(If this sounds familiar, it’s an expanded version of something I posted on Facebook.)
[ADDENDUM: Since posting this to Facebook, I have seen this message spread. The idea of “just whisper” has caught on, so if you post this, please tag it with #JustWhisper. Maybe we can spread this idea. Maybe it can help.]
The apparent suicide of Robin Williams hit us all pretty hard yesterday. For a man we never met, he had a profound impact on several generations for making us laugh, cry and ponder. I think we were all blinded-sided by Dead Poets Society, which had been marketed as another Good Morning, Vietnam but was something else entirely. We are trying to cope with this, to process it, and in doing so have expressed our love and admiration for this man.
But in our outpouring of grief, appreciation and love for Robin Williams, I can’t help but wonder if we are promoting a terrible side-effect: the idea among those in the grips of depression’s falsehoods and deceit that the world will celebrate you in death more than they appreciated you in life. That is, people will only love you after you are gone.
THIS IS BULLSHIT.
We mourn and grieve this man, who most of us never met, not because of his effect on our lives, but that there will be no more. We mourn what was to come. We want one more laugh, one more performance, one more touching moment.
And that applies to anyone reading this who thinks no one loves them, the world would be better without them, they have no value nor talent, and they cannot deal with the pressures of everyday life. If you choose to end your life, we will mourn you and celebrate the life you lived, but wish for one more day, one more chance to get to know you better. But secretly we will wonder why you did not ask for help. How we failed as your friend. Why you did not confide in us.
You will leave us hurting, angry, confused and alone.
A lot of people have been posting numbers for suicide prevention hotlines and helplines. These are good things. Keep doing it. But we also have to recognize those dealing with depression, even if they want help, are afraid of the stigma they think will come with admitting they have a problem. They might fear involuntary commitment to a hospital or being ineligible for insurance, security clearance or certain jobs. Perhaps they think that if they confide in a friend that they are suffering from horrible thoughts, a lack of energy and an inability to take joy in life, someone else will reply with their own “Oh, I know! I am so tired lately” and mistake this very vulnerable request for help as an excuse to kvetch about the occasional blue moods. Or they just don’t want to be forever known as that guy or that gal who you have to watch what you say around because… well… you know.
Do not listen to these fears. They are more lies.
And while tremendous work has been done to remove the stigma of mental illness, I wonder if the pendulum has swung too far. With celebrities coming forward to declare they have fought mental health issues, could those struggling to come to grips with their heads being filled with such darkness feel something must be profoundly wrong with them if they can’t seek help like these others have. And with a thought like that, their depression gains an even strong hold.
Because our culture has come to a point where not feeling happy all the time is an indication of something wrong. Even grief in the wake of a loved one’s death can be considered a mental disorder. Like we must be all smiles and good moods. I am not talking about sadness—just “doing OK” is an indication you need to go on meds to perk you up. To feel worthless, like you have no talent nor real friends, like you are unworthy of love, like you don’t even have the energy to tie your child’s shoelaces—culturally, this is the worst of the worst. A self-perpetuating cycle that there is something wrong with you, and if there is something wrong with you there is something seriously wrong with you. It is not something you can just snap-out of. It is a gravity that sucks you down, gets stronger the longer it goes on, and will not let go without outside help.
Which is why I want to suggest something more personal, more private. If you can’t face talking to a stranger over the phone, but know you need help, email the one person you think understands you and express your feelings in a sentence. “Sometimes I wish I was dead” or “Sometimes I think everyone who says they are my friend just tolerates me.” Not a long diatribe that might make you feel vulnerable or sappy. Just a small release of all that anger, frustration, resentment and vitriol.
Just a sentence.
See what happens.
If you think the outpouring of emotion over the death of a celebrity we never knew was something, the response from those who love you will overwhelm you. We will help you, we will lift you up, we will trample those lying voices that pursue you in your sleep and shout at you in your private moments.
WE are stronger than they are. Let us prove that you are stronger than they are, too. Please.
If you can shout you need help, shout it. If all you can do is whisper, just whisper.