I was watching a Robin Williams movie the other day. It was a comedy and it should have made me laugh. But instead, I sat on my sofa, regarding one of the great comedic talents of a generation work his magic, and a wave of melancholy swept over me. That wildly gifted artist who brought so much joy to me and others…is gone.
Robin Williams’ suicide last year shocked us, largely because he was so funny. How could someone like him feel so sad, so hopeless? What could have been so wrong? And anyway, how dare he take himself away from us, his fans, who loved him so much? What was he thinking?
Whatever he might have been thinking as he took his last breath, he was also feeling something awful.
I know. Three years ago today, I also felt sad and hopeless. I saw death as the only way past the sadness and hopelessness, and I took pills…a lot of pills.
The melancholy I felt during the Robin Williams movie turned to anger. I’m as mad as hell that this keeps happening, that good people continue to think that death is their solution.
Over 41,000 Americans killed themselves last year. That’s 112 per day. 112 desperate people who never experienced the moment of relief that I felt when I woke up the next morning.
Why don’t people talk about it when they feel hopeless? Maybe because they think they can’t. It’s still viewed too often as something taboo.
We seem to have no problem telling our friends that our back hurts, or we have a toothache.
“I have this pain here. I thought it would go away but it hasn’t.”
“You should see somebody about that.”
It happens all the time.
“My tooth has been killing me.”
“Go see a dentist! What are you waiting for?”
It is OK—it has to be OK—to say, “I’m sad. I hurt. Something’s wrong. I need help. Please help me.”
And if someone trusts you enough to say something like that to you, imagine how you’d respond if they were talking about the toothache. “There’s help. Let’s find it.”
The morning after I took the pills, I woke up. It was a relief but it hardly meant the end of the dark thoughts and impulses. Waking up doesn’t end the struggle a veteran with Post Traumatic Stress faces every day; it doesn’t make his nightmares stop. Waking up doesn’t mean the end of the trouble for the gay teen whose peers bully him or whose parents have discarded him like garbage. Waking up doesn’t alter the reality of depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental illness.
What waking up does do is give us another chance. Another chance to reach out for help, and to find it.
It’s mind-boggling to imagine the wasted lives of the 112 people who killed themselves yesterday—the unrealized achievements, the unfulfilled dreams, the lost loves.
It all makes me mad, and it doesn’t make me feel very much like celebrating my own anniversary. Frankly, I sometimes get tired of remembering the date of my suicide attempt—1st year, 2nd year, whoopee!—but people keep killing themselves: veterans, gay teens, Robin Williams. And it’s bullshit. Sometimes I feel that my surviving my suicide attempt is a burden. “You were meant to survive.” “It wasn’t your time.” “You have a purpose.”
And I come back to my reality: I’m still here.
What I guess I’m celebrating is the fact that I’m able to do what I can to convince people that it’s worth looking for some way other than death as an answer. I’m able to do that because I’m alive.
We simply have to do whatever works, whatever might work, whatever it takes.
- Real Warriors and Stop Soldier Suicide work to remove the shame from asking for help, and to marshal resources to help veterans and active duty service members push through a broad range of problems unique to them.
- The It Gets Better Project helps to convince LGBT youth that there’s more to life than what they hear from people who harass them.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides help, anytime, to anyone feeling suicidal.
- 800-273-TALK truly is a 24/7 lifeline.
To make an example of Robin Williams might be seen as exploitative—especially when none of us knows what was going on in that beautiful mind of his, that beautiful, troubled mind—but I believe we have to do whatever we can to kill this killer, to make suicide stop.
It does get better. We just have to make people believe it, even when it seems unbelievable.