Being a worker bee class person, most celebrity deaths don’t really impact my day-to-day life. The only ones that really have are celebrities that I had the pleasure of meeting during my nine years working in the music industry in Nashville. That was mostly because I felt a personal (albeit very small) connection with them.
There are only two other celebrity deaths that I really remember hitting me hard. The first was the murder of John Lennon in 1980 because I idolized him. The second was the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman earlier this year which I wrote about at the time of his death. Sadly, I will now be adding a third celebrity death to that list – Robin Williams.
By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard/read about the suicide death of Robin yesterday. It was all over my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds last night after I got home from work. To say it hit me hard would be a massive understatement. I finally just had to log out on all of my social media channels because I simply couldn’t process his death and read the things people were writing.
The reason his death caused such a dramatic reaction in me is that one of Robin’s movies is directly tied to my own suicide attempt in 1998. Fortunately, unlike Robin, I did not succeed.
Now, I’m sure some of you are aghast that I just shared that little tidbit about my life. Yes, I tried to commit suicide. We don’t talk about mental health issues in this country, much less our own(!), due to the stigma that goes along with it. Unless some of us start to change that narrative, we will continue down this path which doesn’t help anyone, especially those dealing with their own mental health issues. So, grab some popcorn and strap in for the ride. Here we go …
I spent several weeks in the late summer of 1998 dealing with severe anxiety, panic attacks, and depression because I began to have PTSD flashbacks (both while sleeping and awake) to the sexual abuse I experienced as a child. I was in therapy a couple of times per week, but things didn’t seem to be getting better. In fact, they were getting worse. I went out on disability from my job and things got to the point that I didn’t really want to leave the apartment because the fear of having a panic attack in public was just too overwhelming for me. I was quickly losing the ability to cope with the most basic tasks of day-to-day life.
I was married and my then husband (who battled his own mental health issues due to being a bipolar recovering alcoholic) decided it would be a good idea to try and get me out of the house. He convinced me to go to a movie with him using the argument that it was a weekday matinee so the theater would likely be pretty empty anyway and besides that, it would be dark in the theater so if I did start having a panic attack, we could quietly slip out and no one would realize what was going on. I reluctantly agreed and off we went.
When we got to the theater, my ex asked what I wanted to see and I told him I truly didn’t care and to just pick whatever he wanted to see. In what can only be classified as the worst possible choice ever, he selected “What Dreams May Come.” If you aren’t familiar with the movie, you can read the late Roger Ebert’s synopsis and review here.
Despite making it through the movie without having a full blown panic attack, the whole story line of the movie just left me feeling very ill at ease and pretty agitated. In hindsight, given I was dealing with my own mental health issues, watching a movie about a woman who is depressed and commits suicide probably wasn’t the best thing for me to be seeing at the time. Add in the whole religious heaven/hell component which was another struggle I was dealing with at that point in my life (another story for another day), it was just all too much for my fragile psyche.
After we got home, my ex decided to go out to run a few errands and pick up some dinner for us. While he was gone, I had a complete mental break and decided I just couldn’t live with the pain any longer. I found the bottles of psychotropic drugs prescribed for my depression and anxiety (he wisely kept them hidden from me, but clearly not hidden well enough since I quickly found them) and I took them all. By the time he returned home, I was pretty out of it and well on my way to going to sleep forever. He called 9-1-1 and I was rushed to the hospital where my stomach was pumped. I survived. However, the story doesn’t end there.
Upon my release from the hospital, I was “escorted” by the police to a local mental health facility where I was held on a 5150 hold for 72 hours for evaluation. That was my first of three involuntary stays over a period of three months, the longest lasting for 20 days for intensive in-patient treatment due to the recurring suicidal ideations I was having. What followed was several months of daily outpatient treatment which was gradually decreased over time to weekly sessions. I was finally able to return to work about a year after being put on disability, but I continued the weekly therapy sessions for another two years after that.
So, while I never knew or met Robin Williams personally, his death yesterday touched me deeply due to how his role in “What Dreams May Come” has always played a major part in my own past. Even now, 16 years later, it’s impossible for me to hear a reference to that movie without thinking of my own suicide attempt and being so thankful that I didn’t succeed in my effort to end my life. It just all kind of came full circle for me emotionally when I learned that he had chosen to end his own life, likely due to his own on-going battles with addiction and depression. I suddenly felt even more connected to him than I ever had in the past.
While I know suicide, and mental health in general, is never an easy topic to discuss, it’s an important one. For someone who has never experienced it themselves or had a loved one battling depression, it’s very easy to throw out the typical platitudes such as suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, why didn’t the person just reach out to someone if things were that bad, suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness, etc. Having been there, I can tell you it’s just simply not that easy nor that cut & dry.
When one is in the deepest throes of depression, sometimes reaching out isn’t an option. The disease keeps one mired in a place where they physically, emotionally, and mentally can’t reach out because they’re just shut down. Accordingly, it also puts one in a place where the ability to parse what is permanent and what is temporary simply doesn’t exist. Depression convinces you that everything is just bad, it’s always going to bad, and nothing will ever change. People who commit suicide don’t do it because they’re selfish and don’t care about their loved ones. They do it because they simply want the pain to end. That’s the mind of depression. I know because it’s exactly how I felt for months on end.
If you are reading this and are struggling with depression, please know that I’m rooting for you. If you are in a place where you can reach out to someone, please do. There is help and it does get better. If you aren’t in a place mentally or emotionally where you can ask for help for yourself, my hope is that there is someone in your life who loves you enough to get you the help you need and that you will be open to receiving it. My journey back to mental wellness wasn’t an easy one and there were many times I wanted to just quit and give up. In the end, I’m so glad I didn’t. Over time, and with lots of treatment and therapy, I made it through to the other side. Life is good again and my hope that you will find that path, too.
For those of you who have a loved one that you think may be dealing with depression, please check out this information for the signs of depression and what you can do to help your loved one. If you’re still unsure, speak with your loved one’s physician or a mental health provider. It’s better to reach out and be wrong, than to remain in silence as your loved one suffers.
Finally, to Robin — your spark and talent will be greatly missed in this world. Your family and friends are in my thoughts as they come to terms with your choice and their loss. May you rest in peace.
Until next time …