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

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The Tragedy That Saved My Life

by: Tiphany Adams

Imagine yourself growing up in the countryside of Northern California with every kind of farm animal possible, engaging in activities that emphasized more on union with family and the outdoors than exterior beauty.  But by the time I was 8 years old, my parents divorced & my father began raising my sister and I outside of our countryside comfort zone. Around the time I hit middle school I started to struggle with self-esteem issues especially because of a birth mark on my neck. I began to get painfully teased & ridiculed based on my appearance.  I begged to have it removed for every birthday & Christmas. I would hide myself in sweats & turtle necks even in 100 degree heat. I even went as far to try to scrap it off. I planned how to hide it on the day I would get asked to prom or the day I would eventually get engaged.

Major trauma had occurred around that time period that stripped me of every ounce of self-esteem I had left. It lead me down a destructive path and eventually I ended up with more emotional pain then I knew what to do with.

I began praying and asking for guidance and even chose to get myself baptized at the age of 15. But by the time I entered into my senior year of high school I had already attended 5 different schools while dealing with so many issues. I felt lost without anyone to turn to. My mother had gotten herself wrapped up into her own addictions during this time as well. It was a mess.

And then there was the moment that changed my life forever.

I was in the backseat of a car with a sober driver that was struck head on by a drunk driver causing a collision of 130 mph–all were pronounced dead on the scene. I remember asking God to please let me live through this… and He did. They air lifted me to the hospital with a 5% chance of survival & I was induced into a coma for 3 weeks. When I awoke I knew I was alive for a purpose & had a divine mission to fulfill. The tragedy left 3 lives taken because of one persons decision to drink & drive, but the blessing is that I am here to relay a message of truth.

The first day I got into my wheelchair was emotional- words could not begin to depict what I felt. When I looked in the mirror for the first time seeing the big medal wheels, I cried in disbelief as I felt tingling throughout my legs as if they were asleep…and would never wake up. And that’s when clarity came…I remembered back to the time when I wouldn’t wear my hair up in a ponytail because of a birth mark…and here I was now. How would I get over the reflection I see staring back at me? How will society treat me? Then I came to the realization that it all begins with self acceptance & self-love & I began a beautiful journey of self discovery.

From that day forward I continued to embrace myself with love, support,  & prayer.

Had this tragedy never happened, it is likely that I would’ve remained dead inside. So in a way, this tragedy saved my life and made me see the world differently.

What it comes down to is we all have obstacles & tragedies that can change our situations but when we remove the superficial and connect to every living being on a soul to soul level we know we are all here on this earthly place for a divine reason… to give love & receive love. I share my story with you in hopes to gift you with love & acceptance for where you are right in this very moment.

Embrace your life! Focus on your inner beauty now and always.

Mental Illness Doesn’t Have To Be A Terrible Thing

by: Anonymous Author

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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.

Yoga & Mental Health

by: Jackie Roberts

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First off I feel a little self indulgent writing this! Especially since self study (or as we call it in yoga swadhyay) is all about being more present in the moment letting go of past and future dialogue to be in the here and now! But I feel like I have come or am rather coming through something that is worth expressing or sharing. Maybe by telling the story of me I can help another. Maybe I’ll even help my self!

I am an addict! What I am an addict of really has no consequence other than to color the story line which of course I will divulge, but it is important to know that we addicts are all pre-disposed to the same flaw. We can’t let go! We hold on to whatever whomever we are experiencing. We want more and we fear when the more runs out. This clinging and fear  is a lack of self love. The “I’m ok right now in this moment” voice of self soothing that my kin all lack.  Who knows when we loose it. There are theories on personality archetypes or experiences as in nature vs. nurture but no one really knows. I choose food.  I was 88 lbs when I got help over 15 years ago. And it has been an extremely messy up and down battle. Finally I float somewhere in the middle. Knowing my tendencies and making choices to not deprive nor abuse anything. Now whether it’s drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, pills, self mutilation, or even love it really all falls under the same umbrella of two inner dialogues. I am not enough or I don’t deserve to take up space.

