Over the last few days, I’ve read article after article, seen news story after news story, as people have remembered Robin Williams. Who was he? What were his struggles? What were his triumphs? How did he come to the point where he ended everything?
As I’ve read the articles, I’ve agreed with some, been encouraged by others, and downright objected to others. As someone who writes a lot, I kept asking myself whether or not I had anything to add to the conversation. I have vowed that I don’t want to be “that guy” who simply writes to jump on a bandwagon. I only like to write if I feel that I’m saying something different.
As I’ve waded through all of these stories, two things have stood out to me. The first had to do with all of the talk about whether or not suicide was a selfish choice. The other thing had to do with how suicide was being portrayed, how were people addressing this issue of someone ending their life?
There is so much stigma connected to the word “selfish,” that it’s hard to look at it with fresh eyes. I was doing what I could to try to understand exactly what someone would mean to say that suicide was NOT selfish. I had some conversations (1 live and 2 digital) with people who had been personally impacted by someone close to them committing suicide. I wanted to hear from them about something that was troubling me, because from my vantage point, suicide seemed selfish.
While every single case of suicide is different, it seems that those who take their lives may actually believe that their actions are unselfish. They may feel that they have been a burden to those whom they love and who are caring for them. They may feel as if the only way to find peace is to end it all. The notion of selfishness comes out more from the survivors than anything else. We ask ourselves, “how could they do this to us?” Didn’t they care? Yes…..they cared, sometimes too much.
This whole tragic end to the life of a loved and respected person has brought into the limelight the way that we handle depression. It has been becoming more acceptable to talk about it, to share your need for help, to find medication, and to just educate about depression overall. I have heard too many horror stories about how people in very visible positions have been treated with their own admission of depression, especially pastors. It’s a travesty to think that we fail to extend grace to those who brains are being affected by something. If those of us who follow Christ really believe that sin tainted the whole world, why should our brains be somehow resilient, resistant, or immune to the impact of sin?
A lot has been written about Robin Williams’ freedom, primarily with a Tweet that the “Genie” is now free (based upon the character he played in the Disney animated feature “Aladdin”). It’s true that he is free from the earthly demons that plagued him, from the depression that drove him down, from the addictions that constantly beckoned him back like the sirens to Ulysses, but it doesn’t negate the fact that there has been a tragic loss of life, that there is a family that is now short one family member, and there is one more statistic to show how deadly and dangerous depression and mental illness can be.
Personally, I have been grateful to see more discussions opening up to the severity of depression, primarily discussions among those within the church. Having had parents who struggled with depression and struggling with it myself, I am grateful that we can begin to talk about something rather than sweeping it under the rug or simply labeling whatever fits our comfortable world. Depression is easily overlooked and unseen, while it’s not any one person’s responsibility to see it in others, we all need to keep our eyes open to the people to whom we are the closest.
I mentioned the other day that a young woman shared her story in our corporate gathering time this past Sunday. She shared how she had hid what was going on inside of her from everyone around her. It’s not the hardest thing to do, especially when those around you aren’t really paying attention. We are a distracted and busy society that only slows down when we are forced to do so. May we take such a tragic situation and learn something from it, not that will keep for a day, a week, or a month, but that will sink in for a lifetime.