Four lessons we must learn from Robin Williams' tragic suicide, so that we can save ourselves and each other from the same fate.

I was shaken up today to learn that Robin Williams had died—likely of suicide. It hit even closer to home when I discovered that he had been battling addiction and heavy depression for years.

In a few months, it’ll be two and a half years since I almost took my own life, and I will never forget just how close I came.

I feel that, as someone who’s crawled out of the grave that Robin has plummeted into, I owe it to him and to the world to share a message. I also feel incredibly responsible knowing that each publicized celebrity death causes suicide rates to skyrocket.

So here is my attempt to counteract the heartbreaking repercussions of this announcement. I hope that my words can contribute to a future where tragedies like this one are simply memories from a dark past.

I hope you take this to heart and I hope that you share this with your loved ones, especially those who are young, so that we can transform the tragedy of Robin Williams into a healing elixir for a suffering world.

 

Lesson #1: Happiness has nothing to do with what you have

Isn’t this what the depressed mindset says? If only I had this. If only I had that. If only I wasn’t more of this. If only I had more of that.

Well, Robin had it all, according to Western standards. And he still wasn’t happy. Our search for happiness outside of ourselves is widespread, infectious, and toxic. It infests everyone at every age, status, and gender.

Stop looking on the outside for answers. Look within.

 

Lesson #2: Suffering, unsolved, becomes worse

There is no way to put something aside, hoping it will go away. Our suffering, if we do not take arms up against it, will eat us alive.

Too often, people try to drown out their depression, anxiety, or self-hatred in television or work. Perhaps that is why Robin was so accomplished—he was always running from the monsters inside his head.

There is no way to run from something that is eating you from within. We must open the door to our demons and deal with them, until they beat that door down.

 

Lesson #3: The worst addiction is our addiction to our thoughts

This is the most important lesson, in my eyes, and one that I think needs to be spread across every single school in every single country in the world.

The most important thing we can do is learn to stop believing our thoughts.

I realized, after I made the choice to live, that my feeling suicidal originated in my unquestioning acceptance of every single thought I ever had as the truth. When I thought “I’m ugly”—I believed that. When I thought “I need to smoke”—I believed that. When I thought “I need to stop eating to feel good”—I believed that. When I thought “I need to die”—I believed that too.

That’s the real reason people kill themselves—they become addicted to a thought. They believe it so intensely that, eventually, they act on it.

We’ve got PTA groups all across the country crusading against violent music and television because it encourages teens to kill themselves, but it’s not the music or the movies or the video games. Our media is a reflection of our society. Our rates of mental health issues are through the roof—why wouldn’t our media represent that?

This is where it gets dangerous—suicide as a “solution” to pain is out there. It’s available. It’s everywhere. It’s out there and you can’t get it out of the awareness of a modern-day person any more than you can erase the fingerprints from your palms. Like a ripe apple, ready for picking, the thought “I could kill myself, then I wouldn’t feel any more pain” is available for any of us to think at any time.

It was in Cialdini’s book “Influence” that I learned about how public suicide rates skyrocket after a celebrity dies this way because it reminds people in that helpless state that suicide is an option. Yes, that’s right. Robin Williams killed himself this morning and, in a matter of hours, people all over the Western world will be killing themselves off like flies, because they, too, believe all of their thoughts.

In the East, this is common knowledge. Here, in the West, it’s a rumour, at most. We must stop believing everything we think. That is the only sane solution. That is how we prevent suicide. That is how we solve our building mental health crisis. And, until we start teaching people to do this on a mass scale, we’ll see more tragedies like Robin and we’ll be left wondering what happened while most of the world shakes their heads at us.

 

Lesson #4: We must take care of our minds

Remember in the 90s how everyone became obsessed with these science fiction movies about artificial intelligence overtaking the human race, destroying everything that makes us who we are with its cold logic and lack of emotion? Well, it’s happening. Except it’s not robots, but our minds that are the perpetrators.

We are becoming so incredibly intelligent and our minds are growing more dangerous with each year. As our capacity for self-awareness expands, so does our capacity for self-destruction.

Taking care of your mind is not an option. Training your mind is just as important as training your body. Just as we must breathe to live and eat to live, we must think to live. For goodness sake, let us keep our thoughts nourishing and teach our children how to feed their minds thoughts of love, beauty, compassion, and interconnectedness.

If we do not rule our minds, they will rule us.

Robin Williams’ death is a tragedy—yes, but it does not have to cut a hole of grief within us, making us even more helpless than we were before. The least we can do for this man is liberate ourselves from the very prison he could not escape.

For him, for all of us, take care of your thoughts. Practice self-awareness. Get to know your mind. Watch your thoughts without believing them.

That simple, consistent practice might just save your life and the sanity of our suffering world.

