Emergency Brake

My heart is broken but the shards are full from witnessing the outpouring of love and gratitude for Robin Williams and all the joy he gave the world. I could never look into his eyes in a photo or his expression in film or video and not see a depth of character that defied containment. My generation grew up with Mork as our crazy space cousin, and then all the other facets of Robin started breaking through as his particular genius unfolded throughout decades. The world has so much to miss and mourn, and we recognize it and are showing it. But I am a little amazed and further heartbroken at the idea of people who have reacted to Robin Williams' suicide with judgment. I understand the impulse to call suicide a selfish act. After all, everyone else is left to pick up the pieces. But this impulse to judge is wrong and comes from a place of fear and darkness that is its own separate beast.

Not only wasn't it a selfish choice… it wasn't even really a choice. Calling depression a choice, calling suicide a choice... is like calling being dizzy from an octopus ride a choice. You can't will yourself to not be dizzy if you're on a ride designed to make you dizzy. Clinical depression is like waking up somehow having been strapped into an octopus ride against your will. You have been on its tamer cousin a few times before, it's nothing you can't handle. You've even thrown up once from a ride that lasted one rotation too long. Maybe in a fit of boredom you even spun yourself around and around to simulate the ride. But you eventually figured out you didn't really like that ride, would rather go on a ferris wheel or a nice long stroll instead, and got off at the next opportunity, because it stops and starts all the time. The fluid in your ears sloshed back down and the world stopped twirling, and you went on with life. Set some goals, did some charity work.

But it is slowly dawning on you that this ride is different. It doesn't seem like it ever intends to slow down, let alone stop and let you out, and curiously you are too tired to feel scared because you are still feeling half-asleep. After the initial confusion there are different ways you can react. You can white-knuckle it and hang on for dear life, squeezing your eyes shut and not moving a muscle; you can try to briefly orient yourself by spinning your head in tandem with the rotations and gyrations until your neck seizes up; you can grasp the restraint bar with one hand and flail your free arm around and yell for help (although calling attention to yourself was never your wish, and even then, people on the ground look up and smile and wave back;) you can just go with it and throw both arms up in the air, cackling and whooping; when all of that tires you out further, you can contemplate the meaning of amusement park rides and wonder how long this ride is, who built it, who is at the controls, and whether you'd insult them by rejecting their sleek design; and finally, unable to stop the madness and unable to imagine it ever stopping, you can unstrap yourself and jump out. One thing you cannot do, and never did, is choose to be on this ride in the first place.

What you didn't know and couldn't fathom, was that any of the people on the ground could have run for the emergency brake at any time. Instead, most of them screamed as you fell, while a tiny few stood around - people who didn't even know you! - muttering inexplicably about selfishness, not even realizing which ride you were on.

RIP MorkGarpFisherPeterDoubtfireGenie... Robin. Robin. Thank you and we are so sorry. We thank your family for sharing you with us and for doing all they could to make your journey here longer and brighter.

ADDENDUM: this post has gotten a big response and I want to make absolutely certain I am not misunderstood. Just as I'm not judging suicide, nor am I advocating for it. I simply want to help people get inside that mindset and have a deeper, more empathetic understanding of it, so that everyone might be a little better off. By all means, seek immediate professional help if you are in that place. 1-800- 273-TALK. I would be one of those screaming on the ground if you didn't.