I felt a bit foolish for being so crushed by the death of Robin Williams - then, texting some friends who are part of the special club (the 1 in 17 of us who live with mental illness that is enough of a pain in the ass that it "interferes with our daily lives"), I realized I wasn't alone.
Because we have been there, gazing over the edge into the abyss, and so far, we haven't been pushed over it - or jumped. To lose one of our own - one who seemed to be able to accomplish anything - well, it stings beyond belief.
A friend who lives with bipolar disorder summed it up well.
"Sometimes," she said, "it takes constant, pure will not to give in."
Robins lived with mental illness, and he was vocal about destigmatizing - ending the discrimination that surrounds - it. He joined a movement called "Mad Pride" (e.g., pride in being "mad"), and got involved with fellow actor Joe Pantoliano's nonprofit, NKM2
, which seeks to "stomp the stigma" of mental illness.
We saw him perform in a small venue a few years ago in San Francisco. He was amazing, and amazingly human.
My younger brother N took my even younger brother B to see him a bit after that - B was 15 or 16 - and Williams looked out into the crowd and joked that he had better watch it with the language, "Because there's a little boy in the crowd!" (He didn't watch the language. But he did meet B, and was very gracious.)
I have been in that place, as have some of you. That place where you think nothing, nothing, can be worse or more painful than being alive. Picture your worst despair, multiply it by 1,000, and feel in your gut that nothing will ever get better, and you may get a glimpse of what it's like.
Chances are, someone you know has told you they live with a chronic
illness. Now picture them telling you they live with a chronic mental
illness. Does that change how you feel?
public discourse, despite public awareness campaigns, the fear of
having the discussion is there. And it is very real, and very lonely. If Williams, with all of his courage and all of his resources, was taken by mental illness, what chance to many of the rest of us have? If we don't make this an accepted topic of public discussion...not much of one.
I wish I could tell everyone who ends up in that place that, as Williams once said in an interview, there is hope.
That there is always hope.
If you worry about a friend, check on them. If you worry about yourself, call and get help
No matter how dark it is, it gets better. I promise.
In the meantime, let's talk. Let's start the conversation. Let's come out of the darkness.