Depression lies: Robin Williams, the tyranny of silence, and asking for help

Robin Williams - Dead Poets Society

Robin Williams passed away tonight.

One of the greatest comedians of our time took his own life to end his battle with depression. It was a known factor, but he seemed to have it in hand. He’d been clean and sober for 20+ years. He’d signed new movie deals, and Night at the Museum 3 is out soon. He’d even checked into a facility in July, saying he hadn’t fallen off the wagon but was worried his mental state would take him there.

It wasn’t enough. There were still demons that visited him in the night. Demons that eventually won. And now we grieve.

We get all verklempt when a celebrity dies – even more so when they commit suicide. And with good reason: it reminds us of our mortality. If these giants, these modern-day gods can die, so can we.  What we tend to forget is that depression extends to us, too. It doesn’t just strike the rich and famous; it’s not a disease of leisure or ennui.  It’s a monster attacking ordinary people, people you know and love, right now, right this moment.

And you may never know.

The person it’s attacking could even be you. And you may never ask for help.

That’s what shakes me when depression puts out another light: That there are people suffering under the lies of the disease that stay hidden – from shame, from fear, from embarrassment – their entire lives. They mask it with humor and anger and silence and partying and lies, and then one day, they’re gone. And everyone’s standing around wondering what happened. What they could’ve done to help.

I’ve never been quiet about the fact that I struggle with depression. I have for 15 years. I’ve been on and off medication, in and out of counseling. Some things help. Some things don’t. It’s a constant dance, and these days I’m winning more than I used to. “How” is another post.

The point tonight is to tell you that if you’re the one hearing the demons in the night: You are not alone.

I’ve had those thoughts. I’ve wanted to run my car off an icy overpass. Wanted to jam a pencil in my wrist and drag. Wanted to slip into darkness to spare other people my awful existence. Wanted to die. Wanted to scream out for help when I couldn’t help myself – when all I could do was weep and babble and drool on myself, balled up on the floor – and physically couldn’t speak the words.

And so has my mother.

And my brother.

And my best friend.

And so many other people I cherish.

And so many other people I don’t know well but confided in me.

And so many other people I’ll never meet.

Millions of them.

Depression is real. It’s pervasive and invasive and evasive. It’s insidious and clever. It’s organic and situational and triggerable and perpetual. It paralyses and controls.

And it lies. Depression tells you you’re not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough, worthy enough, enough, enough, enough. It tells you that your presence is painful to others and they’re better off without you. It tells you that if only you were richer or married or childless or white or skinny, then you’d be happy. Then all your problems would go away.

And then it says that you can’t ask for help.

That is 100% pure bullshit.

Yes, there’s probably some awful shit happening in your life – past or present – that has you under its thumb right now. Trauma and wounds both utterly real and completely fabricated from depression’s library of pain.  But you can and will overcome it.

Because you are better than depression.

There is more to this life than the dark, helpless forever that depression wants for you. Do not let this demon win.

You are a brilliant mass of stardust and love that has incredible gifts and talents to offer. There is power locked in your heart right now that will shake the world. You are loved beyond your wildest dreams. Your life is precious to someone, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now. You are light.  Darkness does not define the light; light defines and dispels the darkness.

My dearest darlings. If you are battling depression, particularly to the point of suicidal ideation or attempts, please reach out.  Even if you think no one could ever understand your pain, someone does care. Give them a chance to show it.  I know it can be the hardest imaginable thing to ask for help when you’re in the hole, and we’re shamed into thinking we’re weak and pitiful to say you’re drowning inside.

You are not weak.

Asking for help takes a strength that I promise you have. I know because I found it in myself when I thought I had nothing left.

Ask. Call. Speak up. Share. Love.

We can overcome this – together.

Rest in peace, Robin.


Suicide Prevention Lifeline: US only, open 24/7, 1-800-273-8255
I’m Alive: online crisis counseling network
International Association for Suicide Prevention: worldwide connections to help

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