Like any Robin Williams fan, some of my favorite movies were his 90s hits like Jack, Mrs. Doubtfire and Hook. He was a brilliant actor and he left this world too soon. My family has suffered similar loss and I’ve debated on whether or not to share this post, but if it can give just one person perspective then I would deem it a success. So here goes:
On March 7, 2001, my small town, simple, high school freshman world was rocked. My cousin Matt hanged himself. We had a special bond in the sense that I saw him more of a big brother than a cousin. He picked me up every morning and took me to school and we would sing and joke the whole way. He was a beautiful person who’s light was diminished.
Matt suffered extreme depression as a result of his best friend Jeff committing suicide just 6 months earlier. Through a misunderstanding at school, Matt was expelled, removed from the baseball team, abandoned by many “friends” and was subsequently placed in a mental health facility. For a 17 year old, he was feeling lost, misunderstood, forgotten and overwhelmed. I nearly lost it on one of his best friends, and fellow youth group member, that tried to tell me, “Brooke, he’s crazy.” Mental illness is not a joke, insignificant or a defining factor.
While Matt was in treatment, my daddy gave him a bible and slowly you could see the light come back to his eyes. He was more present and his sparkle was coming back. I don’t remember how long it was between Matt getting out of treatment and him taking his own life. I know it was a devastating day and I’ll never forget It. My daddy answered the phone and said he had to go to my aunt’s house. I could tell something was wrong and in my gut I knew Matt was gone. As I type this, Sublime’s “Wrong Way” just came on my iPod…Matt LOVED listening to this song on blast in his truck with the windows down on the way to school. Since he left us, he’s had a remarkable way of connecting to us through music. It sounds weird, but there are certain songs that he loved that happen to come on the radio when I’m reminiscing about our fun times together. Matt suffered from mental illness and was never formally diagnosed. Some of the people he surrounded himself with were ignorant about what mental illness entailed. Matt wasn’t crazy. Matt was kind, a fantastic friend, fun, mischievous, a great hugger, considerate, a great fisherman, an awesome baseball player, a brother, a son, a cousin, a confidant and a beautiful soul.
I tell you this story so that I can tell you my story. The day Matt left this world, an unbelievable sadness settled within me. I spiraled into a very dark depression. You see, depression runs in my family (read more here). We don’t all have it, but many of us do. I believe Matt’s loss triggered my depression. I saw a counselor and have used anti-depressants on-and-off since 2001. When I feel like I have my depression controlled I lay off meds and then it creeps up again. Because that’s the thing with depression, it can’t be controlled without treatment. It’s chemical and has a life of its own. A lot of people misconstrue things they don’t understand and if you or someone you know hasn’t battled with mental illness then you don’t quite understand it. I think as humans we are afraid to openly admit we suffer from mental illness because society makes us feel like, if we do, then we are less than, crazy or undesirable. I’m not embarrassed to publicly say, I battle depression now. On most days I’m not affected. On most days I’m the best version of myself. On most days I am full if life and laughter. But some days are dark. Some days it’s hard to get out of bed and even brush my teeth. I’m fortunate that I don’t battle depression more severely. Some of us, like Matt and Robin Williams aren’t strong enough, in their mind, to fight the battle. What’s important is to enlighten yourself, be supportive and love them fiercely.