Have you ever received news, or heard a story that affected you so quickly, so deeply, that you almost felt numb? That’s how I felt one year ago today; when I read that Robin Williams had committed suicide.
I’m sure some will brush this blog off as someone looking for a quick and easy topic to talk about; a cheap grab for clicks by using the headline of the day. And if you feel that way, that’s fine; that’s your prerogative. But let me assure you, this topic means so much more to me than just generating traffic to my little blog. In fact, it means so much that it’s taken a year for me to be able to sit down and type these words without breaking down into some sort of emotional wreck.
Robin Williams was so much more than just an actor to me; he was my idol growing up; my literal inspiration to become the person I am today.
Growing up I spent a great deal of time on my own. This was mostly because as a single parent my mother worked a ton of hours to make sure the bills were paid, and we had food on the table. With no one to talk to or hang out with it was really on me to entertain myself, so TV became my best friend at a very young age. And one thing that I love most was watching stand-up comedy.
I grew up during a time that, in my opinion, was the golden age of comedy – the 80’s. All the best to ever do it were on stage during the 80’s; Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Roseanne Barr, and of course Robin Williams. I can remember the first time I saw Robin’s act, it was an HBO special, and my mom let me watch. From the second I laid my eyes on him, I couldn’t look away.
Williams was so full of energy and life. People described his delivery and jokes as manic and spastic, even hard to follow at times, but to me, it was like watching poetry in motion. It was like seeing my thought process play out in front of me. I knew I had discovered someone who clicked the exact same way I did. I had found someone who completely understood me, even though he didn’t know me, and for the first time I knew what hope felt like. Hope that I’d be ok.
I could tell early on that Robin and I shared other traits in common too. I could tell Robin was, like me, living with depression. Even though at such a young age I didn’t know the word depression, I certainly knew I was different from other kids. Just behind the glint of my youthful eyes was a darkness, a sadness I tried every day to mask the best I could. I saw that same sadness in the eyes of the funniest clown I had ever seen. So, I knew if he could mask the pain through comedy, then so could I.
I spent the majority of my teenage years cultivating that mask. Immersing myself in the arts in school, acting on stage, being the funny guy in my group of friends. Like Robin did with the rest of the world, I kept those closest to me laughing and entertained so they would never see what was really going on; a magician of sadness if you will. But like all tricks, eventually the curtain gets pulled back and the world sees what’s really going on.
My house of cards came tumbling down New Year’s Day 2006. As I have talked about briefly in my writing career, I came very close to taking my own life that day. For whatever reason I didn’t follow through with it, and I’m glad I didn’t.
Some have said to me that I was never really going to do it, or that I was only looking for attention. I don’t feel the need to justify or talk about how close I was to those kind of people. Those are the same people who said Robin Williams was a coward for doing what he did, or selfish. I in no way agree with what Robin did, but I will never see him as a coward. I, like many others, know the daily struggle of masking depression, and the toll it takes on your body and mind.
Robin was tired, and like me in 2006, he was done fighting; done masking. But unlike Robin, I got back up and chose to move forward, and will always choose to move forward. But again, I do not judge or criticize my childhood, and adulthood hero, because I understand.
To be fair it should be recognized that Robin had found out some time before taking his own life that he was suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. I cannot even imagine how someone who already is struggling absorbs that news.
I will always hold a special place in my heart for the sad clown that was Robin Williams. He inspired me more than I would ever have been able to tell him, if I had had the awesome fortune to meet him. I think if I ever did me him I would first apologize, mainly because I ripped off his “Gotta see about a girl” line from Good Will Hunting in my wedding speech. But something tells me he wouldn’t mind. But then I would let him know how he taught me that laughter was indeed the greatest medicine, even if that sickness eventually wins, and how making others laugh is one of the greatest gift someone can give.
I’m not particularly a spiritual person, and I don’t claim to have some divine belief, but there will always be a part of me that hopes there is something after this life; some great beyond. If for no other reason than to know, right now, Robin Williams is on stage somewhere telling every penis joke he ever told during his life, to all the souls that have passed on, and maybe I’ll finally get to meet him. I’ll hold onto that hope, and until then I say this to you O’ Capitan my Capitan….nanu nanu!
