Back in the middle of things

I’ve started and discarded three or four different blog posts in the past few days, unable to put my arms around what it’s been like for me, this past week. I know my experience is not unique, because I’ve talked to other suicide survivors and many of the things I am feeling appear to be universal. Yet, how to describe them?

Robin Williams’ death has put me in a very strange place. I know, logically, that I am here in Washington; it has been nearly 20 months since Tony died; I have come a long way since then. I know these things. They are true. Yet at the same time I am aware that I am here, in my apartment, I have also been there. That night.

I never really understood until I lost Tony what post-traumatic stress was. I had read descriptions, of course, and seen depictions on film. I knew that people described it as being back in the middle of the traumatic event itself. I somehow, though, thought that it was more like a nightmare than a reality. That PTSD was akin to a bad dream.

It’s not. It’s worse. When I heard the news about Robin Williams I was transported, with no chance to kick and scream my way out of it, back to that December evening. I’m not talking about a memory. I mean that it felt like I was there. I could feel – actually feel – the cold concrete steps beneath me. I could hear the glass in our bedroom window breaking. I could smell the air. I could see one police officer in front of me, my friend next to me. I could see the other police officer, the one who’d broken into the apartment, crouching next to me. I could hear those six horrible words that changed everything. I could hear the howl that came out of me, feel my friend’s hand clutching mine.

Over and over this week, I have revisited that day. I wish I could stop. I can sometimes pull myself out of it, a bit, by pressing my hands against my chest and reminding myself that I am not there. I feel like an open wound. Part of me is relieved that people are talking about mental illness and suicide in a way that seems to be… maybe… a little different. Part of me is devastated because there is still so much ignorance and judgment. I’ve been in a few conversations, in blog comments or Facebook status updates, that have just cracked me open. One was with a woman who insisted that suicide is a sin, and that people who die that way will be judged. She seemed pretty happy to judge them herself, all in the name of religion, of course. I wonder whether it’s actually healthy for me to talk to people like that, but then I think, if I don’t, who will? I don’t think I changed her mind, but at the same time when I come across ignorance like that, how can I stay silent?

I was hoping I would feel better this week, or at least MORE better than I do. I am still raw and hurting. I feel like I’ve been scraped all over, flayed open. I ache. Right after Tony died, I was in a fog. Here and now, the fog has dissipated and it can’t protect me. I have only the harsh glare of reality.

Robin Williams was 63 years old

Robin Williams

I am heartbroken. Robin Williams is dead in an apparent suicide. I did not know him, but I have been a fan ever since his Mork & Mindy days. More recently, I greatly preferred him in dramatic roles: Good Will Hunting, Insomnia – roles where his frenetic tendencies were held in check, lending his characters a seething intensity that jumped from the screen.

Every time someone well known takes his own life, I wonder, will this be the one that finally gets people talking? People seem to be shocked, and mostly because Robin Williams was so funny. Comedy and tragedy are different sides of the same mask, though. Tony was funny too, often hilariously so. Laughter can be a disguise. Comedy can be a defense mechanism.

I know all too well some of the things his family and friends are feeling now. They are wondering how this could have happened, what they could or should have done differently, why he didn’t call someone in that final, desperate moment before he took the action that could not be undone. They are in that unmapped landscape, together, but alone. They are sad and furious at him at the same time, probably. They are reeling.

My heart goes out to them. I hope they find some of the resources I found – most especially The Alliance of Hope  because there, they can write about their experience in anonymity and get help from people who understand their pain.

Much will be said and written about this in the days and weeks to come, I am sure. I am hoping that somehow, this will be the suicide that makes people willing to talk about it in a larger context. Not just this man, this suicide, but all people – all suicides. One is too many.

His name is Robin Williams. He was 63 years old.