A Year Without Robin Williams

By: Alicia M. Blanco

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On August 11th, 2014 I was flying home from a weekend in Arizona. When I landed and connected back to social media, the first thing I saw was “RIP Robin Williams”.. “actor commits suicide” all over my Facebook and Instagram feed. My body went numb. I was in total shock and disbelief.

Like many of you, I felt like I lost a close friend. I grew up watching and loving him and all the beloved characters he brought to life. It was devastating news to come home to, to say the least. Equally devastating is how mental health and suicide is treated and talked about in society. It isn’t until a celebrity commits suicide that society gives this topic any real attention. This needs to change.

It was on that day last year as I was driving home from the airport that I knew I wanted (and needed) to start my blog and dedicate it entirely to mental health, research, awareness and advocacy. I wanted all of the Robin Williamses of the world to know that they were not alone. It was my hope that by reading stories and articles from other people who have similar FEELINGS and experiences with depression (either personally or within their families) that people could begin to feel a sense of community and belonging. I want them to feel acknowledged, seen and heard. I desired my blog to be a place of hope where people could relate, with no filters, no stories of perfection – just pure and raw honesty.

I could sit here and list off all of the numerical statistics that show you how much suicide has increased over the years. But let me just cut to the chase. IT’S BAD. And every year it’s getting worse. Suicide has no specific victim- no group is “safe” from the impulse.  What’s worse, is that although many people give subtle “signs” that they are contemplating suicide, many people leave no sign at all.

The death of Robin Williams greatly impacted us because on the outside it would seem like he was a relatively happy person. (With a sense of humor like his, it seemed impossible not to be happy.) He also had a dream career, lots of money, fame and the respect and admiration of his fans around the world. This is the part that scares me the most – the amount of people living today who seem like happy people on the outside, but who are really deeply in serious trouble. Earlier in the year I reposted the story about Madison Holleran, a girl who appeared to have it all, (based on her social media, that is.) She ended up committing suicide, despite the utterly happily filtered Instagram life she portrayed to the world.

Depression is a silent killer. Unlike other illnesses that are physically visible, depression is something that builds up on the inside of a person’s mind and body and takes over control. It’s manipulative and even has the power to give off the illusion that everything is fine on the outside. It can also trick its victim into being insecure about sharing how they are feeling with someone.

It’s so heartbreaking, even one year later on the anniversary of his death, to accept that he was suffering so deeply, and quietly…And that’s what breaks my heart: Suicide is preventable – and the responsibility is entirely ours. Together we can each participate in changing these statistics. Enough is enough. Suicidal thoughts and attempts wreck the lives of millions every single day, and over 40,000 die from suicide every single year! Robin Williams’ death was just one of the hundreds who took their own lives on that day. What have we done since then?

We need to take a good hard look at the way we treat people. Our actions and our words matter. When we ask someone “how are you doing?” how many of us are genuinely interested in the response? Do we really care how someone is really, truly doing? Do we really believe someone is as happy as their Facebook or Instagram feed suggests? Are we participating in random acts of kindness for our family, friends and even strangers? Are we ourselves slipping into episodes of depression because of how much we compare ourselves to the “picture perfect” lives of others?

We are so “plugged-in” to our phones and computers these days that we have completely disconnected from community and heartfelt communication.

The way we talk about depression and mental health research & advocacy can re-shape the future. It can be as simple as changing the way we use our words; The words we use to talk about suicide; The words used in media to broadcast it; The words used to build someone up, or tear them down; The amount of time we spend using words of affirmation and encouragement. Bullying. Cyber bullying. Racism. Hate. Addressing depression. Make no mistake about it – the words we use matter.

