Robin Williams & Me. ~ Brian Westbye

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Robin Williams

I get it. I get it all, and all too well.

Normally I mourn celebrity death quietly for a few hours and then move on with my life. It’s not that I don’t care: exactly the opposite, in fact. But I have absolutely zero infatuation with celebrity, and these people are too remote from my own life. Cardboard cutouts, distant as a nebula. Thus, the loss does not compute. It’s not real.

The suicide of Robin Williams is totally different. He was me

Glancing at all the pull-quotes from his interviews leaves me chilled. The tells are everywhere in every noun: “Shame”, “Disgust”, “Struggle.” These are the touchstones of a depression that I know intimately, having lived uncomfortably with it for many years.

I’ll leave the Monday morning quarterbacking about Robin William’s life and struggles to the “experts”, but shame and disgust scream HSP (highly sensitive people) to me. I have recently determined that there are at least three narratives that have run on parallel tracks throughout my entire life, and that they are all interconnected and connected to HSP and depression. They are:

Loneliness
Shame
Fear

Loneliness from not befriending myself.

From never feeling like I quite fit in anywhere (lived in Brunswick, Maine from birth to age 9: moved to Jacksonville, Florida, went to four different schools with four different sets of “friends” in four years, moved back to Lisbon, Maine at age 14). From not knowing how to reach out, feeling socially awkward, turtling in on myself to avoid the pain of social anxiety.

Shame from being alone, not having enough, being mortified.

From being made a fool of and making a fool of myself. From not knowing how to fit in, from my own worst counsel telling me I wasn’t good enough and would never fit in, be smart enough, good looking enough, etc.

Fear from being mortified, failing my potential.

Of never overcoming myself. Of being misunderstood: saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and never recovering.

My anxieties get the better of me and consume me. I have a hard time letting things go, letting my own perception of things yield to the reality. In my head it’s always worst-case-scenario.

I bomb a joke and think that everyone in the room, cyber or otherwise, will remember forever ,and forever think of me as the guy who blew the joke: like a zit right between the eyes that everyone stares at, only I am convinced that six months later all anybody remembers is the zit.

I make a minor social faux-pas, and I presume the worst: I presume that I have fucked up irreparably, that the person I transgressed against will want nothing to do with me and that I will never recover. I tank into a shame spiral, and the pain is an all-consuming fog that hangs over every moment of every day for weeks, months, sometimes years. I crucify myself, and leave myself hanging on the cross without mercy.

I get it.

I understand the feeling of despondency that arises from thinking you’ve gone too far, so far that you’ll never recover.

I know the fear of merely putting yourself out there, hoping that it’s enough and that someone somewhere will “get” whatever the hell you are, even when you don’t have a clue yourself.

I know what it’s like to seek escapism, liquid and otherwise, to dull the pain, silence the irrational thoughts that scream “inadequate”, “unlovable”,  “no hope.”

And now I am aware of these things, and I am aware, through practicing Mindfulness and Buddhist thought, that I am not the monster I made myself believe I was for so long.

After so many years of struggle, I am finally discovering maitri: unconditional friendliness to myself, and the art of letting go, forgiving myself, letting the past be the past and accepting that my life is occurring right now, and that’s all I have. I am drastically better and at peace.

I accept that I can, in fact, love myself and that I am loved.

I accept that I must be doing reasonably alright to have the friends that I do have in my life.

My life is now accepting my gifts, accepting myself and trying to find balance.

I have always had a fierce streak of self-preservation. Wherever it came from, this has been my greatest gift: I have always been able to (eventually) pull myself back from the void, check myself out and start working on whatever negative attribute I’ve wanted to change. I’ve always held on to a sense that no matter what depth of depression I hit, someday, somehow, everything will get better.

This gift is why I’m here today.

That’s the rub: my mental wiring, while occasionally suspect, is strong enough that I have been able to manage the demons. Robin William’s mental wiring was not. Life is a game of inches: subtle quirks, fluke timing, a slight hiccup in a synapse. There but for the grace go I…

Robin Williams seemingly had it all: universal love, millions of dollars in the bank, family and above all brilliant talent. However, fame and fortune have nothing on the power of our demons. In that sense, we were entirely too much alike.

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Apprentice Editor: Alicia Wozniak / Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Jacobo Hoyos Zea/flickr

The Elephant Ecosystem

Every time you read, share, comment or heart you help an article improve its Rating—which helps Readers see important issues & writers win $$$ from Elephant. Learn more.

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Brian Westbye

Brian Westbye is a freelance writer with a passion for a great story. When not at the day job, he is feverishly working on writing his way out of the day job, penning fiction, memoir and poetry at his blog; op-ed at salon.com and commercial copywriting here.  He can found on Facebook and Twitter. He is currently working on his first book, a memoir ode to the Great American Road Trip and the Great American Midlife Crisis. World Domination will follow.

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anonymous Aug 15, 2014 1:18pm

I totally feel this. So glad you're doing better. I wish everyone suffering could know that there is a better day (if there will be) & to find peace. Peace & love to everyone reading. Excellent insight & article!

    anonymous Aug 15, 2014 4:00pm

    Ashley, thank you so much! It's hell and agony, but it makes us hardcore. Finding out that it's just a hiccup in our wiring and not a total personality defect is pretty liberating. I'm fortunate for that. Keep fighting and keep going…