Yesterday the world lost one of the greatest actors of all time. I've never been affected by celebrity deaths, but he was different. In addition to being in several of my favorite childhood movies (I maintain that Hook is one of the top ten best movies of all time), he was very open about his struggle with mental illness and addiction. And as someone who deals with mental illness every single day, the fact that this man could be so open about his gave me infinite hope and comfort.
With a combination of medication and therapy, I'm able to keep my head above water for the most part. 12 years ago I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression (also known as major depression), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and Panic Disorder. Unfortunately the Panic Disorder wasn't caught early, so I also suffer from periods of agoraphobia (fear of being in places that might cause panic attacks; often I will go through periods where I won't leave my house). I have spent some time in a mental hospital.
Some days are easy. Other days are a struggle from the moment I open my eyes. Major life changes are a nightmare for me to deal with, even happy ones. When I graduated from college last year, instead of being excited and happy at the prospect of diving into a career and starting out on my own, I spent almost two months in bed with the lights off, alternating between horrifying panic attacks that felt like my heart was burning a hole through my chest, and listless bouts of depression where I couldn't find a feeling inside me. And all because of a disease that doesn't allow my brain to function like other brains.
There's a stigma that's attached to mental illness. Because no one can see it, people assume it's not there. Some even think you're faking it. When you do admit to having depression, or bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, you are immediately treated differently. The word 'crazy' is thrown around so loosely, and people often forget that those who suffer are still people, and therefore deserve all the respect and dignity afforded to everyone else. It's hard to navigate a world that is so archaic in its concept of people with mental illness.
And that's why I'm so affected by Robin Williams' death. He fought so long and so hard, and to learn that he succumbed to his mental illness was a devastating blow. I remember him as the hilarious last guest on Johnny Carson, I remember him as Mrs. Doubtfire, as Peter Pan, as the Genie in Aladdin. Dead Poets Society was my favorite movie in high school. That guy was my childhood. So this is dedicated to him, and I'll always keep fighting, not only in his honor, but for myself, and for everyone out there who suffers silently.
"You're only given one little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it."
Robin Williams [July 29, 1951-August 11, 2014]