How is it I am grieving a man I did not know?
Yes, you know who I am talking about: Robin Williams ended his life this week after a long struggle with depression. We have since found out he was in the beginning stages of Parkinson’s disease, as well.
Social media blew up at the news. Most of my feed was full of shock, sympathy and sadness, but there was ugliness mixed in, too. Words like “selfish” and “choice.” Others acknowledged Williams’ death, but complained about people making the tragedy about themselves.
I haven’t said much, but I’m going to be honest here when I say I have held back a lot of my feelings on the subject because I don’t want to be seen as someone feeding off of the energy of such a sad moment. But then I realized, I shouldn’t give two flying fucks how people view my thoughts on the matter because these thoughts and emotions are my own. My first impulse is to write them out, because though I’m not a particularly articulate writer, I find it to be a very cathartic exercise when I feel like I’m drowning in my thoughts.
I admired Robin Williams greatly. I think the truly great souls make everyone feel as if there is a personal connection—which is why so many people are making his death “about themselves.” I don’t need to list all of the accomplishments that drew me to him, because they have been listed countless times this week. To know that someone as loved, admired, and brilliant as he was could not find anything to cling to makes my heart so heavy. The media is full of beautiful moments he spent uplifting others, and yet, could no one see how far into the darkness he was? Or did people assume he would “get over it”?
I have faced that demon. Twice.
The first time I had just given birth to my beautiful son. I lived with my little family out in the country in a tiny white house with a red door. I danced with my baby boy daily, sang lullabies, cooed, and gently bathed him every night. As he snuggled between me and my husband, I remembered thinking I had everything to live for, but why was I so sad? The sadness grew to be overwhelming. I was anxious and on edge. My husband would leave for work and if someone knocked on the door I would not answer for fear it was someone out to harm us. I was scared to pick up my baby. What if I accidentally dropped him? What if I fainted and landed on him? A hundred possibilities ran through my brain—all tragic and all irrational. None of it made sense, and I quickly spiraled down a well of darkness and panic. My heart raced, I was snippy, I was so tired but couldn’t sleep. I tried to push the irrational thoughts and sadness down but they would come bursting out of me in the form of tears and sobs at very inappropriate moments. What the hell was wrong with me?
One beautiful day my husband said I should go to the mall and get something special just for me while he watched the baby. It was a 45 minute drive just to get to town and I looked forward to the drive alone. As I drove down the winding two lane country highway, the sun was shining brightly and the air whipped through my hair. I drove by a church and saw bright floral bouquets dotting the gravestones in the cemetery. That familiar feeling of panic filled my chest. Was I doomed to live with this crushing sadness and anxiety for the rest of my life? The thought of the rest of my life being consumed by that awful energy choked me. And as I looked back to the road, I saw an 18 wheeler in the opposite lane. I remember thinking, “Just jerk the wheel. It will be so fast and no one will know it wasn’t an accident. Just do it. Do it now.”
But I didn’t. And I cannot even tell you why. What I did do was pull over and sob for about 15 minutes. That was the day I decided to get help, quickly and very privately (only my husband knew). I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety and treated with therapy and medication. I still remember that day so clearly: brilliant sunshine, vivid green grass, the whooshing sound of the wind rushing through my car…everything was so beautiful, and yet, there is such a cloudiness I will never be able to explain. I just remember I could not live one more day with that feeling of dread and anxiety. I should have been a happy new mother, but instead I was afraid of everything.
The second time was very different circumstances, but the same feeling. I managed to come through it with love, support, expensive therapy and medication.
So, I guess what hits so hard about Robin Williams’ death is wondering how many times he has faced and overcome those moments. Will there be another time I come face to face with the same demon and lose? Because it really is a battle. People talk about choice and technically, yes, that is correct. But when you are there in that moment, the cards don’t look the same way they do for other people. It’s perfectly normal to think, “Yes, this will hurt my family, but they will realize quickly that they are better off without me.” People talk about suicide being selfish when I assure you, loved ones are certainly taken into consideration—albeit with a skewed thought process.
Yes, let’s use the loss of this amazingly talented man to bring awareness to depression and suicide. But can we lay off a little? I mean, damn—why do people feel the need to judge everything? You do not know what was going on in his life, his head, his heart.
I hope Mr. Williams is finally at peace.