by Rich Karski
I was going to submit my usual column this week, but it was dark and violent and seemed stupid at this point with the news of Robin Williams taking his own life.
I know, who needs another comic making Williams’ suicide about himself, right? But the fact is that this is about all of us.
I’m not going to claim that Williams was a huge influence on me, as he was well before my time and I mostly remember him as an actor in a handful of great movies and a handful of shitty ones. I’m also not going to deny that he was a giant in the industry, and everyone who sees these comedy specials that are becoming more and more ubiquitous have him to thank for popularizing the medium. Williams was unquestionably important in life, showing that a career telling jokes can lead to places that most would never consider. His death is equally important, as a reminder that no amount of material success or industry respect can act as a substitute for proper mental healthcare.
Williams’ death is going to lead to similar conversations to the ones that accompany that of any comic who dies by means attributed to themselves.
“He was so rich and successful! I can’t believe it!”
…and worst of all “How could he be so selfish?!”
Nobody knows anything about Williams’ mindset when he decided to take his own life, but I can tell you about mine when I decided to do the same.
Two years ago I had a very serious suicide attempt that was interrupted by a freak coincidence. I had been in through a series of deep depressions for the previous four years, and it had gotten to the point where I thought it would never end. My family was worried about me, I was performing poorly at work, and I was alienating my friends at nearly every opportunity.
I decided that I had become an unnecessary burden on the people I cared about. I was not worth the trouble I put them through to keep me in their lives. The distress I was causing them would find closure, the money from my life insurance would help them out of some financial trouble, and I’d exist only as memories that would slowly fade instead of a tangible dark cloud hanging over every gathering.
To me, at that moment, the best thing for everyone involved would be if I were gone. In my mind, there was nothing selfish about it. It was practical. Noble even.
I’m telling you this because these are the fucked up mental gymnastics that people need to go through to justify something like taking their own life. If someone values him or herself little enough to end their life, chances are they’re not doing this as a FUCK YOU to the people they leave behind. They’re doing it because they actually believe this is the best thing to do. If you can minimize yourself enough to lose all value for your own life, how much could you possibly believe others would care if you were gone?
It’s mostly comics that read this site, and I know comics tend to have a little more empathy for mental illness if not more understanding, but it’s important to know that this is going to touch you all on a personal level at one point or another. You either know somebody or are somebody who is struggling, and who is not necessarily doing enough about it.
Know that this will affect you, and know that help is available, and know that help is RARELY GOING TO WORK THE FIRST TIME AROUND. Keep at it until something does, because something will.
The most important thing we should do as a community of comics is fucking ask. When you ask someone how they’re doing, go deeper. Fuck what shows they did this weekend, and fuck whoever they’re complaining about not booking them. Ask them: No, really, How are you doing? Because that might be all someone needs to get the ball rolling on the process of finding some real help, and how fucking easy is that? Just ask. Because the harder it is for someone to ignore that people care about them, the harder it is for them to talk themselves into doing something foolish.
It sucks that the life of someone so respected and well-liked ended this way, but it sucks when most any life ends this way. It’s the only cause of death that’s 100% preventable, and maybe we can do our part to get closer to that number.
If you need to talk or if you want to just call me a shit-head, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.