Lessons From Suffering and Suicide: Tribute to Robin Williams


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29 More Comments

  • August 11, 2014 at 9:17 pm
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    Vironika, thank you so much for putting pen to paper (or something like that) and publishing this ‘counter offer’ to the invitation of suicide. It is much needed (and beautifully written, btw). I especially love your comment about the science fiction movie take-overs really representing our own runaway minds. SO true. I am convinced that the war of the world is waged within each of our own hearts, as we decide whether the forces of good or evil – so to speak (really, life-affirming or death-affirming) – will take control of our experience in this life. Much love to you for this beautiful statement! xox, Reba

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    • August 11, 2014 at 9:28 pm
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      You are so right, Reba. The war of the world IS waged in our own hearts. And isn’t that all that world peace is? Is it not individual peace within each individual mind? Yes, self-awareness is the only way out of this mess. May we all hold hands on the way out and, if not, may we all forgive and embrace on the other side.

      Reply
  • August 11, 2014 at 10:03 pm
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    I’ve also been in this dark place from the mind filling me with lies that believed were the truth. I was never enough in my mind.

    Thank you for your words and loving presence.

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    • August 12, 2014 at 4:06 pm
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      You are a walking example of how working on one’s mind can overcome the darkest of shadows. I would encourage anyone reading this to read over to your website and read your story!

      Reply
  • August 11, 2014 at 10:26 pm
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    Vironika, thank you so much for your post and its deeply-important message. I particularly love the reminder to stop believing our thoughts. It truly is an addiction here in the West.

    I hadn’t heard about suicide rates skyrocketing after a celebrity commits suicide, though I can imagine. So awful and disheartening that that would feel like the only option for so many.

    I’m so grateful you’re here, shining your light brightly to illuminate the path for others. I’m so grateful you’re here – period. <3

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    • August 12, 2014 at 4:09 pm
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      I am sure you see this often in your work, Christine. I see you work with people to help them look within and find their spark, and it’s incredible how we tell ourselves lies to keep from a truth that can set us free.

      There is a larger societal process at play of teaching us to ignore our inner wisdom, from the time we are born, and I’m so glad to be part of the answer to that. I’m happy you are too. Thank you for reading and sharing my friend. <3

      Reply
  • August 11, 2014 at 10:36 pm
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    Bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance it’s a biological problem – not a choice to “train your mind”. You just don’t get over it!

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    • August 12, 2014 at 5:58 am
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      Yaya, I totally agree. I have a form of bipolar and tried to take my life twice. I thought about suicide countless times. I am on medication and have had what seems like endless hours of therapy. My bipolar is under control now, but I can truly relate to a pain so excruciating that taking my life seemed like the only answer. That was a lie that my disease was telling me. I feel grateful for my psychiatrist who was willing to try more than one med at a time, which is what worked. Previous psychiatrists were not so willing. Bipolar disorder is indeed a disease that one never “gets over” or can cure by training one’s mind. Addiction takes participating in a recovery program and doing the work to be in recovery. It never goes away either. Robin Williams had both bipolar and addiction. I believe he gave us all he had to give.

      However there are many people with MILD depression that can help themselves with mindfulness and even therapy. If that doesn’t work, then one has the choice to see a doctor. We have to reach out to help ourselves with mild depression. In any case, if a person is feeling suicidal, I highly recommend calling the suicide hotline in your area. They are great people who helped me. Then I would find an M.D. or psychiatrist and get help. Life is precious!

      Reply
      • August 12, 2014 at 4:12 pm
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        Thank you both for sharing your views. I have seen people overcome bipolar completely (see Sam J Shelley’s story above, for example) and I have seen others continue to struggle with it for a lifetime.

        I am in no place to judge or preach. What I can say is – whether it is the complete solution or part of the solution – working on your mind is an essential ingredient of mental health. It should be a required part of any and every treatment.

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    • August 12, 2014 at 4:13 pm
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      You are so welcome, Sus. Thank you for helping me bring this message to the world. Your support is critical and bountifully appreciated.

      Reply
  • August 11, 2014 at 11:13 pm
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    I AM THAT I AM, Namaste

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  • August 11, 2014 at 11:18 pm
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    Hi Veronika,

    thank you for this tribute. I think it’s actually fair to say that most of us at some stage in our lives feel this overwhelming feeling of desperation. If only we would talk more, connect more, mean more to each other. Thank you for being one of those people in my life. And may all those reading this find a place of solitude in their minds and hearts and the world again.

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    • August 12, 2014 at 4:17 pm
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      Yes, Anna. I wish for that as well. It is heartbreaking that Robin reached out for help so many times only to feel alone once again. It seems like he could have really benefited from some honest, genuine conversation with someone who had been where he was and who recovered from it with grace.

      I hope to bring these people – whom I’ve met dozens of – into the public eye within my lifetime, so that we may have role models for healing and happiness, no matter how prevailing the darkness may be.

      I am happy that you feel connected to me and that you share with me, Anna. The right support at the right time can be crucial to help learn the lessons above. 🙂

      Reply
  • August 11, 2014 at 11:34 pm
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    Thank you for your words and heartfelt concern. #3 is so huge! It really is the news we need to share with everyone. And #4 expands on that same thread. You put into words so clearly and eloquently important truths, thank you for that.