“Our words are the ground note. Words are the least expensive, most valuable tool we have to educate, to turn the tides of public opinion, to affect real change. Let’s stop conversations that destroy lives, start conversations that save lives, and redirect conversations that distract us from what really matters.” – Dese’Rae Stage

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If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, please call 1-800-784-2433 or visit save.org

Mental Illness Doesn’t Have To Be A Terrible Thing

by: Anonymous Author

drug-addict

A few months ago I read the article “Living With Bipolar Disorder” and it hit so close to home. It encouraged me to write this and share my own story. It has taken me a few months to write it (well, more like 28 years and a few months) but, I am finally ready.

I grew up without a dad. It’s not that he died or anything, but he just never really existed in my life. I have no memory of him other than that I hated him for not being there. I hated him for not being normal. Dad has suffered with alcohol and substance abuse since before I was even born.

It has consumed his entire life. There were stints of “sobriety” here and there, but never long enough for me to remember any positive memories.  My only memories are of my mom crying so much when I was little. She was so alone and angry with him but she never put him down. She would only ever say things like, “he’s really sick” or “he’s not well” and her favorite “mental illness is a terrible thing.”

And it was a terrible thing. It was terrible not knowing if he was roaming the streets or if he was even alive. It was terrible not having any traditions with him. It was terrible feeling anger and resentment for someone I hardly knew. But most of all, it was terrible whenever the phone rang from the mental hospital letting us know dad was there. I never wanted to go see him.

Every birthday and every holiday gone by was another reason to hate him even more. I hated the excuse of mental illness – because thats all it was to me, an excuse.

I made it a point to roll my eyes at my mom every time she said the words “mental illness”. We would have fights about it because I couldn’t believe it was an illness. To me it was a choice to pick drugs and alcohol over me and my mom.

I spent the majority of my life with this unwavering opinion. This opinion and this hatred was like an illness in itself. I was sick of feeling so trapped by these feelings of bitterness, so the last time we got the call, I decided to go see him— and it changed everything for me.

I walked into the Behavioral Institute or “mental hospital” where dad was currently residing. I brought a list with me of things to say while I was there. Questions, complaints, regrets. But when I saw him, the list disappeared. He looked so sad and lost amongst his peers of mentally ill patients in the room. He looked so ashamed and embarrassed to be there. But most of all, he looked helpless. I knew the last thing he needed was a list of topics to discuss. I don’t know what came over my heart in the moment but I just declared to show him love. I was kind, loving, patient, interested in everything he had to say, I listened to him, smiled with him, and started to create memories – our first.  I acted as though we were the best of friends and not strangers. I realized that I didn’t know if this could possibly be the last time I saw him, and if it was, I didn’t want it to be a terrible thing.   I had had enough terrible things. This meeting wasn’t going to be one of them.

Instead, I wanted this to be a good thing – and it was.

Once I made the choice to be kind and loving instead of bitter and angry, I was set free. I only wished he could have the feeling of being set free too. Mental illness can hold you captive and hostage for years until you seek recovery…and sometimes even then you’re still never fully free from your addictions and demons.

The look on his face was of light and also of shock. I’ll bet he was ready for me to scold him and cry about my lifetime without a dad. And so when I didn’t, something wonderful happened inside of him.

It was the greatest gift I could ever give to this perfect stranger. And I’m thankful I have at least this one good memory with my father.

As of today, I don’t know where my dad is. He checked himself out of the hospital (because the mental healthcare system is f%$ked up and it happens everyday) so there is no way of knowing where he is. I have to wait for the call from the hospital the next time he surfaces.

But while I wait, (like I waited all my life)… at least now I can say I have a happy memory with him. It’s as much of a healing process for me as the one he needs to experience for himself on a deeper level. I just have to keep the faith that someday, he will.

Waving Goodbye – 5 Things Joan Rivers Taught Me About Happiness

by: Alicia M. Blanco

2006 Gala of The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

Well, Fashion Police on E! will never be the same and neither will the world. Today we lost a woman who filled a room with so much light and laughter. She was known for being a trailblazer, wild and crazy, an icon, a bit neurotic, nipped and tucked, uncensored, without a filter, uniquely hilarious… but she was also known for mastering a trait we all hope to obtain in our lives- happiness.