You may have noticed my liberal use of the semicolon in this post, probably even in places that it doesn’t belong. That was done on purpose. There is an amazing organization called Project Semicolon who is trying to help those who suffer from depression and other metal health needs. Please check them out for stories about people who have thought of, or attempted suicide. A please know if you are think you are suffering alone, you’re not. There are many out there (like me) who are always whiling to talk and share, and most importantly listen. Lastly if you are thinking of harming yourself, and don’t feel like you have any other options, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. There is always another way.
I am one of those quasi-adult parents – you know what I mean – the kind that grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, and now in our 30’s we are doing everything possible to hang onto some semblance of our childhood experiences at all costs. So, how do I do that? Well, at pushing almost 40, I’m still a gamer. For you non-gamer parents out there, that means I play video games…a lot.
I don’t just play video games; I invest quite a bit of time in my gaming hobby. I still visit GameStop and Best Buy to purchase new games, I still read reviews on the latest products coming out, and I still geek out with my friends and debate which console is better (Xbox or PlayStation).
My video game playing habit took a major hit in 2012 when our son was born. “Nothing’s going to change for me,” I foolishly told my friends, “I’ll just put the kid in my lap and play while he sleeps. Late night feedings will be cool; I’ll get in a lot of gaming time.” Yeah, think again.
Two and a half years later I continue the struggle to balance my nerdy gamer ways while in real life being a parent – that’s some pretty adult shit right there. In late 2013 I purchased a new video game console, and as we approach its half-birthday, I am noticing some eerie similarities to my toddler.
Only Responds to Yelling – One of the major attractions Microsoft tried to sell hard to the consumers was how their new console would be completely voice activated. Want to turn the Xbox on? Just say, “Xbox On” and it will recognize your voice and turn on. Want to do something other than game? Simply say the phrase, “Xbox go to…..” and fill in the blank and you will be binge watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix, Skyping with grandma, or even watching TV. Problem is, just like our toddler, the damn system doesn’t do what we ask of it, the first, second, sometimes even the third time around. Many times I will be in the kitchen and hear my Wife yell, “XBOX ON, YOU PIECE OF SHIT!!” Luckily, while just as difficult, our son receives a little bit more grace…..and I mean a little.
It’s always fucking watching me – While the last function was supposed to be cool, the next option is just downright creepy. Xbox has a built-in camera system that according to Microsoft, is always on, and is always watching; even when the system is off. So while it’s really annoying that my son follows me from room to room (even to the bathroom where he stares at me while I handle my business), at least when he’s asleep, I know there is no risk of him popping up and filming me while I walk around in my underwear and somehow posting that shit on the Internet. Trust me; no one wants to see that.
May Malfunction at Any Moment – Like any new generation of equipment or technology, there are usually some kinks or bugs to work out of the system. We consumers are usually more forgiving when it comes to techie items,like when my new Xbox crashes for no reason; it’s because we know a system update is right around the corner. But, where the hell is my system update for my toddler that is happy one second and then a ball of fury and flailing limbs screaming, “NO, I DON’T WANT IT!” the next?? You show me that product, Microsoft, and I will be yours for life.
The so-called experts are of little to no help – I’ve come to learn that when those times your techie gadgets inevitably fail you, much like your toddler will inevitably have a complete fucking meltdown in public, the people we are supposed to be able to reach out to, to help us fix our problem, are just as fucking clueless as we are. Sure, your big-box store nerd-smug-asshole behind the counter will eventually fix your hard drive. Just like whatever family member’s, doctor’s, or supposed child-raising guru’s advice might work when trying to calm your kid down, but at the end of the day they can’t ever tell you why the breakdown happened, or how to prevent it from ever happening again. It’s all a bunch of finger-crossing and hoping. So in my book, that makes you all full of shit.
Both are a serious drain on my bank account – Having a kid was a mutual choice between me and the Wife, but buying the Xbox One (aka the $500 paperweight in our family room) was all me. Both have the exact same effect on our bank account, however; they continue to take and take and take. Both require a continuous credit line for maintenance and upkeep. Examples include buying games or new products for the Xbox One, and clothing, feeding and paying for daycare for my son. I invest so much money into both, wondering what I’m really getting in return, which brings me to my last point…..
