I'll never forget the day I took my children to see Hook in the movie theatre.
It was 1991. My daughter was six and my son was three. My son was in a huge Peter Pan phase at that time and he went to the movie dressed as the Pan, while his best friend Thomas was dressed as Captain Hook. All of the children watched the movie with fixed enthusiasm, delighting in the brilliant humor, completely engaged in the drama and when the final fight scene broke out, Casey and Thomas leapt out of their seats and began sword fighting in the aisle of the movie theatre. That is the memory that stands out to me when I think of Robin Williams. I think about what an amazing impact he had on my children’s childhoods and I feel devastated about his passing.
As a mental health professional, I felt inclined to speak about depression and suicide. I’ll admit part of me worries about being accused of jumping on the media bandwagon, but with the huge global impact that Mr. Williams’ passing seems to be having, I thought something should be said.
The first reaction you hear when a suicide is reported is that it was selfish. “How could he do that to his children?” “So selfish to leave his loved one’s in pain. Why wouldn’t he just get help?” And to the people who have an opinion about how selfish suicide is and how it’s not an acceptable form of relief from depression and anxiety, I ask you to kindly stop talking for a moment and consider what is actually going on when someone takes their own life.
Human beings are conditioned to survive. It’s in our genetic material. It goes against our instinct to end our own lives, so when someone actually does, it means they are in such an awful state of pain and angst, that they can’t even see beyond the present moment, or think about anything other than how much it hurts and how badly they want it to stop hurting. It’s no surprise that victims of suicide often have diagnosed addictive disorders. Mr. Williams said in an interview with The Guardian, that he felt a constant looming fear of anxiety and that’s why he self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. In my upcoming book on loss and life transitions, I refer to addictions as Grief Avoidance Responses because, let’s face it, when anyone abuses a substance or a behavior (e.g. sex, shopping or gambling,) they are trying to distract themselves from something. That something is troubling thoughts and emotional pain, usually resulting from some kind of loss and loss creates grief. Addicts are not weak, self-centered individuals…they are grievers! Many people who suffer from depression and anxiety and addictions do seek help, but it's a constant battle and without the proper support and care, they can lose their way very quickly.
Do I have compassion for those left behind? Of course, and in my twenty-four years as a Grief Counseling Specialist I have worked with many of them. I have also experienced suicide first-hand in my own family, so I know the horror, shock, guilt and pain felt by those who loved the person who chose to leave. I just ask that this time, we all suspend our judgements and try to really get a sense of the level of pain a person has to feel to go against the instinctual drive to survive, that is hardwired into our brains.
The only word that makes sense here is tragedy. Suicide is a loss and a tragedy for all involved. We need to open up the conversation about this desperate act and be there with compassion and understanding for all its victims. Let’s all do our parts to take the stigma away from suicide and see the truth behind it.
Let’s start taking a moment to talk to our friends in pain, to engage in the difficult conversations. Let them feel that they are really cared about. Let’s ask how they are and be willing to hear the truth. And most importantly of all, listen, truly listen and hear what is being said. Isolation is always a contributing factor where suicide is concerned. All humans want to feel seen, heard and understood. You never know when giving that simple act, might save a life.
Educate yourself about suicide. Google it. Read up on the signs to watch for. Go to my friend Dianna Bonny’s web site www.livingonthefaultlines.com and read the ongoing conversation she has opened up since the suicide of her husband four years ago. The more we know, the better able we can be better equipped to avoid this tragedy impacting our lives and the lives of those we love.
If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, help is always available by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
Thank you, Robin Williams for all the laughter and joy you gave to the world. You truly were the Pan and you will be hugely missed for years to come.
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PAULA SHAW, CADC, DCEP is an author, Energy Psychology specialist, therapist, speaker, Reiki Master and Grief Counselor. For more than 20 years, Paula has been passionate about empowering people who are dealing with profound loss, so they can reap something truly beautiful from their pain. She also helps clients who are going through major life transitions or seeking freedom from self-destructive addictions. She has degrees in Education and Communications from Long Beach State University, as well as graduate counseling credentials from Loyola Marymount University. She is one of the founding members of the Association of Comprehensive Energy Psychology and currently serves on its board of directors. Paula is the author of Chakras, the Magnificent Seven (2002), as well as "Grief...When Will This Pain Ever End?" Finding Your Way out of the Pit of Despair After Profound Loss.
Former Blog Archive
Thank you for reading Paula's Blog. Because our site moved in June, we were unable to transfer all of our blog posts over. You can however, read the rest of them by visiting our old blog site. HERE