Tuesday, August 11, 2015

O Captain! My Captain!

Even if the posts hadn't started popping up last night, I knew today was Robin Williams's day.

I think about him regularly. Does that sound ridiculous? Maybe. I don't know why, exactly. I just do.

Last year I couldn't stop crying. I didn't know him, and felt kind of dumb for being so devastated, but understood the trigger. I felt the loss of suicide so deeply and personally.

I don't think I'm imagining things when I say that it seems to me that the world has improved in a year, with regard to the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide.

Do you think so? I really do.

Robin Williams's death by suicide brought the topic into every home across the country. Even people who weren't used to talking about mental illness or suicide were talking about it. How could someone be that funny...and take their own life?

And starting the conversation makes people think. And it prompts people to share. Mental illness is everywhere. And as such, so is suicide. And it's been such a shameful secret.

Pretending something doesn't exist doesn't ever make it go away.

I'm not saying that there's been a giant attitude shift, and I am hyper-aware of the topic. But I feel like I see more conversation and more action around it. This makes me hopeful.

Recently I reconnected with a number of old friends. A couple of them pulled me aside and thanked me for what I'd written about my dad. They said it had helped.

One of them is career military, and he shared some terrible experiences with me.

And he said that he tells all his men to seek mental health help if they need it. He tells them there's no shame in it. That many of them they have lived through or will experience extreme trauma. And that needing help with their brains is no different than needing help with their blood pressure.

No shame. Just like any other disease. Ask for help if you are struggling. 

How hard is this to say? How hard is it to do? So hard, so scary, in our world as we've known it. But it should be easy. He's helping to make it easy.

I was immensely impressed with him, and so glad to hear this as a voiced attitude in the military, which is traditionally conservative, and where we've lost so many soldiers to suicide.

Now I have some emotional distance from suicide, and I am grateful for it.

But I'm still never going to stop talking about it.


  1. When I read the news of Robin Williams last year, a thought crossed my mind (aside from his loved ones, his talent)..."But he lives in Tiburon CA. I've visited there while on vacation. It's a beautiful and charming town. How could this have happened in such a place?". Surprising, saddening news conjures up perhaps ridiculous questions that lack causality.

    Lisa, you've done so much good work raising awareness for suicide prevention and mental illness. Having this knowledge you've shared and talked about bravely makes me a better friend and human being. Keep talking.

    I recently came across this TED talk on reflective listening.

    It reminded me of you, the skill you have to talk about things which are difficult, intelligently and with meaning. People, such as your friend in the military, share their stories with you because of your heart and mind and their respect for your opinion and discretion. And perhaps they come to you because you've shared your family's story in such a beautiful way.

    1. Heather, I will always, always love you. You're such a kind person with a beautiful heart, a wide open mind, and a very clear way of seeing the world.

      I don't think that's actually a weird thought in reaction to such terrible news. I remember on 911 thinking it was such a beautiful day. Same when my dad left us. You don't expect horrible things to happen when the world is so gorgeous. (But what do I know about weird vs normal? :))

      I will have to listen to it, as it sounds like something I'd really like. Thank you for articulating such wonderful compliments. They feed my soul. Big hugs to you.


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