When I was first confronted with the news of Robin Williams’ death, I did what I felt was only natural: discounted the news as fake, like when Justin Bieber died for half a day in March 2012 and every preteen girl had a meltdown on social media.
By the time I had read the news from several reputable sources, I couldn’t deny that which I fiercely did not want to believe. Never once had I thought it was possible for this funny man – this character I loved growing up with, this charismatic, talented person so full of life on screen – to struggle for that life when the cameras were turned away. I think it’s fair to say that most of his fans were shocked.
But as I sat there processing the news, I couldn’t help but feel that his suicide actually wasn’t that shocking. In fact, his story was familiar.
For 18 years I had always been the performer, from school talent shows to the debate team’s captain to high school valedictorian.
To my friends and family I was the lovable goofball – quirky and confident, quick to crack a painfully corny joke and always smiling. To everyone, it seemed like I was thriving, but that perception was deeply shaken in August 2013 when I made the decision to take my own life.
My story is nothing most people haven’t heard before. It is the story of Owen Wilson and Donna Summer, Freud and Hemingway, of the late, great Robin Williams and so many others who struggled to live with or died from depression.
The difference between what happened to Williams and to me stems from the fact that I got the help that I so desperately needed, and I continue to live with my depression – my manic depression.
Williams lived with his mental disorder, but struggled in silence. What else could he do?
In a business for people pleasers, he was adored and admired onstage. Breaking character and letting his depression show wouldn’t be what the public wanted from their championed actor.
But Hollywood is not the only place where people feel forced to play the roles of happy and confident. With the aid of medication, therapy, and support from family and friends, I am in a tremendously better place than I was one year ago, but as a college student, at times I still find myself that performer of years past.
It sometimes feels foolish to complain about my depressed mood due to lack of sleep when I’m aware most people around me wish they’d slept more too. I didn’t want to be the one who skips out on parties because my meds make me tired early in the night, or because my mind had been racing all day and I need to calm down. Sometimes just talking to others makes me feel unnaturally nervous.
Everyday activities, like tests and classes, take on a whole new level of anxiety when I’m suffering with my mood disorder. I want to feel constant affirmation, but failures are inevitable in our endeavors to “make it” socially, academically and eventually professionally. Instead of craving this, I’ve found ways to live with it – whether that be that through going to counseling, throwing myself into my passions and sometimes some less-positive alternatives.
But I know it doesn’t have to be that way. Everyone was shocked to learn of Robin Williams’ passing because they couldn’t fathom that the happiness they saw in him was only part of his story.
The truth is, many of us as students can relate to Williams, and on Main Campus, we will find plenty of men and women dealing with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety or other results of chemical imbalance. We may never know who is coping, but if we as a school community can be understanding and aware, maybe there will be some, if only one, who shakes that feeling to perform.
Victoria Szafara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org