This week is Suicide Prevention and Awareness week and yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day. I couldn’t bring myself to publish this last month when it was more relevant to the world, but having a cause to support while ruminating over my own stuff bolsters my confidence.
I have been toying with writing about my thoughts on Robin Williams’ tragic passing, but felt my opinion insignificant in the larger picture. Still, my reaction felt so personal. After a recent phone call with my father, I realized why it has been such a painful process for me to confront and accept the death of a man that I’ve never even met.
During our conversation, my dad confided in me that he thinks he is getting back into that “damned deep depression again.” I suppose he has always struggled with it, though I doubt he has ever been diagnosed and likely has never received any treatment until very recently. He has generally preferred self-medication, though that has done little to improve the quality of his life, other than in an immediately gratifying, wholly unsustainable way. It is, in fact, what eventually led to his current incarceration. The truth is that self-medicating was a more accessible option than treatment. That is often the unfortunate reality for the unemployed, underemployed, and disabled.
As we got our 60 second warning that the call would soon end, I blurted out, “Take care of yourself, Daddy. I don’t know if you know that Robin Williams is dead, but I’ve been thinking about you nonstop and I want you to know that I love-love-love you. I really do. I need you to know that.” On the tail end of that string of words, a sob was building. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of love and despair and a sense of desperation and sadness that my dad might never really know he is loved. I realized that a lot of the intense emotion I was feeling around the news of Robin Williams was because it triggered all of the complicated emotional stuff I feel about my dad. Yes, I was and am genuinely sad that this man’s brilliant light was extinguished. But I am also sad, fearful, and all sorts of other con-jumbled emotions when I think about my dad.
He has always enjoyed making people laugh. It perplexed me that a man who could be so temperamental and angry could also have such a keen and easily sparked sense of humor that charmed those around him. It seemed like such a contradiction to me. It made me wonder which person was my real dad. “Nanu, nanu,” he would say to me as a little child, with his hands by his ears in true Mork fashion. Humor has been the primary way for him to relate to the world when he isn’t relating through anger.
Robin Williams was 2 years, 2 months, and 2 days older than my dad. Like my father, he had beautiful blue eyes that lit up when he smiled. He had a way of making people laugh, even though he was hurting. Unlike my father, Mr. Williams had the resources to get therapy and treatment. Yet, despite that, his demons eventually got him. That is the part that has been so difficult for me to accept and understand.
I’ve tried to write a closing paragraph about 10 times now, and I can’t quite seem to capture it. I can only say that the emotional processing I’ve done around this news and the way I feel it relates to me personally has created major shifts in my perspective. I haven’t discussed my own struggles with what I call mental disturbances (since I have never gotten any diagnosis, or had access to treatment). I do know that I have struggled with depression and addiction. I suspect I have struggled with disordered eating and body dysmorphia, which is something I have discussed in this blog. I have not done a great job at dealing with people close to who me are suffering with depression and addiction, and I know a LOT of people that struggle with these.
I harbor guilt for losing contact with a friend that had a psychotic break when we were in college together. And more guilt for a close friend who struggled with depression and addiction that died too young. I still grieve over the suicide of a man that I looked up to as a teen. I didn’t know how much they were hurting, what to do, how to act, or how to be supportive. So I didn’t do anything.
Doing nothing isn’t an option for me anymore. I still don’t know what to do. But I will listen. I will reflect. I will not patronize, condescend, or ignore. I will ask how I can help and offer my support and arm myself with resources to offer support that I am not able to give.
If you are struggling, please talk to someone; a friend, a family member, or a professional. If you don’t have the support system or resources to do that, call a hotline. Sometimes just talking though the issue can get you through the tough part enough to see a sliver of hope.