Over the span of her nearly five decade run in Hollywood, Joan was constantly quoted saying how genuinely HAPPY she was in her life. She was madly in love with the industry, even with all of its insanity and setbacks.

It’s important to note that she didn’t always have such a happy state of mind…

After her husband suffered from a heart attack which resulted in the depression that led to his suicide in 1987, Joan also began to feel the sting of depression when her career plummeted. E! News journalist Ken Baker shared that at one point, she candidly told him in an interview that “she seriously contemplated suicide herself and what stopped her was her Yorkie ‘Spike’—she actually had a gun and she was going to do [it] and she said the Yorkie jumped in her lap to stop her.”

Chills much? So glad I just got myself a Yorkie! (Joan would’ve wanted me to say that.)

Joan used that incredibly dark time in her life to propel her forward into happiness.

So it made me think even more deeply on what it means to be happy and ways to be happy.

Here’s what I came up with.

5 WAYS TO BE HAPPY:

1) Have a job you love – the more and more I learn about life, the more it becomes clear that people need to start doing what they love and not what ANYONE ELSE wants them to do. According to Joan, her parents “went insane” when she told them she wanted to be an actress and go into show business. Some of you are going to have to break your parents hearts tonight and tell them you’d rather do x instead of y. #sorrynotsorry but you better do it. Joan’s career lasted almost 50 years. Can you imagine doing something you hated for that long? Yet imagine the joy if its something that you passionately love. Priceless.

2) Have a best a friend – whether it’s your sibling, your roommate, or your dog – have a best friend who can always be counted on for an uplifting conversation, and a hearty laugh. Who you do life with is important. (Btw – it’s a proven fact that animals really do bring so much joy and bliss to life. Heck, Joan’s dog ‘Spike’ literally saved her life!)

3) Transparency – Joan Rivers had 16 plastic surgeries throughout her lifetime and she wasn’t shy about letting the world know it. She was blatantly honest and confident about it and everything else. All. The. Time. She also admittedly suffered from depression and contemplated suicide earlier on in her career and I think she was able to overcome her depression because of how honest she was about it. There was no pretending with her. I can’t stress enough how healing it can be to share your story rather than pretend you’re perfectly fine. Additionally, SHE DIDN’T CARE WHAT PEOPLE THOUGHT ABOUT HER OPENESS, LOOKS, OR ANTICS. And she made that perfectly loud and clear, too. Bingo.

4) Laugh. A lot. – Melissa Rivers, Joan’s daughter, said that her mother’s greatest joy in life was making people laugh. Laughter is contagious. When you put more effort into making others laugh and smile, it will always come back to you. I once heard that people who laugh more frequently live longer. I don’t know the science, but I’m willing to bet it’s true. For example, I’m not sure if you read my other blog about “The Secret”, or not, but part of The Secret talks about “laughing diseases away.” It sounds weird, I know, but one woman in the book/DVD was diagnosed with cancer, yet told herself the cancer was gone and spent months ONLY watching funny movies without taking any medicine. Within months her cancer was gone. (Cue sci-fi music.) Now, I certainy don’t recommend going without medical treatment, but you get the point…laughter is great medicine too.

5) Acknowledge Depression & Don’t Pretend You’re OK if you’re not. TALK IT OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM! – I know this last one may surprise you but I truly believe that success is made sweeter by the moments in life that sting a little bit. You learn to appreciate the good times when you have something to compare them to from your journey. Joan didn’t always have raging success. In fact, she had a lot of setbacks, like being fired from every job she had in the beginning of her career, suffering with bulimia, a strained relationship with her daughter Melissa, watching her husband suffer with depression and then committing suicide… I meannnnn, what a list! She recognized those dark chapters, acknowledged them for what they were, and then used those times to help others with her story. She even went on to say, “you can turn things around.” – no matter how crazy life can get…

…and her life was a living example of exactly that; a transformation with a dash of crazy – and isn’t that what life is all about?

