Lessons From Suffering and Suicide: Tribute to Robin Williams
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 be left wondering what happened.
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.