How my son is NOT like my Xbox – While I joke that my Xbox is a useless paperweight (and will continue to be seen as such given current release dates for new games and products), that depreciates in value daily; the same cannot be said for my son. I see my son grow and change every day. While the Xbox can easily go unused for days at a time, my Wife and I enjoy watching our son as he is becoming a little person; sometimes too quickly for his Dad’s comfort. I will most likely outgrow my video game addiction someday, but I will never outgrow being a Dad.
As much as I try and deny it when my Wife laments about it, our son clearly has a preferable parent…Daddy. In a perfect toddler world, his preference would be to have us both within arm’s reach at all times, but that’s not always possible. If the Wife needs to leave the house, the boy will typically fuss a bit, he even might shed a tear or two, but if Daddy has to go? Like every morning when I leave for work? Well, if you ever heard the term Bat-Shit-Crazy, that comes from my son, JSYK. Screaming, heaving his body onto the floor, hitting, kicking, and more screaming. And more screaming.
And it doesn’t stop there. My son follows me from room to room when we’re home, saying things like, “Ko Daddy” (aka Come on Daddy) and “What’d you doing Daddy?” I think the Wife actually gave birth to my second shadow. If I somehow manage to leave the room by myself, he tends to get very whiny, and sometimes very nervous and scared; only be relieved and all smiles when he sees me and runs up and grabs me.
Sometimes I get frustrated by the whining, and at times wonder out loud to the Wife, “Why is he so upset? I’m right here.” My Wife always tells me how much he loves me (which I know), and how I’m his hero. She also tells me to put myself in his shoes; he feels lost without Daddy. It makes me really reflect back on my relationship with my father, or more appropriately, the lack thereof, and one very pivotal time in my childhood where I felt very alone.
Over the years people have inquired about my dad from time to time, as I have spent the majority of my time talking/writing about my mother and the abusive relationship we had.. I never really wanted to talk about my dad. I realize now, that’s because the emotions were far more painful because they were born from a lack of his desire to know me, or even see me.
After a nasty divorce when I was just a toddler, my dad who was in the Navy, went off and lived the Navy life as a single guy. This meant I rarely ever heard from him; never saw him; and many birthdays/holidays passed with little or no contact. He eventually remarried and had more children. I met him, and spent a small amount of time with him in my pre-teen years, but for the most part our relationship was non-existent at best.
In early June of 1992, the week of my 8th grade graduation, my father was in San Diego (where I lived) for some sort of naval training exercise. He reached out to my mom to let me know he was in town, but only for a few days; so meeting up wasn’t a lock to happen. In fact, as the words left his mouth, I could sense the instant hesitation and regret because he might actually have to meet up with me.
I wasn’t super book-smart growing up, but I knew how to read people really well at a young age, so I picked up on his hesitation immediately. Pushing that aside, I decided to go for broke and invited him to my graduation that week, stressing that I really would like him to come. More hesitation, but he eventually agreed and even mustered up a half-hearted response of excitement and sense of gratefulness for my invitation. I knew he was lying, but for all my growing up way too fast and being able to sniff out a bullshitter like whoa, I still was a boy without a father. A boy who had always silently yearned for male connection; something I had none of to that point in my life.
My mom tried to be supportive; her attempts however, could not hide her massive skepticism. If she were a betting person, she knew she would win all kinds of cash betting on my father being a no-show to my graduation. But I didn’t care; I knew he was coming.
The big day came. I still remember it like yesterday. It feels today, like it did then; like a scene out of a movie. My dad hadn’t shown by the time the pre-ceremony chit chat and socializing were over. So what? So I didn’t get to take a picture with him before the ceremony; there would be plenty of time afterwards to take pictures and go to dinner. The important thing is that he’ll see me walk and get my graduation certificate.
We all took our seats as the graduation ceremony began. Nervously shifting in my seat, I turned from side to side, looking back and forth hoping to catch a glimpse of him as he arrived. Scanning every face in the crowd, eyes squinted by the bright California sun, I saw parents’ faces full of pride and affection, but none of them belonged to me. Occasionally I would catch my mom’s face; a smile plastered on her face as if she has just swallowed cough medicine. She was trying to convey pride and joy, but just under the mask of faux-happiness was a tornado of sadness, worry, and angst, along with a dash of “I told you so,” as she watched me desperately search the crowd. But I didn’t care; I knew my dad was coming. I would not acknowledge her worry; I would not give her the satisfaction. This time she would be wrong.