May she rest in peace and may all that she taught the world about laughter and happiness live on forever.

(P.S. I’ll bet that Joan Rivers and Robin Williams are making God laugh together in Heaven!)

Joan Rivers | 1933 – 2014

Waving Goodbye to Robin Williams

by: Alicia M. Blanco

ROBINWILLIAMS

I just love this picture of him. It’s crazy that behind his one of kind smile and his contagious laughter was so much pain. It still doesn’t seem real to me. Its taken me several days to even accept it and gather up the composure to write this blog. How could one of the funniest comedians in the whole wide world who made me laugh my entire childhood, commit suicide? It’s just not fair. He’s gone. Just like that. No warnings. No signs. No goodbyes. I mean sure he’d had issues with drug abuse in his past, but he was over and done with all of that now, wasn’t he?? He had the ability to make all of us laugh so hard our stomaches hurt. He was the man.

That’s why this sucks SO bad— the fact that while he spent his whole life making everyone else laugh and feel alive, inside he was broken, depressed…and ultimately dying. He ended his life in such a tragic way and it broke hearts around the world. I know my heart is truly broken…

This is exactly WHY I want to see a huge wave of random acts of kindness. YOU have the potential to save someone’s life just by being kind to them, asking them how they are doing, (like REALLY doing), complimenting their smiles, encouraging them, spending actual time with them, writing them a handwritten note, ANYTHING. I can’t help but to wonder when was the last time someone had genuinely asked Mr. Williams how he was REALLY doing. Ugh.

It’s wild to me that someone can give off the impression that everything’s okay, just like Robin Williams did, when really they’re screaming on the inside.

WE NEED TO STOP ASSUMING!! Just because someone seems okay, maybe they’re really NOT.

I personally know a lot of men and women who appear to be happy, but yet have candidly opened up to me and let me know that they’re not as happy as they portray to the rest of the world. And I think that’s really brave of them to be so honest with me. With the world of social media we live in, it can be really hard to admit that there’s an inner battle going on. Maybe Robin Williams didn’t want to admit how depressed he was. No one likes to be judged… especially when they feel pressure to uphold a certain upbeat image. We live in a world of filters. We gatta look and appear to be at our best, right?

In reality, life is a journey of ups and downs though… and sometimes the journey includes a lot of heartache, rejection, unsuccessful attempts, shut doors, “no’s”… all of which can feed depression, mental illness, and even trigger suicide. It’s just a downward spiral and if we don’t start doing something about it, small as it may seem, we’ll continue watching people lose their battle to the disease. Because that’s what it is you know… a disease.

I’ve always just been told that no one wants to talk about it and that instead, we should read some self-help books, take your meds, “get over it”, “look on the bright side” and “count your blessings.” …… and while that all sounds like positive steps moving foward, it’s also just not the easiest thing to do when you’re suffering in the dark. As someone who has had to be in extensive conversation with mental hospitals, doctors, social workers, insurance companies and beyond, I can tell you right now, there is MAJOR work to be done.

I’ve been wanting to start this movement in the way we think and talk about (and conquer!!) depression for years but I always felt like there was so much shame on the subject. Even personally: I have a very close relative of mine who has suffered with manic depression bipolar disorder (just like Robin Williams) since he was 16yrs old. At this point in time I don’t have his permission to disclose his name or share his full story, but I’m hoping that I will in the very near future.

I can’t sit back and see another secretly unhappy person end his or her life when it could’ve been prevented by love.

So let’s keep going with this HUGE wave of random acts of kindness everywhere! I know the wave may start off small, but as more and more people catch on and begin to pay it forward, I honestly believe with all my heart that we can truly change lives and even SAVE LIVES by helping the silent sufferers of the world feel better, feel loved, feel seen, and to cope with their darkness.

Afterall, we are called to be a light in a dark place.

Thank you Robin Williams for being such a light in mine.

xo,
Alicia