Friday, August 15, 2014

Sexual Assault, Mental Health, and Robin Williams

"The less whole we feel on the inside, the more we need things outside ourselves to make us happy." --Dr Joe Dispenza

This week as been difficult for me. Stressed about going back to the city of the crime in 2 weeks, starting a new program, furnishing an apartment, then a flare up of my chronic pain and PTSD ... it's been a lot.

But, there's another reason why my chest has been a little tigher this week, why I've been a little more emotional than normal, why I've been thinking more about a few specific dates over the past few years of my life.

As I heard of the news of Robin Williams' death on Monday, I felt a part of my soul turn dark. My chest tightened up, and my heart rate increased every time it was mentioned or we talked about it. Maybe it was because of that day in 1996, when I was just 6 years old, that I heard my uncle had died and a gun was involved (only years later would I learn it was because of suicide). Maybe it was because of that day in May 2012 when I got the news that another one of my uncles had killed himself by hanging. Or maybe, it was because of the beautiful girl that I played soccer with, who, at only 15 years old, jumped off the Aurora Bridge in Seattle in May 2006, and sparked an outrage in the community to do something, finally. The public nature of her suicide, the hundreds of people who gathered with flowers and candles where it happened the day after, the community coverage ... this weeks outpouring from the world was reminscent of that week in 2006, a week I will never forget for the rest of my life.

Or maybe it was because of me, and my own struggles that I've dealt with. And how on December 24, 2010, i had my own attempt.

Depression and suicidal ideations are issues that sit in the dark, barely untouched, right alongside other mental health issues, eating disorders, and sexual assault. And myriad conditions can cause them, ranging from purely clinical depression to PTSD/trauma to eating disorders and everything in between. These are issues that need to be talked about.

And I talk about this from the perspective of not only losing people that i cared about to suicide, but because of my own struggles. I had one suicide attempt at the height of my eating disorder, in 2010. Or, how i made a pact with myself that if my chronic pain wasn't better by the time I graduated college, I would end it all because I couldn't bear to keep fighting. And how, in the aftermath of my sexual assault, I truly wanted to die when I got diagnosed with the STD, as well as when my entire world collapsed in November with the SVU/NYPD/friend issues. For a moment, i never thought it would get better.

But it can always get better.

Robin Williams death has sparked a conversation much like my friend Maren did when she killed herself in 2006. It brings a chilling realization into the forefront of everyones mind -- that no matter what 's going on on the outside of that person, we have no idea what's going on in the inside, what silent battles we each are fighting day in and day out.

Maren was an incredibly smart, brilliant, talented student and athlete who had her whole life in front of her. The week that we found out about her death, one of my soccer teammates embraced me and said, "It could've been any one of us."

And she's absolutely right.

A smile, an "I'm ok," a bright future, or four decades of genius comedy and making the world laugh and having the world at your finger tips ... they don't indicate what's going on on the inside. They never do. And the more broken we are on the inside, the more we need on the outside to make us happy and keep convincing our selves and the world that we are ok, because that'll work ... won't it?

But it doesn't. Not all the time. It didn't for Maren. It didn't for Robin Williams. And it almost wasn't enough for me.

I was lucky. I somehow found it in me to keep fighting in the midst of my chronic pain. I grossly missed the mark of my first attempt (or else I wouldn't be here today). My sexual assault nearly killed me and I never thought I would get better. But I was able to slowly pull myself out of the hole i had been left in, the blackness of my soul that encompassed me so strongly in the aftermath.

my uncle Nick and my Uncle Mike couldn't. Neither could Maren. And now, neither could Robin Williams.

But the people who end their lives this way ... they aren't weak. The fought a battle for the longest that they possibly could. And it's heartbreaking that they couldn't push on longer to find the reason to stay. But it's not their fault.

Just like sexual assault isn't the victims fault, the way that depression affects people isn't their fault either. They didn't fail; their brains did, society did.

Suicide is a world I've been living in since 2006, a cause that I worked hard to support ever since Maren died. And if one thing can be gained from Mr. Williams death (which Im sure he would've wanted) is that suicide needs to be talked about and more prevention is needed. And, especially, the underlying causes need to be addressed. Better mental health resources. Better treatment for eating disorders. Better support for sexual assault and trauma victims. But, most importantly, removal of the stigma.

Depression -- whatever the cause -- is a silent killer. There are a million facades a person can hide behind to give the illusion they are whole, free, and happy. But no one knows what goes on behind those masks. Even our most beloved people in society -- Robin Williams -- had demons that no one knew the extent of, even despite his openness with his struggles.

One of my favorite things that my chiropractor says is, "The greatest gift you can give someone is your attention." And that IS the greatest gift we can take from the loss of Robin Williams -- to turn our attention to suicide prevention and mental health issues. It's a stigma that goes right alongside sexual assault and is something that cannot stay in the closet anymore. And not only that -- but to truly listen to people. Everyone fights some sort of battle that we know nothing about. The greatest gift we can give as a fellow human being is our attention, our love, and our support.

My uncles were two troubled people, but kind, compassionate and fun. Maren was a spark of color that stood out amidst everyone else. And Robin Williams was a kindhearted, generous, genius of a man who treated me very kindly and nicely when I met him and made the world laugh for 40 years.

These people shouldn't have died. They will never be forgotten. And now it's our turn to do something. It's time that the shame in asking for help is lifted, the shame in being suicidal disappears, so that people can ask for help without being stigmatized, and that people can talk openly about their struggles without being made to feel weak, ashamed, or different. Because these people are no different from you or me. It could've been any one of us.

So as this week has unfolded, that heartwrenching pain and sadness I felt in 2006 slowly crept up and reminded me of the profound impact suicide has on people ... especially when it is someone as beloved as Robin Williams was.

And to Robin Williams -- thank you for being you, and blessing millions of people with your talent and laughter for so many years. And despite your traumatic death and the hole it's left in your family -- and the world's -- hearts, thank you for bringing this issue into the forefront of society.

It's time to talk.