Oh Captain, My Captain!

By: Sasha Roxanna A year ago this week, the world lost the light that was Robin Williams.  I don't know about you, but I was devastated on multiple levels.  Not only had we lost someone who had given so much joy and so much love, but his death was so like my sister's, that I almost felt like I had lost her again. After my sister died, there was very little discussion. My family was in so much pain and shock, that we didn't know how to have a conversation about it.  We could speak about our memories of her, but we couldn't speak about that day, or the aftermath. It was too hard. So I stayed silent. I listened. And I didn't ever feel like I could grieve, because showing my grief could be seen as a weakness, something that would worry my family.  I think we all wanted to be strong for each other. It was also a different time. There wasn't much discussion about depression, or mental illness or suicide. I didn't know where to look for resources. I wasn't even aware of F.I.S.P. or support groups in general. And when I did learn about support groups, I was too scared to go - ashamed to admit that I wasn't okay. With the death of Robin Williams came a lot of discussion. Some of it was, as we've unfortunately come to expect, pretty nasty. There were people who couldn't fathom how anyone so loved, so talented, so wealthy, could be so desperately sad, that he'd end his life. As if the value of your portfolio had any actual bearing on a person's happiness.  But, for the most part, I think people started to think, really think, about mental illness. The weight that it can bear on a person's shoulders; the mark it can leave on a soul. I read a lot of discussions that were kind and thoughtful. The writers understood that the measure of a person is how they lived their life, and not how they died.  They understood that someone could "have it all" but still struggle, because mental illness is a disease and not just a feeling that someone has once in a while.  In many ways, there is more awareness now, more respectful discussion on the issue. When Robin Williams died, it led me down a dark path. He was a very public analogue for my sister.  I read everything I saw about it.  I became obsessed with following the stories. As you might expect since I was substituting Robin Williams for my sister every article that was gentle, soothed, and every article that was harsh, stung. One day, I saw an ad on Facebook for "National Survivor of Suicide Day" and I took a chance and called that same day and spoke to Myra at the FISP office to reserve my spot.  I was scared to go, so my boyfriend came with me and stayed by my side. It was there that I began to consider and respect my own feelings. It took me some time to find my voice. And it took me some time to process the information from that day and actually go to a support group meeting. But because of Robin Williams, I am now in a place where I can speak about my sister and feel safe - a place where I am less scared to share my feelings, less uncertain about the healing process. It only took 8 1/2 years after my sister died. Not only am I now speaking out, but more and more celebrities are also speaking out about their own struggles with mental illness.  They are fighting the stigma, using their platforms to raise awareness. British actor Stephen Fry wrote a wonderful post about his struggle with depression, his battle with loneliness in the midst of "having it all". The actor Jared Padalecki, famous for his roles in TV shows "Gilmore Girls" and "Supernatural", recently became an advocate, after losing a close friend to suicide and also being diagnosed with depression, with his "Always Keep Fighting" campaign to benefit To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA). Singer/actress Demi Lovato has spoken out about her own struggles with insecurity, depression, cutting, an eating disorder and how it led her to drug use. She has become an advocate, speaking out for understanding and respect, as part of the "Be Vocal" campaign. Wil Wheaton, known for roles in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "The Big Bang Theory", has also come forward recently, to promote "Project UROK" which aims to fight the stigma against mental illness. Many other celebrities are also speaking up about our need, as a society, to support and encourage those with mental illness in their battle to fight their demons and I find a significant amount of hope in these campaigns. Can there be a silver lining in the loss of Robin Williams?  It's hard to imagine. Out of such darkness, can we find light? I remember the words of John Keating, his much-loved role in the film Dead Poet's Society, "No matter what anyone tells you, words and ideas can change the world." So let's take the words of Robin Williams, his memory, and change the world.  Let's make it into one where we are rid of the stigmas.  A world where those of us who feel lonely no longer feel desperate.  A world where we can speak about our feelings and find support and encouragement, without judgment or fear. If we lift our voices in unison, imagine the way that we could help support our loved ones and ourselves, and what better way to celebrate the legacy of a man who gave us so much joy.

2 Comment

  1. Chrissy says: Reply

    What a way to put it! Respectful. I completely agree. After I lost my dad to suicide I didn’t know where to place my feelings, who to talk toor who I was. The person on the inside did not reflect my outside. For six years I hoarded so many feelings I didn’t want people to see. Until I couldn’t take it, I reached out to a group that I didn’t know existed but I’m so grateful that it does. I have found a place where I feel safe but most of all I found a place that I can honor and respect my father and speak his name again. Now I am able to share his life with those that didn’t know of him or in the case of his grandchildren they still have many things he he will share with them through me! There once was a time and very dark place when I wouldn’t say his name, not even to myself but now I am able to share it with my loved ones and with love I share his story to hopefully bring light for any still in the dark.

  2. Karina says: Reply

    Very thoughtfully put. And truly inspiring… The destigmatized world you describe sounds beautiful to say the least.

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