In defense of Robin Williams: Suicide wasn’t his choice

When I got the news yesterday–Robin Williams killed himself–I first thought of that crazy Mrs. Doubtfire. After all, I grew up with her and in that role he made me laugh like none other. Then my thoughts moved to his family–a funeral being hastily put together–and a bright light snuffed out.

And then, randomly, I thought of the moment in my life when I was most scared. And I promise it has a point.

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It was two years ago, and I was on my honeymoon. I was harnessed up tightly, gripping a climbing rope, dangling just above twenty feet up against a red rock face in Utah. My hands were clenched so tightly that the rope dug into my palms, and I trembled so much that I literally could not get my feet to move.

I’m deathly afraid of heights. The tour guide, one of his kids, and even my husband climbed just above me, yelling down encouraging words and telling me step by step how to continue my climb. But I couldn’t move. My heart, my stomach, my overwhelming fear locked my knees and sent a wash of stars over my vision. I stopped climbing. I waited there for hours and I beckoned my husband to go on ahead and have fun. And the whole time I knew without a doubt there was no way I could follow. I couldn’t go on.

on the ledge

This fear I had is only a small, insignificant fraction of the fear that Robin Williams had suffered through yesterday. It’s a fraction of the fear that a dear friend of mine–and even some of my readers–have suffered through while wading through a life, or through chemical imbalances, that prove to be too much. The inability not to move forward–on the edge of a life lived with depression or mental illness–is very, very real. It is not a choice. It is not a selfish act. Those who suffer are dangling from thin ropes, looking up toward the climbers who have gone on ahead with much ease, wishing and praying that their legs will move. That the climb can move forward.

And sometimes it doesn’t.

I’m not condoning suicide. Not at all. It’s a tragedy that should always be avoided. But I’m standing firm against those who say it’s an easy way out. Because it’s not easy. And it does anything except free the victim.

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I follow many bloggers–one of which wrote this–and my stomach hurt after reading it. I felt compelled to write on behalf of Robin, a star I’ve never met and didn’t even know personally. I felt prompted to write on behalf of those who are reading this right now, contemplating whether this is really a life worth living. I’m writing on behalf of those who have told me in private conversations and letters that the sadness–the despair–is a constant shadow that covers even the lightest parts of the day. I’m writing for the children of God who suffer from a sickness that makes them forget who they are and the divine reason that they’re here.

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Mental illness caused Robin Williams to forget the millions–maybe billions?–of children who laughed at the magic Genie on Aladdin and danced around their living rooms. He forgot about the people who listened to his interviews about depression and drew strength from his candor about the illness. He forgot about his wife who slept in the other room and about his daughter, who is only my age, who loves her dad more than life. The illness–the fear that dangled him from a small rope on an impossible ledge–made him forget.

This death shouldn’t make us preach about the atrocities of taking your own life. It shouldn’t make us debate about where someone’s soul goes when it’s taken by its own hands. Instead, it should make us look around more often and recognize the signs of depression in others. It should make us show more compassion to those who need extra love. And it should prompt us to get the help we need or help others to find the resources it’s going to take to help them make the climb again.

Depression is real. Mental illness is real. And suicide is final. 

There is no room and no time whatsoever to say “he should have looked up” while on the ledge because we can’t judge the fear that paralyzed him while looking down.

There is only room to love and to change the stigma that comes with an illness that is just as real as cancer.

My heart goes out to the Williams family and to those who are going to spend this lifetime missing him. My heart is also on the ledge tonight, alongside those who still dangle in their harnesses, wishing they could move their feet.

I hope your heart is there too. It’s the only way we can rescue our brothers and sisters.

It’s the only way hope can be restored.

Related articles:

Seth Adam Smith: Why the Suicide of Robin Williams Matters

Jean-Daniel Williams: An open letter to Matt Walsh

Chris Martin: The Death of Robin Williams