When 'Better' Feels Like a Mocking Mirage

Robin Williams’ death from suicide hit me hard. Like most, I was stunned and confused as to how he could’ve gotten to that point in his life, even though I have spent much of my life fighting ideations of death and myself have been on the proverbial ledge on several occasions. His death is a sobering realization that no one is exempt from the ravages of mental illness, not even those who seemingly have everything. Mental illness transcends sex, race, creed, nationality. In the days that followed I discovered two articles that continue to resonate with me to this day. The Huffington Post article “There’s Nothing Selfish About Suicide” and the PopChassid Robin Williams Didn’t Kill Himself. Both eloquently point out how death by suicide can affect anyone at any time for many reasons.

Mr. Williams’ death by suicide was one year before my own plan was almost executed. One year before my own hospitalization. One year before my proper diagnosis of bipolar disorder II. One year before I started this long and tiring road to recovery.

For many years I was doing my part to break the silence and stigma around mental health. I was determined to help tear down the walls of stigmatization by being open and honest about my own lifelong fight and struggle with depression and anxiety. Yet, during that time spent being “open and honest,” Robin Williams reminded me I stood at that same brink many times. It revealed that my attempts at being open and vulnerable were also attempts to diminish and hide the severity of my own pain.

While experiencing my own suffering, I was writing from and speaking about the very same eye of the storm I myself was standing in, attempting to hide and ignore. Those two articles inspired me to write my own response as an act of mental health advocacy. In hindsight I realize it was also another attempt to minimize the darkness in which I stood by bringing light to that of another’s battle.

Here is an adaptation of what I wrote.

Imagine standing at the precipice of perpetual darkness, a vacuous blackness that promises to soothe your pains and ills, a cool balm for your aches and bruises.

Behind you lies a burning desert, a raging maelstrom of dark dust and sand. Roiling thoughts and emotions rend your mind and spirit. You search frantically for simple respite from the pounding deluge, a brief tranquil oasis, a meager moment of calm. It appears sporadically and abruptly, but never stays for long. You beg that it visit just for a day. A week would be paradise. A month is a myth. In the end you realize it’s but a mocking mirage.

To each side vast seas of emptiness and loneliness encompass you. Waves buffet your bones as you are pulled beneath the waves of Poseidon’s fury. You claw at the water and climb for the sweet relief of air. Your lungs burn as they fill with wet darkness. Your face intermittently breaks the water’s surface. You take a quick gulp of air, sometimes glimpsing the soothing silver of the moon peering between breaks of storm clouds above. The moment is fleeting as you return to the depths below.

Imagine being caught in a cycle of despair, rage and loneliness. Imagine the frustration of wishing you had control, knowing the battle inside is irrational and senseless. Imagine the guilt, the sense of burden felt towards family and loved ones. Imagine sailing along that precipice where the waters fall into the dark chasm of chaos and rage. Empty of guilt and pain you cling to desperate hope that a place of quietude can still be found.

Now, you may begin to understand the battle that many of us with mental illness suffer daily — the constant suffocating pressure weighing on our chest, fighting the twitching in our limbs, the weighted vice pinching the base of our skull. There is the fear of it all returning, sometimes creeping up unbeknownst, sometimes in a grand Biblical vision. The greatest of fears — succumbing to the dark whispers that echo through our mind and reverberate in our bones.

Robin Williams reminds me that only through empathy and an attempt at understanding can we begin to heal. Find your voice. Break the silence. Join the conversation. Take action.

And remember, we’re all in this together.

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