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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams, Suicide and XO Jane

This is raw and unedited. I don't have the strength to go back. I hope you forgive me.

“Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer. We don't kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive. When somebody dies after a long illness, people are apt to say, with a note of approval, "He fought so hard." And they are inclined to think, about a suicide, that no fight was involved, that somebody simply gave up. This is quite wrong.” 
-Sally Brampton

" I'm tired of carrying around the weight of the world. I'm just going to lay it down now."
-The Secret Life of Bees

I've been trying to sleep, but in the wake of Robin Williams' death and my XO Jane post going live, I won't be able to until I get this out. 

I will never forget receiving that phone call. It was a typical early December day in New York, where the chill has set in and stores start decorating their windows for Christmas. That time between Thanksgiving and Christmas break where concentrating on work seems almost pointless. My iPhone rang (I remember, it was still kind of a novelty having just switched from a flip phone model). My friend, Elie, was on the phone. He asked me if I was sitting down. I laughed and said I was--I think I was on my laptop in bed snuggling with my dog. I think I was still somewhat feeling sorry for myself because my ex-boyfriend and I had broken up. 

"What is it?" I asked. I pictured one of our mutual friends having run off and married the guy she was dating. 

"B died. He killed himself."

"Are you serious?" I asked, a sharp intake of breath. Of course he was serious. Why would he joke?

My thoughts ran to the last time I spoke to B. He had just shaved his head and was Skyping me from his Upper East Side apartment. I think I was trying to finish a school assignment and he was alone in his apartment just trying to reach out. I told him I couldn't talk long because I had things to do. When Skype made its familiar "BOOP" noise, I didn't realize that was the last time I would be hearing his voice. If only I had stayed talking to him, I thought. Maybe he would be alive. 

The next few days passed in a blur. Having suffered with my own depression (see my XO Jane article), my parents were concerned that going to a funeral would be too sad for me. I put it on a credit card and went home to California anyway. He was a clothing connoisseur and we liked to pick out clothes together. I yelled at him in my empty apartment for making me pick out clothes for his funeral alone. But the funeral was what I needed, to be near everyone who was grieving. We hugged. We cried a lot. We even laughed, because after a while it just felt right. 

And then we returned to our normal lives. Except with a B-shaped hole in our hearts that will never truly be filled. It'll be six years this December and I still have all out sobbing fests that catch me completely off guard. Not often, mind you, but sometimes something will happen and remind me of him. And I'll lose it for a few hours. And then I'll be okay again. The thing about losing someone is that it doesn't get better with time, you just get used to the emptiness. Life goes on and that little crevice in your soul starts to seem normal. But it is always there. 

With suicide, there is always an element of self-doubt. Could I have done something differently? If I had, indeed, kept talking to B about his newly shaved head that night, would he not have killed himself a couple of weeks later?  There is always the what if...but the truth is, at least with B, he had a long struggle. He had attempted a few times before. Depression had lied to him enough that he felt unimportant, like the world would be a better place without him. Of course the world is much worse off for him having left, but I can take comfort knowing that if he was in so much pain, at least he is free of it. 

Maybe it was selfish of us wanting him to stay with the pain and ride this one out simply because we loved him and wanted him near. I wish he hadn't left us, but having suffered from depression myself and feeling on that precipice, I can understand he would feel there is no way out. And it breaks my heart to know he was in so much pain that suicide became what he felt to be his only rational option.

Depression, it hurts. For me, it was like an elephant sitting on my chest. It was like falling down a well with no escape. Even if you logically know you'll feel better in a couple of days, weeks or months, waiting that long seems like agony, torture even. Depression tells you you're stuck like this forever. And people simply kill themselves because they want the pain to stop. 

I am glad, in the wake of Robin Williams' death, that people are talking about suicide. That they are understanding that just because you are funny or seem happy that it doesn't mean you don't suffer. When people commented, "I never would have thought someone like that would suffer from depression," it perplexed me. To me, it seems completely natural that a gregarious, outgoing and funny person would fall victim to fact it always seems like those types are the ones to feel it the most. B was funny as hell when he was feeling good. During his funeral, there was interference with the microphones and random mariachi music started playing through the speakers. It happened a few times and got us to laugh, despite our grief. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but a lot of us thought it was B trying to lighten the mood. I like to think it was.

Of course it gets better, of course there is always hope. We can all love one another a little better, accept each others faults, hug a little tighter, lend an ear when those around us need it. We can be sensitive to the internal battles we never know people are fighting. But we also cannot play judge and jury if people lose the fight. I can't stand when people call suicide an "easy way out" or an act of cowardice, like that horrible guy on Fox News who passed his unfair judgement on Robin Williams. We are only in our own bodies and it is not fair to judge what we don't know. We can only be there for each other and pray that we can hold each others hands just tight enough to give someone hope to hang on until it does feel better.

Reach out to an old friend. Kiss your dog. Call your mom just to say hi. Tell your partner what you love about them. Smile at someone at school or in the office you don't normally talk to. And listen when someone needs you.  

I also want you to remember, if you've fallen down that well, that someone loves you. Someone depends on you.  Someone will be devastated when you're gone. If you need help, sometimes you just need to ask. You'll be surprised at how many people will want to listen, because they do care about you, even if it is just a complete stranger.

If you feel suicidal, call someone, even if it is someone you don't know very well. Reach out for that lifeline. Even if you can't solve everything that's weighing you down right now, at least you can grab onto that rope. And you can keep hanging on, even if it hurts, even if it takes everything you have, even if your knuckles turn white. And I hope you do. 

RIP Robin. Thanks for all the laughs, and I hope you've finally gotten the peace you were desperately missing in your life. And that you say hi to B for me.

I know this post didn't have much to do with Robin, but I don't know much about him or his situation pertaining to his depression. I only know I hope it starts us talking.

If you are feeling suicidal and feel you cannot get help from friends or family, you have many options.

In the UK, you can go to your local Samaritans branch during the day. 
You can call them at 0845 90 90 90 any time, day or night.

In the United States and Canada, you can call 1-800-273-TALK--the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

In Australia, you can call 13 11 14

In Ireland, 116 123

They're all open 24/7, 365 days a year and are ready to help. 

Sorry this post was ramble-y...I just really wanted to write it...

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  1. I found this through xoJane.
    I just want to say thank you for writing this. I absolutely loved it! I deal with severe depression. I can't even begin to tell you how much I hate when people go on about suicide as selfish, easy way out, cowardly act. Just..thank you for this.

    1. Hi Teresa,

      I'm so glad you found it useful. It was a 2AM ramble. I hope you are hanging on. You are loved.

      -Anna xx

  • Thank you for sharing this story. As I fight my own battle with depression, it's wonderful to find people that do understand what it's like.

    1. Thank you for commenting. I am so glad you found it helpful.

  • I was hit pretty hard by the news. I've suffered from depression pretty much all my life and most people that are not close to me have no idea. They assume that for the most part I am a pretty carefree, fun-loving person but have no idea what inner battles are going on. Thanks for sharing.. I feel like sometimes the best thing for someone depressed is to know they are understood and not be expected to be fixed of the condition.. sometimes it's a lifelong one.

    1. Agreed, Esther. It isn't an easy's not always take some medicine and then its done. It is very hard.

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