This morning, on August 11th, I woke up at my usual time of 5 a.m. (yes, I do that on a regular basis). Nothing was terribly exceptional about the morning. Not the weather, not what I had for breakfast, nor what I had planned for the day. But I woke up in a genuinely joyful mood. I felt happy, I felt peaceful, and savored the sensation periodically throughout the day. Toward the end of the day, after I came home from my job, I decided to take a nap, asking Fede to wake me up in an hour or so. Still feeling fine, still feeling optimistic.
Little did I realize as I slept that the internet exploded within the course of that hour with the shocking news of the tragic passing of comedian Robin Williams. Within 30 seconds of being online, news of his death could be found on most every website, every form of social media.
My good mood came to a screeching halt.
As I skimmed the articles reporting the end of his life, the general consensus was that the immensely talented actor’s death, the man who had made me laugh out loud as Mork, Patch Adams, the Genie, John Keating, and so many other memorable and beloved characters, was at least initially presumed to be a suicide.
Something hit me in my gut. Hard.
I remember reading a while ago, I don’t remember when, I don’t remember where, that Mr. Williams had been in rehab toward the end of his life for drug and alcohol abuse, and had suffered from bipolar disorder and depression.
What else could I do but bow my head in the solemn realization and understanding that, had I not been given the opportunity to avail of help in my life because of my own battles with mental illness, that could have been how my story ended many times over.
The majority of the reactions and comments that I read online were an outpouring of a wave of sadness and disbelief. But there were also a few that almost seemed angry and judgmental in nature, expressing that suicide is cowardly, foolish, and above all, selfish.
While I cannot argue at this point that suicide is wrong, I cannot simply dismiss Robin Williams as any of those things.
Whether you are a millionaire or a pauper, whether you are a man or a woman, even whether you are a parent or not, depression does not discriminate.
Depression in any form, including bipolar disorder, is a formidable, heinous, and cruel illness that affects some of the most beautiful and most vulnerable people in this world. It is a crippling condition that robs you of your very senses, sucks all joy and hope from your life, and leaves you in what feels like an endless state of darkness. It overwhelms a person completely, even if you are charismatic, talented, and beloved by so many, as he was.
It’s scary as Hell. And above all, it is a condition for which deserves compassion and the opportunity for treatment.
I cannot pretend that I knew or understood all the circumstances in this great man’s life, simply because we shared a similar affliction. But I do know and understand all too well what depression is and how it can easily, facelessly, and shamelessly steal light from our lives, just as it did in the case of Mr. Williams.
I want to believe that his death will bring much-deserved attention to this condition that is all too often swept under the carpet and considered too taboo to speak its name. My hope is, amidst the incredible loss that the world has experienced on August 11th, 2014, that at least one person can realize that he or she is not cowardly or foolish or selfish if they are entertaining thoughts of suicide; that their demon has a name, and that they are not alone in the world. Suicide is not the answer, nor is silence.
Rest in peace, Robin McLaurin Williams