With Robin Williams suicide, comes article after article, just like this one, exploring the unanswerable questions of Why did he do it? What caused it? How could it have been prevented? One recent article that I read, was by Maria Puente at USA Today, “Robin Williams: A link between genius, mental illness?”
I couldn’t stop cringing.
Suicide is not a mystery. It’s called being human.
That’s why when these things happen to a famous person, the media blows up— because we have all been there. We have all been near the point of no return. We have all felt profound saddness. And when we are reminded that other people feel this way too— that burden is lifted. Because it is only an emotion that seems bigger than ourselves, but it isn’t so big when we realize everyone else feels the same.
Because we are all humans. And we are all alone together, but together we are able to overcome these feelings that feel too big.
These words like mental illness, bipolar, schizophrenic, suicide, genius— they are just that. They are words. But the words hold a different meaning to each person, and because of our desire to see suicide as a inconceivable alternative to living, we push ourselves away from the truth of what suicide is.
It’s giving up on yourself and the world around you.
And don’t we all want to give up on ourselves and the world from time to time? Maybe some of us more often then not?
I think so. I think we all do to some extent. But I don’t think that’s a mental illness, madness, or insanity. I think it’s just being real. Those words keep us from getting help. Those words keep us from reaching out. Those words keep us locked inside our minds for fear of a label that may or may not save us from ourselves.
Let me stop with the vague statements that could be interpreted in any which way.
But really. These are all words. So interpret them how you need to.
Real life experiences, now, from my storybook of being human. Focus, Chloe, focus.
I can remember times in my life where the pressures that I put on myself were too much to handle, but I couldn’t figure out how to save myself from my own thoughts. Everyday was a struggle to not walk in front of a passing bus. I’d fantasize about the ease in which death could come. It’d be so easy to just slip away out of this world, give up because right now was too much for me to focus on, stop trying because I couldn’t see one good thing about my life. I missed class constantly. I couldn’t stop eating. I’d spend weekends going to the Iowa City Library, renting anywhere from 10-20 DVD’s, and then watching one after another after another, binge eating on Chinese food, Ben and Jerry’s, and pizza. I wouldn’t shower. I wouldn’t sleep until four am, and then I’d just keep sleeping through my classes when it came time for the real world.
I knew I needed help. But even that seemed too hard when taking 24 semester hours, working 20 hours a week, and running a website for my art.
So for a while, I chose to sleep and eat instead.
One day, I remember going to the free counselling that was offered by my University. Finances were one of the many things that were stressing me out, and I figured I just needed to learn how to deal with stress. Free counselling seemed like the thing to do.
I remember sitting in the office, scribbling on some sheet about my past history, the things in my life that were stressing me out, medical information, yada-yada. The paperwork took about twenty minutes, and then the waiting took longer. I was nervous about seeing someone I knew coming into the office because I already perceived that I had no friends, and then someone seeing me in the counselling office would just further alienate me into my emotional instability.
The free counselling session went a little like this.
“So what problems do you want us to help you with?” The perky young lady asked me as I sat there like a tub of grease that had been scrapped out of the sink. Her hair was perfectly coifed, shiny, she had a giant engagement ring on her finger, was wearing a slick suit and a pretty smile. I think I had maybe managed to brush my hair that day.
“I think I need to learn how to deal with stress,” I said.
“Ok. Do you have roommate problems or class problems or…?”
“No. I just have. Lots of problems. Yes to all of those I guess. Class sucks. I feel uninspired. I can’t write which is why I came here in the first place. I don’t like anyone. And I’m getting fat.”
“Oh, yes. Okay. What about your family?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do they support you?” She asked.
“Support? Like. Financially or what?”
“Uh— yeah. They are a good group. But they have their own shit. When I talk to them I feel like I am burdening them as well. Same with my friends. I don’t want to keep bringing them down but I can’t stop myself from bringing everyone down. I hate everything. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I don’t know how to stop eating. I can’t stop spending money even though I have no money. I feel like I can’t control this shit. And I don’t feel anything. I just feel. Numb. Like this is all useless. But I know it’s just because I’m stressed. I just…. I need to learn how to deal with stress, ya know?”
She looked at me, her smile faltering but her head still nodding as if massaging my words into her happy mind.
“Ok. Well we have some options.”
“This office, to qualify for free counselling, we must have a foreseeable solution to the problem at hand…”
I already knew where this was going.
“OK…” I said.
“And… It sounds like you have a lot of things that you want to work on, right?”
“It’s just stress…”
“Ok… I think it would be best if you called Seashore Hall…The graduate school for psychology. And set up an appointment,” she turned away to grab a sticky note. “Call this number, and ask for an appointment. It might take a few weeks, but I think you should ask for someone who is highly advanced in their studies. They will take you on as a subject, and it’s relatively inexpensive because you will be apart of their…”
“So I’d be a test subject?”
“Alright… So. What you’re saying is I don’t qualify for free counselling…”
“We usually deal with break-ups and roommate arguments. We could try to help you, but…” She let her sentence trail off.
I remember leaving that office laughing. And it felt good to laugh. I called up one of my oldest friends who I knew had very similar issues in life, and said “You know… I know you would appreciate this because it’s really quite hilarious. I was just told, basically, that I’m too fucked up to qualify for free counselling.” She and I laughed for a good five minutes, and then talked about life, and our experiences with crazy psychologists, terrible counsellors, and then just some normal stuff because it had been a while since we’d seen each other. When I got off of the phone, I called the graduate university and made an appointment to become apart of the “Chloe Files” and that day, even though I had been turned down for free counselling, that day I didn’t want to walk in front of a bus. And maybe I ate one less tub of ice cream.
I could continue to write about my journey through, over, under, and out of depression or bipolarism or anxiety or borderline personality or whatever you want to call it— but that’s not my point. Those words cause fear and fear pushes us away from the problems that we need to deal with.
No amount of counselling, antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, or booze will save me from myself.
Those things helped at times when I needed some guidance, but at the end of the day, had I wanted to kill myself bad enough, I would of.
The only thing stopping me from killing myself was the people who loved me even when I hated myself.
I knew I could never, ever, ever, do that to the people who loved me. To my family. And to the lifelong friends that were there with me through many of the panicked moments that I shared with them during those times. Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing that had instilled the fear of suicide into my system, but viewing suicide as selfish was sometimes the only thing that saved me.
Now, as someone who is emotionally stable— most of the time, I know that I’m not any one of those names. But I wanted to believe that I was, because giving a problem a name made it seem more manageable.
It’s all just words, right?
Genius. Normal. Smart. Stupid. Crazy. Insane. All just perceptions. But no matter which one you are, you’re still made up of the same things that the next person is. You still feel. You still live. You’re just human. And that’s a good thing.
We can fear the words or we can embrace them or we can avoid them. But does it really matter?
At the end of the day, the only person who can prevent suicide, is you. You must decide to ask for help. You must decide to find whatever it is that makes you feel better in that moment that you need to feel better. You must decide to reach out in anyway that feels okay. Even when it is the last thing you want to do, find something to hold on to.
And perish into another one of those mysteries that will never be solved, because we never got the chance to really hear your answer to what’s wrong. It is your choice. We cannot prevent suicide, we can only show a version of love.
But how will we know how to love you if you don’t tell us what you need?
Let people in. We are all the same. And realizing this, is what saves us from ourselves.