I had an eating disorder for more time than I desire to admit. Today the choice to be healthy is not dependent on my pants size but rather conscious decisions I will myself to make that now make up a healthy ego. I have found a purpose or my dharma in life we call our purusha(truth). My truth is I  a teacher. I’m not perfect. And I can teach that that’s ok. In fact my perceived imperfections have served my students and give me a connection and approachability.

The choice to eat a healthy balanced diet that involves foods that are good for my constitution and avoid emotional triggers. An exercise routine that is void of excess and leans towards an intuition of exactly what I need in the moment. Yoga taught me to find my inner voice and always trust it. I start each day with a simple five minute mediation to check in.

The most enjoyable question I get from fellow gym goers as I enter my health club is “what are you working on today.” My answer always remains the same. “I don’t know… Whatever my body needs.”

This simple philosophy is how I live and do everything in my life. Through trial and immense error I have come to realize that how you do one thing is how you do everything. Addiction as much as recovery is about changing the negative habits. These habits include a recording we have in our heads that we don’t deserve to take up space. For women we are taught to negate this voice. It’s still shocking to me when I hear a woman I perceive as strong and capable say “what should I do.” “Well,” I ask… “What do you need.” This is where yoga not asana(this mere physical practice or western yoga) comes into play.

There is nothing more difficult in life than the not knowing. We are ruled so heavily by our minds and the thirst for knowledge how do we let go? You can train endless hours for a marathon to prepare the physical bodies stamina and endurance, you can study countless hours for an exam, and you can pre heat an oven for a perfect cheesecake, but how do you begin a quest for equanimity of the heart? We begin to know that it takes a life time of trial and error to discover…we know nothing at all.  And when it comes to the human condition; fear, love, grief, regret, joy, lust, and longing we all have a metaphorical blindfold on. So why ask how? How can we just be. Meditation is said to help accept the unanswered questions and allows a beingness, but until that moment when the bomb of uncertainty goes off how do we surrender?

I find myself still going to that place of gripping tight instead of letting go. I am knew to meditation and yoga. And by new I mean about 10 years. I am certain it will take one or two lifetimes for me to fully embrace it and even begin to understand being in the moment.  I know it has made a significant difference on who I am both inside and out. That my internal temperature runs cooler now that I sit and just breathe into the nothingness  of the present moment.  I practice non attachment but still I feel detaching completely out of the sights.

Love for me is the most challenging of all attachments. It is the reason I have choose a sobriety so to speak from relationships since my last ended in divorce. I have limited my physical encounters as well and made loving intimate  friendships more my focus. But as I venture back out there I realize I am a hopeless romantic. I have tried many a times to maintain a practice of letting go in my relationships but in the end maintaining detachment when it is appropriate to let go is like a weapon of mass destruction.  It blows to bits any semblance of balance or inner harmony. I begin to fight and struggle to hold on to something that was never in my possession.

So I guess the question is…how do we let go of expectation and allow beginnings and endings to simply flow through our being. This is advanced yoga.   We can not control life or circumstance but merely remain neutral to its out come. Having gratitude for the mere sake of gratitude itself. Because it feels good. Yoga is a practice.  And we, no matter how we feel must practice anyway

Yoga is not designer 120 dollar pants on a 90 dollar mat in the trendiest studio with the hipist teacher with quasi famous patrons while drinking a green juice…yoga is just not that fancy or glamorous when it’s real…

It is the painstaking intimate dedicated study of the mind, the body, and their relationship to each other which affects the spirit. It is the study of the space inside or the lack there of metaphorically speaking and literally.

It is the stillness and movement of breathe and the pause in between. It is a deep connectedness to everything you are and what you observe. It is beyond the physical or external yet completely tied to the flesh, the skin, the bones, organs, and connective tissue.  It is our relationship to everything and everyone in our life.  It is our addictions, aversions, and how we define ourselves through those habits.  Yoga is acceptance. Yoga is this moment. Yoga is being present with what is. It is the frequency and the music of your heart beat. Everything that occupies matter vibrates at its own unique beat. Yoga is the harmony and symphony of that beat.  This is my story. My song, This is my yoga. Yoga is now…atta yoga anusasanam.

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@jonescrow photography

Waving Goodbye to Robin Williams

by: Alicia M. Blanco

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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