It’s a unanimous feeling across the world – those aware of Robin Williams’s passing are deeply upset. We all have our own individual reasons for the resonating feelings of sorrow and sympathy: some people grew up on his films, some people loved his stand-up comedy, some people were his friends and family, some people simply appreciated the way his humor was contagious.
There’s a deeper underlying reason why many of us are sad that goes beyond the sudden death of Robin Williams; a man who committed his life to making us happy couldn’t reciprocate that feeling on the inside. A man loved by all of us couldn’t love himself. I know a lot of conversation has sparked around depression and self-harm in the short few days Robin Williams has been gone. While I can appreciate the sentiment behind a more proactive approach to mental health, those of us who have battled depression and self-infliction know that it takes more than a Tweet, 20/20 special, or hashtag to feel like someone is out there on our side. In fact, most of the people inciting major promotional movements behind these issues probably don’t understand what it really feels like to be the end user of those campaigns.
I am a digital marketer, sufferer of depression, and prior sufferer of self-harm. I can tell you that I don’t care about hotlines, Tweets, hashtags, branded swag, or inspirational selfies. Those initiatives, while respected for the intent behind them, are not what I need. I need the few people in my life I trust to be educated on what I’m going through, and to become diligent and aware enough to know when their help is needed. Because I won’t always ask.
I know when I first showed signs of depression and anxiety, I had already been heavily self-inflicting as a young teen in the late 90s. I was frustrated with being miserable long before someone noticed. You don’t really know what to look for if the knowledge isn’t out there. With the current widespread push to acknowledge mental health issues on an equal level with physical health issues, there are more resources and more resolutions. With that comes more campaigns, crusades, causes. The problem is that many of these are directed at the sufferer, and most of the time that person is too far in to help themselves.
I haven’t self-inflicted in nearly 13 years. I’m grateful that my support system was able to help direct me towards healthier solutions to my mental barriers. Currently, I still battle anxiety and bouts of depression, which have led to minor addictive habits with alcohol and medication in the past. I can tell you something, though; when I am in my weakest moments where I feel like I can’t get past these barriers alone, I don’t turn to Twitter, or the TV, or a hotline. I turn to those I love, and those I trust. Those people have built an awareness to my mental health issues over the years, and have endlessly instilled their trust to me to use them as an outlet before I get too far in again. I have had slip-ups, I’m still human, but I can confidently say that if it wasn’t for them being in the back of my head at all times, those slip-ups would have been far worse.
I don’t want to speak for the entire community that battles these mental health issues, because some of these campaigns have certainly aided in their recovery. I do want to speak as someone who has experienced the ultimate feeling of hopelessness: a firm hard look in the eye from a loved one with emotion and dedication to getting you better because they know you cannot do it for yourself leaves a far bigger impression than the ones companies are paying for through Promoted Tweets, TV spots, or hashtagged tees. I hope that as these movements grow, they grow in the appropriate ways: to educate outsiders looking in on those battling mental health issues and how to know when it’s time to intervene, and what to do. That is what will save lives.
To bring it back full circle, I am sad for many reasons that Robin Williams is no longer here. I am sad his depression skewed his vision on life, and how he impacted all of ours. I am sad his self-worth disappeared, leaving the personalities of Mrs. Doubtfire, the Genie, John Keating, and Dr. Maguire as only memories while we mourn. I am sad that one of his famous lines became his reality:
“I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.”
— Robin Williams as Lance Clayton (2009, World’s Greatest Dad)
If you feel like someone in your life is struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health barriers, don’t make them feel alone because you don’t see the signs. They already do that to themselves. Utilize the many resources available and educate yourself. Use the Promoted Tweets, hotlines, TV specials; because they most likely won’t. Reach out, and take action. There’s no other solution.
Mr. Robin Williams, this is how I will always remember you. An endless source of light when things feel dark. I hope you find your soul again, wherever you are now.
O Captain, My Captain (1951-2014)