that was a sign to us.. she couldn't/wouldn't verbalize it... My cousin (a nurse) finally talked her into going to a small hospital for help... while she was there, she went thru the schedule of activities... she even pointed out the patients who she said had certain 'issues'... being there made her realize... We had hope that stint worked... it did for a while, then she slipped back.. she avoided the meds- didn't like the effect... She died a little over a year ago.. that was after my Dad's death.. she lived 5 mos. after his before she took her life... tho, her death certificate said 'hypertension'.... what b.s. her hb was kept at the right rate w/a low bp med... Kind of hard to accept what the death cert. said since we found two of my dad's pain meds out on the counter. I have learned that people like my mom isolate themselves from everyone.. they only get help when they truly want to get well... I will be honest, my life as well as my Dad's and brother's were hell. My bro and I grew up too fast w/what we had to deal with.. The problem was, was that my mom knew her parents and anyone (immediately) close would not commit her.. It took our cousin to escort her and even then, her short stint was just that... She definitely had a chemical imbalance and knew it... but refused meds... In the end, she did everything her way despite how she affected others...

photodoug said...

Carmi, thank for putting this tragic death in words that encourage a solution.