Robin Williams is dead, and I’m not okay.


Robin Williams is dead, and I’m not okay.


Con­tent note: frank dis­cus­sion of sui­cide, abuse, dis­or­dered eat­ing.

I don’t know how old I am. I think I might be 6. I sink beneath the water in the bath­tub and wait. How does drown­ing work? I don’t know, but I know that drown­ing means death, and death means I won’t feel any­thing any­more, so that’s what I want to do. As my lungs scream for air, pan­ic over­whelms me, and I resur­face, sput­ter­ing and ashamed.

I am 9, and I try the same thing, over and over again, always los­ing my nerve, always afraid. I con­fess to a friend, and that evening her dad knocks on my door. My par­ents sit with me and ask me why, Dani. Why are you doing this? I have no answer oth­er than bul­ly­ing at school, because bul­ly­ing has made me mis­er­able for sure, but I have no words for the con­stant sor­row I’ve car­ried for years and so I do not speak of it.

When I am 12, my class is bro­ken into groups assem­bling a card­board recre­ation of some his­toric land­mark. I am entrust­ed with the knife and the cut­ting. While no one is look­ing, I draw the blade across my wrist, mak­ing small equidis­tant notch­es, shal­low. I claim that the knife slipped, but soon I’m dis­cov­ered. “It’s only a phase,” I am promised, while the word “self­ish” is bandied about me, and I am sworn to nev­er try to harm myself again. I out­ward­ly agree, but secret­ly con­tin­ue, exchang­ing cut­ting for pinch­ing and scratch­ing and punch­ing and wrench­ing, all in places that my clothes will con­ceal from pub­lic view.

At 13, I am not eat­ing any more than I have to in order to avoid sus­pi­cion. I sleep too late for break­fast, give my lunch away, skip din­ner as often as I can. My diet con­sists of water and all the pain pills I can find. I don’t know why pain pills, unless it’s because some­how I think they might dull emo­tion­al pain. When I start black­ing out at school, I am dis­cov­ered. I learn that I am self­ish, I am cru­el, I only want atten­tion so you should ignore me and I’ll learn to get over myself.

At 15, I endure my first roman­tic heart­break, and I don’t know where to turn, but I am resolved to be self­less, resolved to be kind. One tear-stained evening when I reach for tis­sues, I find a pair of scis­sors instead. I con­fide in a friend, who con­fides in his father, who noti­fies my par­ents, who send me to coun­sel­ing. I don’t remem­ber a thing, only the over­whelm­ing betray­al and rage I kept bot­tled as tight­ly as I could. “It’s only a phase,” every­one keeps inton­ing. “It’ll pass. You’ll see.”

From 18 to 21, I con­vince myself that they were right, that I was self­ish and the phase had passed. I con­vince myself that beg­ging God to take me home isn’t the same thing as being sui­ci­dal, that my depres­sion is mere­ly a lack of faith, that if I just count my bless­ings and think of every­one around me before I think of myself, I will be okay. I am deter­mined to be okay. I am deter­mined to be a good daugh­ter, a good friend, a good Chris­t­ian. But please, God…please, God, take me home.

I am 21, and I am 500 miles from home, sub­merged in an atmos­phere I tell myself is heav­en on earth. But I can­not stop myself from gaz­ing lov­ing­ly at my art knives, from steel­ing myself against twitch­ing my hands as I dri­ve across bridges, from refus­ing to feed my body because my soul itself is starved. I am still deter­mined to be self­less, but I don’t know how much longer I can hold out. I fill my time with new­found friends and con­stant escapes, and in return I am reward­ed with the low­est GPA I have ever heard of. I hold on to my love, the per­son who makes me feel safest, but my solace becomes phys­i­cal and we are dis­cov­ered and we are expelled. I have failed my class­es. I have failed my fam­i­ly. I have failed my God. I am a fail­ure. Oh God, take me home.

I am 23, and I ten­ta­tive­ly share with a cowork­er, a friend, that I am depressed. I brace myself for the inevitable assur­ance that it is a phase and I have noth­ing to be depressed about and every­thing will be okay. Instead, she says, “It’s real­ly brave of you to say that. There’s no shame in need­ing help.” I am con­fused. Brave? I am a cow­ard. No shame? I am the embod­i­ment of shame. I don’t under­stand her words, but I rec­og­nize the kind­ness in her voice. I am con­fused, and yet also encour­aged.

I am 25, and I can­not keep the flash­backs and night­mares at bay. I devise as many strate­gies as I can to fight the sad­ness, and for the first time in my life, I’m proud of myself for indulging in self-care. It is a bat­tle, and I don’t always win. But I fight. I fight.

I am 26, and it is the night before 2014 will break upon us. My throat is raw from scream­ing at peo­ple long since for­got­ten, my body is weak from trau­ma inflict­ed so long ago. I can do noth­ing but repeat­ed­ly list off why I can­not die. Every rea­son is for the finan­cial bur­den that would befall oth­ers. I can­not find a rea­son of my own for four long months, until I am sur­round­ed by friends who gath­ered with the pur­pose of lov­ing me and cel­e­brat­ing the fact that I made it to 27 years old. And there it is, that rea­son I need­ed: not only am I loved, but I am worth lov­ing. (Am I worth lov­ing?)

Now it is August 11, 2014, and a voice, a face, of my child­hood, is gone. I am shocked, and read on to find what has tak­en such a man from the world.

And there it is: sui­cide.

I am 6. I am 9. I am 12, 13, 18, 25, 27. I con­tain all of me, the sad­ness and shame and fear of an admit­ted­ly small life­time, and all of me is griev­ing the loss of one who couldn’t fight the sad­ness any­more.

It was nev­er a phase. It was nev­er self­ish­ness. It was nev­er a ploy for atten­tion. I was nev­er a fail­ure. I must tell myself these things, over and over and over, and I must tell you, too.

Because Robin Williams is dead, and I am not okay.

If you need help, please vis­it the Nation­al Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Life­line. You can also call 1–800-273‑8255. You are not self­ish. You are not a waste. You are not a fail­ure. And you are not alone.

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