The ceremony came and went like a flash; I stood and walked and returned to my seat. It went by so fast I could barely scan the crowd for my dad for what felt like the 500th time, but I knew he was out there and he saw me, so no sweat; that’s what was important.
As soon as all the pomp and circumstance concluded, we were released out into the world; but first back to our parents. My mom found me so quickly it was almost as if she materialized out of thin air. She was beaming with pride, tears in her eyes telling me how proud she was of me, and how much I have grown up, hugging me tightly; too tightly. That’s when I knew; my father never arrived. Even though I knew the truth the lonely, sad, boy inside would not be shoved aside this time. I blurted out, “Where’s dad? Did he see me?” My mother stared at me blankly for a moment, and just as I looked away I spotted the slightest of smiles form on her face. Not only was she not sad; she was happy this had happened. Victory was hers.
So yeah, my son hovers around me, and follows me from room to room. And yes, my son has to be involved in everything I’m doing, but you know what else he does; he bursts into the room on my mornings to sleep in and wakes me up by jumping on the bed, smotheringme with hugs. So my son whines when he can’t see me, or cries like a crazy person when I leave for work, that just means there is a super happy running hug with the scream of, “DADDY” when I get home.
I don’t begrudge him for getting upset anymore; well I try not to at least. And when he calls out, “Daddy, where are you?” I make sure to hug him a little tighter these days when I say, “I’m here buddy”…because I’ll always be here.
A version of this story has been published in the book Dads Behaving Dadly 2 (clink the link to purchase this book).
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Ever since I started blogging about 6 years ago, I swore I would be brutally honest and forthcoming about any and all topics I wrote about. I’m pretty proud to say that I have lived up to that promise pretty well.
Blogging has become my therapy over the years. The dad blogging is for fun, but talking about deeper issues; truly I tell you helps me make it through the day. I know that sounds very melodramatic, but it’s true. I see so much nonsense in this world, as I am sure most of you do as well, that it drives me absolutely bonkers sometimes. I gotta vent or I’m going to go crazy man, for reals.
There are some obvious areas I have chosen to abstain from “true honesty.” By that I mean I never refer to the Wife by her actual name, nor do I reveal my son’s name. But, unfortunately, like many others, I have some very sick family members that would love nothing more than to track me down, just to cause me harm. And when I say sick, I mean crazy-sick, not like curable illness-sick. So you can see why I choose a certain level of anonymity in my writing. Although this reality bums me out, I try and peel back the layers and let you all in as much as possible.
This blog helps me a lot; more than you may ever know, because there are still so many things I struggle with on a daily basis, but if you knew me, or were around me, trust me you would never know because I have become so good at hiding my pain and struggle that it’s almost as easy as breathing now, yet not as healthy. But, some emotions have come bubbling up recently that I feel it only right that instead of hiding, like I am used to, I should stand strong, peel back another layer and show you a little more of me. So….here we go.
Wednesday May 2, 2012 will be a day I will probably always remember for a long time, if not forever. This is the day one of my childhood heroes died. And not only did he die, but he passed in such a fashion that is so close and personal to me that it rocked me to my very core. This past Wednesday, former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau was found dead in his home from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Yes, he committed suicide in his own home; he was only 43 years old, and this was not his first attempt.
In 2010, Seau drove his car off the road and slammed it into a tree. While he survived and claimed he fell asleep at the wheel, rumblings began to stir that this was no accident and there may be something deeper going on. Sadly, we now know what that “something” was, in fact going on. Seau, always known to be one of the most energetic and positive personalities in the NFL, suffered from massive depression, which eventually led to him taking his own life. In the weeks, months, even years to come, much will be made over the fact that he chose to shoot himself in the chest; presumably to preserve his brain to be studied for the effects of concussions received while playing. Even more sad, Seau is not the first former NFL’er to do such a thing; former NFL player Dave Duerson committed suicide in similar fashion, and left a note explaining he wanted his brain to be studied.
