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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 ‚ÄúThere’s¬†Nothing Selfish About Suicide‚Ä̬†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 ‚Äúopen and honest,‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄĒ 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 ‚ÄĒ 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.