The Death of Robin Williams Was in Vain

I’m writing this a few days after the anniversary of the death of Robin Williams. I know it’s a little late and this post would have been more appropriate on August 11, rather than now. But I’ve spent these past few days reading blog posts and articles expounding upon the tragedy of Robin Williams’s suicide. Much of what I was reading was more of what his fans and even those who weren’t his fans, were in such grief about — everybody misses him.

It’s sad to think that he’s gone. There will be no more Mrs. Doubtfire. No more familiar enthusiasm associated with his radio announcer persona in the movie Good Morning Vietnam. No more realism and depth that had our own hearts aching from his performance in the movie Good Will Hunting. The list could go on. His mark goes beyond that of Hollywood’s rich and famous. His glorious acting along with his ability to make us laugh without even trying should have been his legacy. That’s how I’ve been blocking out the emptiness that his suicide has caused in my heart. But these movies, memories, voice overs, comedic acts will not be his legacy.

You know how people will say that they remember where they were when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon? Or when President Kennedy was assassinated? I will always remember my 18-year-old son running up from the basement to announce that Robin Williams had died. At the time, my children were not certain of my mental illness except that “mom spends a lot of time crying.” I had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, and had been trying to lug my body weight from task to task while appearing like I was coping. But when that announcement was made, my husband was on a ladder painting our living room walls white because anything more complex than basic colours hurt my eyes and made me retreat into the dome of silence in my bedroom, from whence I had appeared.

I was huddled in a recliner, watching the brush strokes sweep the paint up the wall, then down the wall. My mind remained in its all too familiar frozen state in which my families’ needs were unnoticed unless my husband gave me a little nudge with the handle of the paint brush. When the details emerged that his death was due to suicide, I gulped. The saliva filled my mouth and I tried in vain to swallow it. Spitting into a tissue, I cried. I cried. I cried a lot in those days but the death of an actor was not something I would have predicted as the trigger for my tears. But it was. And it remained so for several months.

Friends at work would talk about the suicide, and although it was well known he was depressed, my colleagues put more emphasis on his death due to the excruciating rollercoaster ride of being bipolar. “You’ll be fine,” they’d say to me, their sweet attempt to peel me off the ledge only serving to make me want to climb to a higher window sill. “He was bipolar,” they’d say. “That’s much worse than being depressed.” Perhaps their words were said to soothe the crazy coworker crying in the staff room at the mere mention of Robin Williams. Or perhaps mental illness education is still in its beginning stages and there are a great many populations that need educating. Finding out I was bipolar four months later only served to suck me back into the vortex of unending pain and mental treachery. My brain was clearly not cooperating with how people felt I should be feeling.

I read a few articles in the past several days in which the authors proclaim that Robin Williams’ death was not in vain. When I saw the titles, my double take of these publications only fueled residual anger I keep stored away in a little pain vault in my heart, which I save for those moments when propriety is not necessary and no longer possible. I’m not certain in which world the authors live in, but in my world, Robin Williams has died, and not one single thing has changed in my environment regarding mental illness and the need for more — more services and more referrals from medical professionals for psychiatric help.

And more importantly, not one bit of stigma has been squashed. Robin Williams’s death IS in vain. The argument has been made that if he was in that much pain, then he had the right to stop his suffering. As someone who has felt the very same suffering, in my darkest moments, when I had medication stockpiled in my drawer for that moment when I was going to shovel handfuls down my throat and wash them down with vodka, I stop myself. And although I too want to choke to death, I continue seeking help. It is only by the continuous action of seeking an answer to these problems that the medical profession — that funding; that public support will grow and thrive. My death will only serve to add me to the increasing number of statistics that clearly has nobody in governmental positions of authority jumping to create new programs or increasing the budget for mental health initiatives.

Robin Williams did a great disservice to those of us who suffer from mental illness because really, did he have the monopoly on pain? But instead of becoming an advocate, and making his powerful voice and influence which reaches far and wide across the world, a gift to the masses who, like him, are suffering and looking for answers and peace, he left a legacy. A legacy of betrayal and weakness that will only serve to show those who are looking for an escape route that one can always be found, and in the end, nobody will fight against the mental enemy because it’s not necessary.

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About Sandra Charron