So why am I taking this so personally? Well, one, Seau was a personal idol of mine….but two, and most importantly, I know what it feels like to suffer from depression, and sadly, I even know what it feels like when you come to that conclusion that it’s time to check out….sorry to make that sound so casual.
I have gone through most of my life struggling with depression, and I still do to this day. Much like when they tell you that you will never “not” be an alcoholic, but instead you will learn to manage and live with the disease; I feel the same goes for depression. I don’t believe it ever truly goes away, you simply learn to manage it, and hopefully suppress it in a fashion that makes life easier to manage.
I don’t really know how to segue to this next part of this story without it being super awkward, so just like pulling of a band-aid or jumping into a pool; I’m just going to do it. I also relate, sadly, to the rest of the story about Junior Seau, with one major exception.
Around the end of 2005 I had pretty much reached an all-time low in my emotional state. I was heading down a dark and lonely path and I could not see any way out. I had recently purchased a condo, which I had no business owning. I was not in the financial standing to even utter the word homeowner, let alone be one. But, like many times in my life I listened to poor, selfish, pressure-filled advice from my mother, and once again landed myself in a situation with only one possible outcome…and it was going to be bad.
I always knew I shouldn’t be in that situation, but I wasn’t strong enough to say no to that woman. I never was. This had been the story of my entire life, and by the end of 2005 I just couldn’t see anything changing. So, I decided to change it myself. I didn’t see much value in living anymore, so as the holidays crept closer I had finally reached a decision to…..cash out, if you will. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do this unspeakable act, but I simply didn’t care anymore, and I was fully prepared to follow through.
I started to quietly make plans to end things directly after the holidays. I don’t feel the need to share my plan of how I was going to do it, but trust me when I tell you I was prepared. I had already put in for 2 weeks off of work that would extend into the New Year, and I had come to the decision that a pre-New Year’s follow-through was what I wanted. I didn’t want to risk hanging out with people on New Year’s Eve and start to feel guilty, thus backing out of my plans. But, life had other plans for me.
Just prior to Christmas a friend from high school came into town for the holidays and she called me up to hang out. This friend was actually a high school crush (on my end that is, she wanted nothing to do with me), and even though it never became anything other than friend-status, we remained cool throughout the years. Like most school friends we lost touch when she went off to college and I joined the military.
We eventually reconnected through social media and chatted regularly via IM. When she called me one day and said she was in town for the holidays and wanted to hang I was a little taken aback. This was definitely going to throw my plans out of whack. Nevertheless, we hung out. In fact, we hung out every day, even after Christmas family stuff was over. I wish I could tell seeing her made me so happy that it rekindled my joy for life, but that is just not true….in fact, to this day, I wonder if she was planning on doing the same thing I was planning.
This friend of mine had become the most annoying person I ever met, I swear. All she did was complain about her life. Every conversation was about her and all her troubles. I feel terrible admitting this, but all I kept thinking was, “Good Lord woman, just jump and get it over with.” I was so dumbfounded, how could this girl go from someone I was completely infatuated with in high school to…this? And to top it off she just wouldn’t leave. I kept asking her when she was flying back overseas, but she never had a straight answer.
And just like that, the very thing I didn’t want to happen did happen. Since she never went home, we ended up hanging out on New Year’s Eve. To this day I still wonder why. There were so many other friends she could have hung out with, but instead she was with me constantly. I mean all of her cackling-hen friends from high school were in town, yet she was always with me. And before you start thinking there something sexual about this, I tell you now, there wasn’t. Nothing ever happened. Nothing ever was even hinted at happening. She even crashed several nights at my place, but she always stayed on the couch, and neither of us ever tried to make something happen.
So, New Year’s Eve came and went, and I spent the entire night “faking the funk,” pretending to have a great time, when in actuality all I was thinking about was what I was going to be doing that very next day. When the morning of Jan 1, 2006 rolled around (I remember it as clear as if it was yesterday) I was ready to move forward with my plan. I walked out to my living room to BS with my friend a little bit and try and send her on her way so I could get started, but when I walked out to the living room she was already gone. Blanket folded, pillow neatly placed on the blanket, and her dishes in the sink. She was just gone.
