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I decided to write this as a result of Robin Williams’ suicide.
Instead of focusing entirely on Mr. Williams—whom I never knew or met (but loved greatly as a comedian and actor)—I wanted to write about my personal experience with depression, mental illness, and suicidal thoughts.
I wanted to share the experience of having a serious mental illness itself.
I was newly sober, about three months in. After destroying my life utterly, save my family, I had new friends, a new job, new places to hang out, and I was already on my second girlfriend since getting sober. From the outside looking in, my life had never been better. And this was all just a few short months after it had never been worse.
One morning (after a night of pretty great sex and great sleep), I woke up next to my then-girlfriend and decided that after I dropped her off at home, I would kill myself.
There was no warning; I woke up to such intense mental pain that I within moments of waking made up my mind to do it.
And I was going to do it too. I was going to hang myself. I had it planned out and everything.
Luckily, I told my mom my plans before I did anything and went away to the hospital. It was clear to every knowledgeable person at the hospital that I was crashing from a manic episode (I suffer from Bipolar 1 Disorder).
The manic episode is first what destroyed my old life, and second what gave me the confidence to build an almost entirely new life for myself in a matter of months.
The suicidal thoughts were what happened next. The suicidal thoughts are always what happens next if I allow myself to become manic, get out of control.
Today I take meds, exercise, try to stay on a normal sleep schedule (though that never works), and stay in touch with a solid social/support network (which can still be tough. Even after sobriety and recovery, I lost one of my closest friends due to maniacal and rambling text messages and emails).
Medicated, I experience milder highs and lesser crashes. But I still often get depressed, and when depressed, I still often consider suicide. I’ve learned, however, that if I get that way, I need to tell someone, immediately, and go away if need be.
When I hear about someone like Robin Williams committing suicide, I get sad, especially for those close to him, the “suicide victims.” But for Robin himself, and others who commit suicide, there’s always a bit of empathetic relief that I feel.
As strange as this sounds, I really, honestly do.
People who complete suicide are generally dealing with serious mental illnesses that many of them, if not most of them, have spent the majority of their lifetime dealing with.
And when those illnesses get bad, when they reach the peak of pain, suicide can seem like not only a good option but the only sensible thing to do. It isn’t a good option though, and it isn’t a sensible thing to do either.
I remember when I was away at a psych ward and my roommate told me he was there because he was suicidal. He told me he was going to overdose on heroin—but after a failed suicide attempt he decided to check himself into the psych ward.
He said the reason being was not because he did not still want to kill himself, but because his dad had killed himself years earlier, and he knew what it felt like to be a suicide survivor. Since then, I’ve gone through some dark times, but every time I have, I think of my roommate what he said.
I don’t think suicide is selfish as some people claim. But it hurts the hell out of a lot of people, and there are always alternatives.
And the alternatives are always better than suicide.
I don’t want this piece to come off as complete doom and gloom. Many days and nights, I feel great. I have many hobbies, I love to find new hobbies, I enjoy spending time with friends, and I’m happy with the direction my life is headed.
Altogether, when I’m asymptomatic, which is most of the time, I’m a pretty normal guy. I just think, in the case of mental illness, addiction, and suicide, people need to stop questioning the “whys” and “hows” and understand that these cases are often the result of a serious illness, or illnesses, a medical, diagnosable illness.
If Robin Williams died of cancer, no one would wonder about the “whys” or “hows” of it. They would recognize and respect that he lost a tough battle with a serious illness.
And as someone who fights his own battle with a similar (if not the same) illness, I say, congrats to you, Mr. Williams, for leading one hell of a successful life! You were and still are an inspiration! You will be missed, and you will not be forgotten anytime soon!
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Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Wiki Commons