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 to mask the best I could each and every day. 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; I’m glad I didn’t.
Some have said to me that I was never really going to do it; 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; selfish even. I in no way agree with what Robin did; suicide is never the answer, but it is an answer. An answer to a question only those who struggle with this demon will understand. That’s why I will never see him as a coward. I, like many others, know the daily struggle of masking depression; the toll it takes on your body, your mind, your soul…your will to live.
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; the news that life has doubled-down on your already heavy feelings of being a burden on others.
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; I mean Will stole it already. But then I would let him know how he taught me that laughter was indeed the greatest medicine, and that even if this sickness eventually wins; making others laugh is one of the greatest gift someone can give while you’re here.
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’ Captain my Captain….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.