When I was a teenager, I wanted to die.
To this day, I don’t really know why. I was lonely, and had fallen into a darkness I could never understand, filled with a depression that was overwhelming. I felt my sanity slipping away, and getting out of bed every day was a struggle. I wanted to die, more than I wanted anything. I cut myself -and I still bear the scars - in an attempt to bleed off some of the inexplicable pain that dragged me down like an anchor.
So when I say Robin Williams was a selfish coward to take his own life, I say it with empathy and understanding. But the fact is, his children, his family, his friends will never be the same. He hurt them, badly. And I understand that.
Henry Rollins posted this:
“I simply cannot understand how any parent could kill themselves. How in the hell could you possibly do that to your children? I don’t care how well adjusted your kid might be — choosing to kill yourself, rather than to be there for that child, is every shade of awful, traumatic and confusing. I think as soon as you have children, you waive your right to take your own life. No matter what mistakes you make in life, it should be your utmost goal not to traumatize your kids. So, you don’t kill yourself.”
People on the internet are of course calling him out for being insensitive, for being an asshole. Clearly, they say, Mr. Henry Rollins has never experienced depression. But here’s the thing: he’s not wrong.
When I sat in my room as a teenager, digging into my arm with a stolen steak knife, one thing stopped me. One thought of clarity, even as my vision was blinded by tears: my mom would be destroyed. From there, I thought of all the people that would be hurt – my sister, my father, even the friends I had distanced myself from. No matter how full of self-pity, self-hate and depression I became, I could not lie to myself about that. I would hurt them more than I could bear.
Robin Williams killed himself anyways, and left behind a lot of hurting loved ones. And I understand that too. Because a day or a week or a month after the revelation about my mother, the knife was again poised against my bleeding arm. And I cursed myself for being weak, knowing my suffering was hurting my family, knowing that my death would hurt them more, but knowing I could not go on. And I eventually put away that knife again. For a day, or a week, or a month, before I did it again.
Depression is a horrible thing. To this day, it still affects me. I like to say that I have beaten it, and perhaps I have. But I would be lying if I said I never glanced at a rope or a knife and thought it would be easier. Like hitting reset in a video game, I tell myself, except we only get the one life. But I’m happy. I love my family, and I love my life. And still, that darkness is there, in the corners of my mind, waiting to pounce in a moment of weakness. I feel it when I let my guard down, when I’m feeling low or lost or tired or weak or sick of suffering. When life again feels like more than I can handle. And I understand that the darkness will stay with me, forever and always, a constant battle that will likely never have a winner.
Perhaps Robin Williams grew tired of that fight, and let his darkness win. Perhaps the fact that he was allegedly facing a debilitating disease was too much, and it pushed him over. Perhaps that is something I may face some day, and maybe I too will eventually lose this war that constantly pulls at my thoughts and emotions. He lost the fight. And as a man that suffered from this terrible disease, he deserves our pity and love and understanding. As a man that fought for so many years, he deserves out respect. As a man that hurt his family, he deserves our anger and criticisms.
Robin Williams knew what he was doing, and whom he was hurting. Just like I knew, sobbing as I sat on a kitchen counter clutching a knife in front of my mother, that I was killing her with the pain of my suffering. I deserved criticism for that. Someone should have grabbed me by the shirt and shook some sense into me; someone should have screamed at me to look at what I was doing to my mother, at how selfish I was being. I deserved it. But to act as if I, as if Robin Williams, did no wrong is foolish. We should be allowed to say that Robin Williams was selfish, without being called hateful or uncompassionate. He was selfish, and he would have known it, and that would have made him feel even worse, in a horrible spiral of suffering. Ignoring what he did will not make it go away. We all have a right to our anger.
Beyond the anger of what he did, he deserves our forgiveness, and understanding. He fought the good fight, and lost in the end. This is a disease with no reason, a killer that can creep into the minds of any of us, any of our loved ones. Its victims need our love and understanding, our forgiveness and compassion.