The Aftermath

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Butterfly on a Dandilion

Butterfly on a Dandelion

Almost a month ago, Robin Williams committed suicide and people, celebrities and the average person alike, came out of the woodwork to beg those with depression to reach out to someone. Now that the smoke has cleared and the immediacy of the moment is over, everyone has gone on with their lives proud of the fact that they did their bit. For those of us who live with mental illness, it’s not over and that moment that we finally got people paying attention to us is gone. Now we’re left to deal with the aftermath.

When everyone was shocked that Robin Williams could commit suicide, the battle cry was “talk to someone!” “Reach out!” “Don’t wait to get help!” Yet I didn’t see anyone stepping up to be that someone we were supposed to reach out to get help. I saw and heard a lot of platitudes but I didn’t see a lot of people actually doing anything. No one poured buckets of ice water over their heads or ran to raise money or even picked up a phone to make sure friends with mental illness were all right.

I suffer from anxiety and that’s no secret. Most days I’m all right but I have my very dark days when I’m shackled by my mind. When those days happen, there’s always a question on my mind that I have no answer for; who do I reach out to? It may seem like a simple answer. Reach out to whomever’s around. Okay. Let’s examine that answer.

First you try to reach out to family. Here’s the reality; family is often very tired of listening to the sad member of the family moan on about their life. They don’t understand but they try to help and offer such sage advice as “just get over it” and “cheer up” just so they can get on with their own lives. They’ve been dealing with their sad member of the family for years and one more phone call, one more coffee, one more dinner is tiring. Don’t get me wrong. I know they love their sad member but there comes a time when they’re just tired of dealing with it.

Then you reach out to friends. This sometimes works but it’s a hit or miss situation. While your friends love you, they have lives of their own and the sad friend can be a real bummer. They’ll listen once or twice but after that it gets old and they want you to move on. Besides, when you’re in that dark place, you feel like you’re a burden and you don’t want to make your friends more miserable about you than they are.

Strangers? Where? The Internet’s full of strangers who don’t give a damn. Worse, it’s full of strangers who will goad your depression on for the sake of their twisted amusement. They’re the ones who’ll bring popcorn to your funeral. No good.

Help lines. Okay, but they’re even more distant strangers than those you’ll find on the Internet. While they don’t have that sick need to watch Rome burn, they’re not invested in you beyond your basic humanity. They’re designed to help those who are suicidal and not every depressed person is ready to swing from the rafters.

So it’s all fine and well to mouth the words and platitudes telling those who battle mental illness to get help but then what? You feel good and move on with your life? Isn’t it time that we started doing something about it? Isn’t it time we started making mental illness a priority in learning how to treat it and help sufferers?

When all those people who were speaking those pretty words following Robin Williams’ death are willing to take action to help mental health sufferers then I will start believing it matters. I don’t need you to dump a bucket of ice water on your head or run a marathon. My challenge is this; reach out to someone you know suffers from mental illness and see if there’s anything they need. See if they want to go for coffee. Make sure they’re doing all right. You don’t need to film it but please do pass it on.

Please challenge yourself to just listen to someone who needs a sympathetic ear.

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Robin Williams – Time to Talk

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My heart has joined the thousand, for my friend stopped running today” – Richard Adams

Yesterday I, like millions of others, shed some tears over the passing of Robin Williams. A thousand thoughts went through my head and I wanted to say so

Robin Williams - You're only given one little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it.

Robin Williams

 

much. I find it ironic that his laughter saved me from committing suicide. I never got to thank him. So, today, I thought I’d devote this space to talking about a subject that gets so little attention; mental illness. At first I thought of doing something poignant and hard-hitting but then I thought Robin Williams brought laughter to us so why not talk about this subject with laughter.

I don’t want his death to mean nothing. So let’s use this opportunity to talk.

I suffer from anxiety and have for years. So many people who have loved ones suffering from mental illness have really no idea how to help. That’s an awful feeling, being powerless in the face of such blackness. So I thought I’d give some advice from the perspective of someone living down the rabbit hole.

  • Don’t tell us how to handle it. Everyone has great ideas and you’re no exception. However, “get over it” isn’t particularly helpful when you’re gibbering in a corner. “Just ignore it” is great advice if your brain doesn’t feel like it’s trying to claw the inside of your eyelids.
  • Don’t do for us. Sure, it seems easier to just do stuff for us. After all, those of us who ride the crazy train have to dodge the hallucinations as we do the dishes. However, we’ve worked up a rhythm and when you step in to do it for us you knock us off our stride. We’re not helpless. We do stuff. Okay, so maybe I bark when I reach for the apples at the grocery store but just ignore that. Better yet, bark with me.
  • A little laughter goes a long way. Years ago when I thought suicide sounded like a great escape, I went to see the movie, “Good Morning Vietnam”. I laughed so hard that I cried. A thought hit me that if I could still laugh then I could still live. Ever since then when things get bad I reach for Robin Williams. Help us to laugh. Sometimes that’s hard when you’re lost in your own head.
  • Talk. One of the great things about kids is they ask questions. Even the ones they’re not supposed to. Somehow we lose that talent. Don’t talk about the elephant in the room. Mental illness is an elephant in the room wearing bright yellow rubber boots and singing show tunes. Talk about it. Don’t worry about offending us. We want to talk. We want you to understand.
  • Let us have our moments. You may not understand why I need to turn the lights off and on three times but I do. It may not make sense to you that I panic if the pickles are on the top shelf in the refrigerator instead of the middle shelf but it makes sense to me. I have my rituals and touchstones. Please don’t mess with them.
  • Accept us. Crazy don’t mean dumb. If you love us, then love us. That means accepting that we’re going to text 15 times in a day just to make sure you got our last message. But we have good points as well. We make amazing cupcakes and know all the best places to make out. Well, I do, anyways.

Oh, captain my captain

Robin, you’ll be missed. You left us too soon and we had so much more laughs to be had. I understand the war you waged within yourself. A war too many of us fight. Know this; your death need not be in vain. It’s a chance for us to talk about that darkness that so many of us live with. It’s time to speak out.

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