As I later stood in the bathroom of my condo prepared to move forward with my plan I found myself standing and just staring in the mirror. I stared at my reflection in the mirror, but that was simply an outward appearance. In actuality I was staring into my soul. I was watching the story that was my life; every disappointing day; one failed thing after another, and everything I ever quit. And at that moment I heard the faintest voice in my soul speak, “You’ve never finished anything in your entire life…..” Just then I started to cry at the realization of the brutal honesty of my life, but the voice was not finished. As I prepared for more painful realizations, expecting even more affirmation to why my current course of action was the right thing, the voice said, “…..please don’t start now.”
Right then I was pulled back to reality like one of those scenes from a movie where the character was traveling through time and space. Picture what it looked like when the Millenium Falcon went into hyper-drive. I was no longer staring at my life, I was staring at my now. I knew right then what I was planning to do was not the right answer; it was the wrong answer; the selfish answer.
From there on out I made the decision to get up and move forward. I realized it didn’t mean that my life was any better, because truth be told it was not. In fact it got a lot worse before it got any better, but I never would have known any of this had I followed through with my plan.
I decided to take small steps in improving emotional state. I even convinced myself to start taking chances in life; small chances, and if they didn’t work out, then so be it. My first small chance challenge I gave myself, ask out that Cute Girl (that’s what I called her at least) you see every day at work, but have never had the courage to speak to. You know what I call that Cute Girl now…The Wife.
Now, I’ve said that I wanted to be brutally honest, and for the most part I have, but I also realize that I’ve skirted around the real issue in this blog. One of the hardest things I’ve learned in my time in therapy is that one of the best way to openly face your issues are to say them out loud, call them by name and take their power away. Because if you don’t, they will forever have a hold on you. So here we go…
I have suffered from depression my entire life, and on January 1, 2006 I planned to commit suicide, but I chose life. I continue to live with depression every day, but I will always choose life. My heart goes out to all those who struggle with depression on every level, but most importantly those who cannot choose life in the end. While some will point the finger at those who do succumb to depression and follow through with their plans that they are weak or that they are cowards, but I tell you now suicide is the greatest cry for help anyone can give, and know that even those individuals who are carrying their plans, they are not happy about it; they are crying out.
Now, to bring this full circle. The passing my childhood idol hit me really hard. I am still finding it hard to believe that a man such as Junior Seau would end his life this way. Instead of morning his choice of suicide I am choosing to celebrate his memory, or at least my memories of him. What does sadden me a little has been to see the amount of people who are so upset by what happened, but instead of properly mourning the man, they choose to degrade him by calling him weak or a coward. On friend of mine on Facebook said he did not deserve to be called a hero because he was a coward. They could not be more wrong.
If you do not want to see him as a hero, that’s one thing, but don’t sully his memory by calling him a coward because he could not fight off a debilitating disease. He will always be one of my idols, but it’s more important to remember he was a hero to many people, but none more than the 3 children he is leaving behind. He was their hero, and he always will be.
However, I will say one thing. The most important thing I ever did was to reach out for help. I had to admit to myself that I needed help, and I still do. I rely on the love from my friends/family and most importantly my Wife. Had Junior been able to see the pain that his actions have brought on his family, I truly believe he would have chosen a different path. There is no positive taken away from someone taking their own life. I just wished he would have just been strong enough to say he needed help.
I know this is a heavy topic to read, but it’s all true, and it is long overdue for me to talk about. I have never shared this story with anyone, including the Wife, and while I am not proud of the state I reached, I am proud that I was able to pull myself out, and most of all I am proud I chose life. And I am proud to share this story with anyone who will listen. If this story somehow makes you see me in a negative light, then I am sorry for that, but I am not sorry for sharing this story. I am also proud that I have been strong enough to admit that I need help, and also strong enough to accept that help from others. My Wife has long been an inspiration for me to grow and change and become the man I should have been long ago.
I have told my Wife several times throughout our relationship that at times I feel like she saved my life. I know she has always taken this in as some sort of over exaggerated show of affection. Now she knows I mean it.
#55, you will always be one of my heroes; I’m just sorry things had to end the way they did. I pray you find the peace in death that you could not find in life.