Robin Williams 1951-2014
Less than a day and a half ago, the last thing I read before I went to bed – give or take 5 minutes – was “I’m glad Robbie Williams is still alive.”
It can’t be Robbie Williams, I thought. Robin Williams. Oh, shit.
Is he #twitter dead? Or BBC dead?
And in this day and age, death still hurts. Even though he was someone I never met, nor was I ever likely except in an airport queue, Robin Williams was someone who had always been in my world. He hadn’t come into fame in my consciousness but had always been there. When I was around 5, he first appeared. And he had been there in my consciousness, and all of our consciousnesses, ever since. Permanently there, like air, and water, and Star Wars.
I woke up, and he was still dead. He had still made some truly awful films, and some brilliant ones. He was still dead.
And so the details arrived.
A man who, probably without exception, was known and loved by millions of strangers in Europe and across the world. A man who if he had rung anyone I can think of, we would have probably given up a day of our lives to try and save. I would’ve – without hesitation – turned up at his house and made Lego with him, or whatever he needed. You are not as alone as you think you are.
And, as the details came out, how he slashed his wrists alone in a room, then hung himself, at the age of 63. Very very few will ever know that kind of brutal loneliness.
As usual, the crows descend and judge. Fox News – for who no tragedy is too painful for them to resist human carnage as clickbait – gave us the verdict that Willliams was guilty of ‘cowardice’.
Suicide didn't kill Robin Williams. Robin Williams did not kill himself. Depression - amongst other things - killed him.
Let me be absolutely clear. I am not, nor would I ever, in any way shape of form condone or support suicide. Suicide is the absolute last resort. But to call it cowardice is to lie, blatantly. Living with suicide, and depression, takes a strength that I hope none of you ever have to find.
It is easy to troll the dead. They don’t answer back. And insulting the dead, and the living – those of us who have tried & failed suicide, those of us who have made every step but the last off the cliff edge, those of us who have resolved to spend every remaining day trying not to die, those of us who every day might have a sudden and instant, unbidden battle with an invisible monster that lives in your head and sometimes wants you to die, and all of us who have lived through the grief, and all of us who have failed to see how much a friend needed a friend but was too scared to reach out and have to live with that – all of us who have lived through all of this – insulting us is cheap. It is not just cruel, but knowingly so.
Anyone who has ever felt like this will know that suicide is not cowardice. Suicide is an act of incredible, but unenviable, strength. Nobody who commits suicide thinks its going to be easy. Anybody who does – whether attempted or actual or merely planned to an intricate detail – will also know how hard life can be, because to consider the option of self-obliteration is to accept that committing suicide is very very hard. But that life itself, in whatever form it is, is even harder. Unbearably so.
Nobody should ever tell anyone else how much suffering they should tolerate or endure. We all know where in ourselves is enough. Everyone who reads this has managed to fail at dying every day. Your body is tougher than you think. This sometimes frail, but sometimes nearly indestructible machine. Your lungs are hardwired to breathe, your heart to beat. It takes a lot to kill you. I don’t want to tell you how I know. I’ve seen how hard people have fought in their last moments, at 3am heart attacks, after everything or anything that can happen. It takes a lot to kill a human being. But sometimes it just takes minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, of endless combat with invisible and relentless enemies. They can disappear at a moments notice and then reappear years later for no reason.
To kill yourself – and thus, to go against every instinct of your flesh and to also admit a form of defeat – takes a strength I hope none of you will ever know. A strength that comes from fighting, day in, and day out, constantly, against armies that you cannot always defeat. Enemies you cannot see or touch. Armies you cannot name. Brains don’t come in plaster. The voice in your head. The compulsion in your gut. The need to take one more drink, one more drug, one more meaningless sex encounter, one more hit of whatever it needs to take the pain away for a short while - and return it with interest. The voice in your head that tells you you are worthless, or a failure, or that nobody loves you, that nobody cares, that the world would be better off without you, that nobody would miss you. That voice is simply put, a goddamn liar. The voice that also tells you you never mattered, never made a difference, as if you were never here. That voice lies.
How do I know?
Because everyday now I wake up after having fought an invisible monster. Because somedays it feels like life weighs 10,000 tons. And on others, I am able to just live – as if nothing is wrong. Those kinds of days often come more often now. But last year, I spent seven long months under the kind of weight that can crush people. Every morning was a victory and a defeat. I had survived another battle, but I had another one to fight. And through this, we smile, and pretend that everything is OK, and we grip and grin and carry on, and impersonate a generally happy human being and hope we can get to act out the charade again, and again, and again, until at some point the battles end, until they start again – as they inevitably will – at some point for some invisible reason, days, weeks, months, years, from now.
Because everyday I don’t die is a victory.
Because when you battle this monster, one day it might win. It only needs to win once. I needed to win everyday. I only needed to lose once. Lose once, lose forever. Win today, and there’s another battle tomorrow. How is being in this state of constant war – koyannisqatsi – a state of cowardice? Suicide isn’t surrender. It is defeat. It is an admission that perhaps life as it is experienced is such that it can no longer be endured.
There is no cowardice in suicide. It took Robin Williams 63 years of fighting before he finally could no longer fight.
I say this because I know. Because several years ago, I stood at the edge of Beachy Head in a rainstorm, and I didn’t walk up. I was two feet from the edge. A split second of weakness and I would be dead. At this point in my life, I was trapped in a physically abusive relationship with the mother of my child. I was staring down the barrel of enforced redundancy after six years in a job. My two year old son would potter around at my feet smiling. I had a future that looked like unemployment, poverty, and endless violence.
My hair would fall out in my 33 year old hands. Why do you think I shave my head now?
Why didn’t I jump?
A million reasons. And none of them. I didn’t want those bastards to win. I wanted to go out on my terms, of my choosing. Not backed into a corner. And ..
… perhaps the most obvious thing is I didn’t want my two year old son to grow up without a father. I didn’t want his last memory of me was him watching me jump off a cliff to the rocks below.
It took every ounce of my strength to not walk those steps. Everything was ready. Everything was prepared. And nobody but I knew my plan.
I held on for him. And of course, one day he will know. But not today.
Depression is not picky. It didn’t choose Robin Williams because he was a comedian. It chose him for no reason at all. Because it could. Suicide is the biggest killer of males in the UK aged between 20 and 49.
Let me be clear : Robin Williams didn’t kill himself. Depression killed Robin Williams after what may have been a 40 year fight.
Living with depression, and living with suicide, is not cowardice. It can be a relentless battle, and it only needs to win once. You are more loved, and more real, than you think. With more friends, and more love than you feel. Please, reach out. Someone is always there for you.