Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fear and Loathing in the Aftermath of Robin Williams

I was sitting at home on Facebook when I saw the first post about Robin Williams' passing.  At first I dismissed it, as it wouldn't be the first time there had been a celebrity death hoax on Facebook.  I kept scrolling and saw it again, this time from a reputable news source.

It was less that an hour before the "RIP Robin Williams", the memes, and the sad updates were everywhere.  I logged off Facebook because I knew what was about to happen and what was coming next was going to leave me upset.  But you can only avoid it so long.

What am I avoiding?  I'm avoiding all of the messages of "support", how sad the situation is, how people should get help, and the "please come talk to me if you need help" posts from people who I feel lack real empathy and who I feel are "reaching out" out of some sense of obligation and not a genuine desire to support people who know Robin Williams' struggles on a more personal level.  The observations and opinions about depression and suicide from people who clearly have no idea what the they're talking about and statements reinforcing the stigma of mental illness has filled my newsfeed for the last 24+ hours.

I recently began talking about my current struggle with depression.  It isn't the first time I've struggled with this; I've been struggling with depression and self-harm since I was a teenager.  I've been in the position to need to ask for help.  I am no stranger to therapy.  I am no stranger to anti-depressants though to be honest I usually give up on them before really feeling "helped".  I'm not an expert on depression, and I'm not trying to claim that I am.  In my experience, sometimes what I find least comforting is actually of great support to another person... that is the beauty of this world, we're all different.  I'm just writing this as someone who has experienced the struggle with depression and knows what it is like to want to end it all.

When you suffer from an illness or affliction, and you see someone "lose their battle" it generates a lot of fear.  Of course there is a lot of sadness as well, and that sadness is only exacerbated by the first hand knowledge of what those feelings feel like.  I know what I feel like when I've self-harmed, and knowing the thoughts and feelings that go through my mind causes my chest to physically hurt at the thought that he probably felt and thought all of them in a way I never have leading up to his last moments.  No one should die feeling that way, and my heart aches.

But behind that sadness is the fear that you yourself won't be able to survive, that if the person who died couldn't make it in spite of whatever they had going for them whether it is fame, money, family, friends or great personality then what chance do you have?  While death might serve as a reminder of mortality to a normal person, death by illness or affliction to a fellow sufferer is a double whammy of mortality and the glaring fact that the thing you struggle with has claimed yet another victim, someone you might have even thought was better than you, and even they could not find a way to survive it.

Robin Williams made people laugh for a living.  He brought so many people joy and so many people loved him, and he had the money to pay for the help he needed...if this is how it ended for him, what is to keep me from falling over that ledge too?

Maybe it is just me, but it is infuriating as someone currently struggling with depression who has admitted she needs help, can't afford help, and who has to wait another 4 weeks to see her doctor to even begin to talk about things like medication (which I also can't afford) to see messages offering "support" from people who I've seen make disparaging remarks about mental illness, or have said hurtful or insensitive things when they've been asked for support. 

I'm willing to admit that I'm a little bitter and feel let down because I see so many people talking about Robin Williams and offering support up who were less than approachable, receptive or compassionate when I tried to reach out to them for help.  People who are supposed to be my friends.  People who are supposed to care.  I'm hurt because I feel like some of those people didn't support me when I needed them, but I'm more scared knowing that someone might reach out to them only to end up feeling the same rejection I felt and not have other supportive people they can turn to.  

It is so hurtful seeing people who I thought cared about me posting disparaging remarks about Robin Williams' being selfish and cowardly and belittling his struggles when I understand so much of it all too well, and I can't help but wonder, "If I don't make it, if that ends up being me, will they say those same things?"  As I write this, I know that there are some people I need to remove from my life immediately.

Looking at the Internet these past few days I see just as much stigma, judgement, and ignorance about the struggle that is living with mental illness as there was before Robin Williams' death.  I have avoided news media and blogs because I am finding myself triggered.  I am sure I am not the only one.  But for all of the genuine help I see posted, I still see a constant stream of negative opinions and judgments that make me not want to reach out to anyone and that scares me for people who might not have the supportive people that I do. 

Sadly, I think when talking about suicide and depression the "niceties" contribute to the problem. When something tragic happens, people naturally fall back on the socially acceptable behaviors of offering up support, and the truth is that sometimes people offer support which they are unwilling to actually provide. 

It is a crushing let-down when you've built up the courage to reach out to someone for support when they have put themselves out there as someone willing to listen and be a friend, only to find they have no interest in being supportive, helpful, or understanding.  Not everyone can handle emotional upset and discussion about death, depression, self-harm and suicide can be very upsetting to some people.  I'm not judging people who are emotionally or psychologically unable to handle that; All I ask is that people who are unable to really help forgo offering personal support to people who need it if they are incapable or unwilling to actually provide that support. 

There are people out there who I know really want to help people who might be struggling.  There are genuine, wonderful people who have been my warriors, my heroes and my champions time and time again.  They are literally lifesavers and I can't even begin to express my appreciation, gratitude and love for those people.  I want to see more of them and people like them.  I want people who really do need a friend or a listening ear to be able to see these sincere people who are genuinely effected by this sad death and reaching out in honesty for those who might need help and are being lost in the sea of people who I feel are just "saying what people say".

To those of you who spend every day trying to help and approach this with sincere compassion and love, thank you. You save lives just by trying. 

I wish I could tell the people who are being mean, condescending and enforcing stigma that one in ten people means there are pretty good odds that there is a Robin Williams in your life who just read your post calling the actions of a desperate man selfish and cowardly, and there is a good chance that person feels hurt and even more alone and ashamed than before.   

The best advice I can give to those who genuinely want to reach out to people and perhaps might not know how is to read up about how to be an active listener, maybe do some reading on how to help/what to say to someone who is suicidal or suffering from depression, arm yourself with a box of tissues and phone numbers for resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, refrain from making judgments that would make people feel uncomfortable coming to you, and strive to be a person someone could come to in confidence.  Most importantly, try asking how you can help someone.  You don't have to have all the right words.  Most of the time you don't even do anything except be there, let them know you care, and listen.

Don't know what to say?  Want to help people but don't have the words?  Unable to handle the complex thoughts and emotions about depression, self-harm and suicide?  That is OK.  You can still help people by simply sharing information from people who can. 


  1. It is truth. and thank you for writing it!

  2. Thank you for posting this. I have some dear friends who struggle with depression and mental illness. It is time that this stops being a "stigma" or a "weakness" and becomes something we can talk about, address, and something that we can be there for each other for. It's a hard thing to watch a loved one go through but it's encouraging to know that there IS something we can do to help. We don't have to stand by and watch, we can address and be there for our friends and family. We can talk with open, loving hearts about issues and struggles. We can remind people that we are in their corner. We can not judge. We can love. It is good to know that that helps. Keep being you, Hot Ash. Keep being honest. Keep facing the demons in the eye...some day you will overcome. And we will be here for you all the way.

  3. I happened by you today through 'The Bloggess' to 'Tracyontherocks' and then you--I too wrote about him and depression but you wrote it so much better, with so much heart and insight. It's a wonderful perspective that I wish more would (should) realize. "--the truth is that sometimes people offer support which they are unwilling to actually provide"--that is the brutal, honest fact of not just depression and mental illness but of all types of illnesses. I think people are either well-intended or they simply don't know what to say when confronted by the situation but nothing is better that an empty promise. Well put and thank you for this. I'm looking forward to more of your work.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and for stopping by!

  4. Took me awhile to get around to reading this one but... just wanted to say I'm sorry some people have let you down. I know how disappointing that can be. Well done on the post.