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    • August 12, 2014 at 4:25 pm
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      You are so welcome, Kim. Yes, I want this to be common knowledge by the end of my lifetime. With the support of people like you, we get closer every day! 🙂

      Reply
  • August 12, 2014 at 4:02 am
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    This is a beautifully written piece with so much wisdom in it. Thank you so much for sharing. I would like to add that that depression is more than feeling sad. In fact depression is not always about feeling sad. It is an underlying constant sad, blah, desperation, loneliness and hopelessness – but while being absolutely depressed a person can experience joyful moments, be active or even fake happiness. Thus you never know what’s beneath a smile. But there is a way out: grabbing onto those joyful moments, keep getting up every day even if feeling deep in the hole of depression and yes, most importantly, taking care of our mind: becoming aware of our thoughts and slowly but surely transforming them. It is hard work. For some it is quick, for most it take a long time to move from depression to living and happy…either way, regardless where we are super happy or suicidal depressed, taking care of our mind is constant work for a life-time! A beautiful work too. And it is okay to ask for support in this process 🙂

    Reply
    • August 12, 2014 at 4:27 pm
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      You are so right Kat. It takes some time, but it is worth it! I see training the mind as identical to training the body. Even if we need medications or medical procedures to fix the body, we still need consistent, steady exercise.

      And that is what this is about – establishing daily mind-care routines for EVERYONE, no matter where they are in their mental health.

      Just like we need personal trainers, sometimes we need mind trainers. This is more than okay. This kind of support is crucial. I hope to make it more available in my lifetime.

      Thank you for being so open and for helping me share this message. <3

      Reply
  • August 12, 2014 at 5:41 am
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    Having been on the brink of suicide I can honestly say I hate it when people say they chose to end their life .in my opinion suicide is never a choice it’s the place you end up when thee is no rational thinking left. People commit suicide for many reasons and because they are gone you will never know the reason why. Robin Williams had tried everything to help himself but at some point he must have felt that nothing was working.i am one of the strongest people I have ever known and if you spoke to my friends they would tell you the same life the way it is now I think no in fact I am sure that more people than ever are committing suicide and if the true figures were known as to just how many people are actually doing it it would be unbelievably frightening.

    For me I just slipped into that hole there was no thinking about it I was somewhere I had never been before and I have no idea how I got there apart from feeling really fed up and down for a few weeks before hand

    A voice came and somehow I came back to myself just for a few seconds luckily those few seconds were enough for me

    So to me suicide happens when you don’t want to talk about it you don’t care how many people will hurt once you have gone because your not thinking of anything. And the voice no longer comes and you take that next step

    I hope that voice always comes for me

    Take care everyone

    A

    Reply
    • August 12, 2014 at 4:29 pm
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      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, Angie. I know that voice too. I think the reason people fall over the edge is that the OTHER voices are much louder.

      This is what I mean by training our minds – we can train our thoughts to attend to our wisdom and intuition. We can take those still, small voices within us that tell us to love, hope, and smile – and follow them with full trust and abandon.

      I hope you will one day share your full story with the world, so that others who almost go off the edge can be inspired by your courage and healing.

      Reply
  • August 12, 2014 at 7:58 am
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    This article will help lot of people with their inner fight. As a fellow traveler in this wonderful journey, I am happy to have found this wonderful insights. Please keep writing more, world needs more people like you.

    Reply
    • August 12, 2014 at 4:39 pm
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      The world also need more people like you who are willing to listen and to share. I am happy to know you as well Avinash. 🙂

      Reply
  • August 12, 2014 at 8:57 am
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    Excellent post Vironika!

    You share such an important message here. Thank you for leading the way for others through your experience and your words. There is always light at the end of the tunnel.

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    • August 12, 2014 at 4:40 pm
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      There certainly is always a light at the end of the tunnel, Bonnie. And if we cannot see it, we must be willing to reach out and ask for help in seeing it. May we create a world where those we reach out to teach us to fish for our own hope.

      Reply
  • August 17, 2014 at 1:48 pm
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    As always, an excellent article about happiness and how each of us responsible for our own happiness by openning our hearts and ourselves to others. If we would only reach out to people continuously and give each other love, we would be more aware of when we, and others, are most needed. There is one point I would add to your article and that is Robin Williams had heart surgery. It is a known medical fact that patients who have cardiovascular problems have an increased rate of depresssion and suicide attempts. Doctors should make family members aware that this is a documented fact and should give families guide lines to help those recovering from heart surgery or heart attacks. It is, strangely, another and different result of opening one’s heart. Awareness, sharing information and opening your heart, can save a life.

    Reply
    • August 17, 2014 at 2:29 pm
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      That’s a great point, Carmen. It is so important to have a holistic awareness of how a person’s mind, body, and spirit are functioning at any given point. Awareness can absolutely save lives – and who knows how many? Who really knows what effect self-awareness has on healing from a stroke or overcoming cancer? I suspect it plays a bigger part than most of us think.

      Reply
  • March 11, 2016 at 2:31 am
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    Robin Williams also suffered with Lewy Body Dementia…

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    • March 18, 2016 at 4:26 am
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      Thank you for sharing that, Hazel. I didn’t know that. I am grateful to you for sharing that.

      Reply

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