O Captain, My Captain

O Captain, My Captain

Someone you know wants to die.

I don’t necessarily know you, or have any insight into your life. But I still feel pretty comfortable saying that. A 2008 NIMH survey found that 3.7% of adults had considered suicide. That means that if you know just twenty-seven people, odds are, one of them has thought about it. Might be thinking about it right now, as you’re reading this. They might be making a plan.

I’m not the only one thinking about this health crisis right now. The death of Robin Williams this past week has made all of the people whose lives he touched stop and think about it – and that’s nearly everyone. I have a hard time thinking of any entertainer, any public figure, who was more universally loved. And that wasn’t enough to save him.

Most people who don’t suffer from depression have been absolutely shocked by his death. How can someone who brought us such laughter and light get taken by the darkness? Most of us who have our own struggles with it already recognized a kindred spirit, recognized his mania as belonging to someone who was just holding on by his teeth.

And I think a lot of us have the same thought that I had: Oh, my God. I’m still not safe.

You want to think that maybe you made it. If you’ve had a major depressive episode and you survived it, you think, maybe that’s it, maybe that’s the last time, maybe it will never get that bad again. Then you hear that Robin Williams reached the age of 63 and then he still hit that wall, where he made it through everything else and still thought, that’s it, I can’t take even one more day.

It turns out that puts him in the bracket of the highest suicide risk:

In 2011, the highest suicide rate (18.6) was among people 45 to 64 years old. The second highest rate (16.9) occurred in those 85 years and older.

I almost didn’t make it through last year, and now I find out I’m still two years away from the point where it can get even worse. That’s very sobering. I will never be safe. There will still always be a chance that the black dog will catch up to me and I will lose that last fight.

But looking around at the stunned reaction to Williams’ death, I feel determined not to let it, not to make the people I love feel this sharp and sudden sense of loss. And to try to keep it from catching up to anyone else.

I am insanely lucky, and incredibly grateful, that I have people in my life whose presence and love is helping me to want more life, not less. A year ago, I would console myself as I went to sleep that I had made it through one more day, and that death – which I saw as peace, as an end to heartache – was one day closer. Now, I have dreams of a future that I actually want, and I’m trying to work towards improving my health, hoping and trying to add days and months and maybe years to my life instead of wanting to reach the end of it.

Say something. Reach out. Find that one friend in twenty-seven, and let your voice be louder and clearer than all voices in their head that are trying to kill them. Let all your friends know – you are here, you love them, you will listen, no matter what’s wrong, no matter whether they think they’re worth your time and attention or not.

I will get back to talking about writing soon, I promise. But in the meantime, don’t forget to take care of each other.

Help isn’t coming, people. We’re all we’ve got. Shine as bright as you can, and rage against the dying of the goddamn light.