Robin Williams

Out of all celebrity deaths, Robin Williams’ suicide seems to be hitting me the hardest.  When I was a little kid, I was obsessed with “Aladdin.”  I played that cassette repeatedly while I was in my family’s basement, trying to keep to myself.  Despite the inability to carry a tune, I knew every word and inflection of this soundtrack by heart.   I especially loved the song “Friend Like Me,” and as a weirdo kid, it felt like the genie/Robin Williams was my friend.

If a Robin Williams movie came out, I always made an effort to watch it, even if he wasn’t starring in the movie.  Even if role was small, like in “Nine Months,” he made it larger than life.  I watched “Mork & Mindy” when it was on Nick at Night.  I loved “Hook,” “Jumanji,” “Good Will Hunting,” and of course, “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

He made me laugh.  If it was in the movies or in a television interview that he overtook with his manic wit, Robin Williams made me laugh and feel better.

During my first ever trip to New York City, I spent an entire day just walking around and taking pictures.  I walked from the Upper West Side to the entrance of Central Park.  I stopped to watch a group of performers, and out of the corner of my eye – I saw Robin Williams.  He was walking quickly through the crowd, and he dashed across the street.  I wanted to say something to him but I was so starstruck.  I just saw my childhood hero!  Since I couldn’t say anything, I took a picture instead.

Robin Williams in New York 2008.

Robin Williams in New York 2008.

When I heard about his death, I immediately felt sad, but when I read that it was an apparent suicide after he had been struggling with depression, I felt devastated.

Depression hit me after cancer treatment, which caught me by surprise.  I had never experienced depression before.  For a long time, I kept thinking I could will myself out of the despair I felt.  I couldn’t understand why I felt the way I did after treatment, like I just went through hell, so why couldn’t I escape it?

My life felt hopeless, and I believed I was resigned to a life of illness and pain, that all I was Cancer Girl, and this was how I was going to die.  I was my mother’s daughter, after all.  For awhile, I was obsessed with the thought of my cancer coming back either locally or distant (i.e., stage 4).  I was living in the “what ifs” and “what just happened,” and the present was just bleak.  My relationships suffered.  Even my beloved pooch couldn’t grab me out of the complete despair I felt, though bless her heart, she tried.

After the horrible thoughts that the world would be better without me consumed me daily, in late 2012, I reached out for help.  It took me way too long to realize that asking for help wasn’t a sign of weakness.  It was an act of someone who recognized that her will wasn’t enough.  I continually seek help for depression, and sometimes I am ashamed to admit that.  There’s a stigma to mental illness.  I’ve been managing my depression with therapy and running.  It’s not just a phase or something I can just snap out of.  It’s not a weakness in my character – it’s a weakness in my brain chemistry.  And it’s okay that I see someone to help me cope with depression.

Robin Williams’ suicide just hit me right smack dab in the feels.  I’ve already come across the blog posts saying that he was a coward or selfish, and it just breaks my heart.  He was a sick man who struggled with addiction and depression his whole life.  Nobody will know his frame of mind when he committed this act, but I’m pretty sure we can all agree he must have been sinking in a despair that nobody could understand or withstand.  When someone dies of cancer, we call them brave.  When someone dies as the result of mental illness, they are called weak or cowardly.

If you have never struggled with mental illness in any of its forms, I envy you.  Let me just say – don’t be fooled into thinking that since you’re mentally “sound,” you’re an expert on mental health.  You’re not.

You’re lucky.

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