Robin Williams: “Oh Captain, My Captain,” You Are Far From Alone

Published by Daleen Berry on

Robin Williams is dead. He left behind a world of grief, even though 99.9-percent of us never met him. We knew him, though, as much as we can possibly “know” anyone through a lifetime of work.

All of this grieving is about losing Mork, Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams, and My Captain, but it’s also knowing that if someone like Robin Williams can succumb to suicide, so can the rest of us.

I found this great tribute on Facebook; if someone knows who I should credit, please let me know so I can. Thank you.


With frightening finality, suicide is claiming more lives than ever before. According to The Montreal Gazette, for every Robin Williams, 200 others have attempted suicide—and another 400 people have thought about taking their own lives. This April, the Awake magazine said more than 20 former U.S. veterans commit suicide every single day. While another 950 try to do so each month.

I’ve been to that dark place—but stopped myself just in time, more than once. Many of the kindest, most caring, and artistic people I know have, too. Some of us still battle our demons, mostly in the privacy of our own homes. Sometimes we turn to booze or cocaine or even sex to numb our pain—because even though they will kill us in the end, they “love” us in the meantime. They are far kinder than the world around us, because they don’t judge us.

“We” self-medicate because society continues to stigmatize mental illness and marginalize those who suffer from it. People turn noticeably uncomfortable when they hear the words “bipolar,” “schizophrenia,” or simply “depression.” They tend to not know what to say, which most likely hampered Robin Williams’s loved ones (and those of Phillip Seymour Hoffman) from talking openly about his illness.

The end result? Families don’t want, or don’t know how, to ask for help—for themselves or the people they care about.

I know this, you see, but I’d rather not. During the last year, while I was under contract to produce not one, but two books, I found myself taking care of my adult daughter, who has gone missing at different times in her adult life. She simply dropped off the map, and we often didn’t know if she was dead or alive.

My daughter is fine, of course. Yet she talks to people who aren’t there, pens thousands of words of poetry and prose at a time, and sits and stares at pictures of people for hours on end. “I’m sending him a message,” she says, when I ask what she’s doing.

She insists she is normal and healthy. Yet she refuses to take a single pill, see a doctor, or give out any private details for fear the government may find her. The brief moments of brilliance we all glimpsed in her as a child still shine through at odd moments, but they are growing more and more tarnished. Every so often, she says she has nothing to live for—and that’s when I really begin to worry.

My family is no stranger to depression or other forms of mental illness. In December 2013, my sister’s suicidal efforts finally paid off. At first glance, Lisa’s death didn’t look like suicide. I believe that’s what it was, though. After a lengthy battle that was born of alcohol, nursed with narcotic painkillers, and which morphed into a full-blown addiction of God only knows what, the drugs did her in.

I had seen her a month earlier, when she told me she didn’t care if she died. It wasn’t until after her death that I realized: Lisa had probably been depressed for decades. I wish we could have traded places, that she would have checked herself into the psych hospital that saved my life, back in 1991, or that she would have followed in my footsteps and gotten the help she needed.

Maybe if we all stopped being so judgmental, she would have. Or maybe, instead of having the entire world mourn his loss, Robin Williams would have ascended a stage somewhere, and talked candidly about what it’s like to fight this demon called depression.

If he had, we would have cheered. He would have received a standing ovation. And he’d still be alive.

* * *

I have four books. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about overcoming depression from domestic violence; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella BooksNellie Bly BooksAmazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

 

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and Sister of Silence placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”


Daleen Berry

Daleen Berry (1963- ) is a New York Times best-selling author and TEDx speaker who was born in sunny San Jose, California, but who grew up climbing trees and mountains in rural West Virginia. When she isn't writing, she's reading. Daleen is also an award-winning journalist and columnist, and has written for such publications as The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, and XOJane. Daleen has written or co-written eight nonfiction books, including her memoir, "Sister of Silence," "The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese," "Pretty Little Killers," "Cheatin' Ain't Easy," "Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang," "Shatter the Silence," and "Appalachian Murders & Mysteries," an anthology. In 2015, West Virginia University placed "Sister of Silence" and "Guilt by Matrimony" on its Appalachian Literature list. You can follow her blog here: https://www.daleenberry.com. Or find her on Facebook and Twitter, as well as email her at daleen(dot)berry(at)gmail(dot)com. She loves to hear from readers.

1 Comment

JennJenn · August 26, 2014 at 5:18 PM

I agree with so much of that. Part of me wants to romanticize Robin Williams’ suicide by telling myself that he had the last laugh – the man who was always making us laugh made us weep as some sort of a practical joke, or demonstration of uber-irony. But I know the truth is far less triumphant or artistic.
After losing a best friend to suicide, I had to come to terms with my guilt for not acting on the nagging thoughts that something was really wrong in the days before his death. Everyone told me it wasn’t my fault and that nothing I could have done would’ve made a difference in the outcome. I still highly doubt that. We never can know when we say something that gives someone contemplating suicide a reason to hang in there and get throufh their struglles. I was able to forgive myself, though, for not knowing how great his pain was, since he didn’t tell me.
I came to see suicide as a terminal illness , with a low survival rate. Most people don’t succeed in killing themselves on the first try. I didn’t. Like you, it was compassion for my kids that made me grasp for life out of the darkness of despair. In my case, it was the idea of my children finding my lifeless body after school that thwarted my plan. I had determined they would get over my death, but actually finding me dead would have added trauma to their grief, and I could not burden them that heavily.

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