I was in Costa Rica with my college roommate on spring break. We had popped into an internet cafe to check our emails for the first time in a couple days. I signed into hotmail, and had fifteen or so new messages. Half of them were junk and then there was one from my mom, a third of the way down.
I remember this like it was yesterday. My back was to the door, the ceiling fan spun precariously overhead, and made an awful sound. I was at a cluster of computers in the middle of the room, tourists all around, their sunblocks and travel books and bottled waters in heaps next to their keyboards. I opened the email.
It was short. Maybe three or four lines. There was a suicide. My uncle was dead.
I involuntarily let out a scream.
"Shhh, shut up!" My roommate laughed, thinking I was joking around. She turned to me, tears streaming down my face.
"What? What happened?"
You know those larger than life people? I feel like everyone has one of those people in their lives. They're the ones who walk into a party and make it come alive. The social butterflies who are always go, go, go, fueled by endless energy. The ones who thrive in a crowd with contagious smiles and infectious laughter. That was my uncle.
I don't remember how, but we went home immediately. The funeral was a haze. I remember having nothing to wear. I think I borrowed something from my mom. The whole town showed up. My cousin, one of his daughters, was supported by her entire middle school class. It was the saddest day of my life.
I went back to school and fell into a deep depression.
A confession: Here's the thing about suicide that haunts me the most. Fair warning, this is pretty dark. And it makes me feel extremely uncomfortable even writing it. But I feel like I need to say it.
There's a process to suicide. You need to have the idea. Decide how to do it. Maybe you need to go to the store. Or root around in your attic or basement looking for the necessary...things. You decide to leave a letter, or not. And then you need to actually do it.
You need to actually take the first step of a series of steps of whatever's been planned. And then do what you have planned.
What haunts me the most is that there is a moment during that time where it's still up in the air. Where the person could still put the pills, the knife, the rope down, but can't, because the pain, the emptiness, the darkness is too much.
Can you imagine that headspace?
In the nights after my uncle's death I laid awake, tears silently running down my face wondering if I could've said something that would've helped. Wishing I had expressed how much he meant to me. Wondering what kind of awful world we live in, where people could feel so much unbearable pain.
This morning the alarm went off at 7:30am. My husband reached over to turn it off, and we both picked up our phones, eyes squinting from the bright light of the screen, and scrolled through.
"Robin Williams died," he said. "It says a suicide."
Robin Williams. Such a huge part of my childhood.
My brother and I watched Aladdin until the VHS player stopped working. I know Hook by heart. (I loved when Schmee has an apostrophe and when the lost boy says, "There you are, Peter!") When I hit the awkward stage of puberty, where I thought I was too cool for everything, I remember watching Mrs. Doubtfire and laughing unabashedly because it was just that funny. (The Mrs. Doubtfire transformation is one of my favorite parts.) Good Will Hunting came out when I was thirteen, which is the age where you're even more awkward than you ever imagined possible, and you think you have it all figured out. Robin Williams' character was the voice of reason that just made sense to me. I grew up with those movies. Those characters.
And it felt like another punch in the stomach when I found out this morning that Robin Williams had committed suicide.
Because it all goes back to that mind space for me. How much pain you have to feel to make a decision like that, put it into action, and carry it out. It hurts that yet another person felt such despair that there was no other way, and took his own life.
I hope that this opens the doors for conversation about depression and suicide. And I hope that it softens us. Makes us more kind. Approachable. I hope that if anything, it can serve as a reminder that everyone is dealing with something. Maybe not everyone suffering will reach out for help, but the least we can do is extend more love.
Please, please, please. If you are suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts. Please reach out for help. If you are in the United States, call: 1-800-273-8255. If you are outside of the US, click here.