Don’t Let The Smile Beguile You

He made us laugh when we were kids in comedies like “Mrs. Doubtfire” and went on to pull heavily on our heartstrings in the award winning drama “Good Will Hunting”. There’s no question that we’re all pretty stunned right now, with the news of another funnyman down.

Today reports abound citing Robin Williams’ battle with depression and addiction, epidemics in this day and age. For the world-renowned actor and comedian, it was a battle that was lost just yesterday.

I’ve heard people make remarks. He seemed like such a happy person. What a terrible waste! Why would someone take their own life?

My wager is that he couldn’t see his way out of the darkness – and if you’ve ever been in the darkness before, you know what it’s like. I’d say the inner torment was too much to bear.

It would have to have been.

To me, the actor’s suicide is a poignant and powerful reminder of how important it is to be vigilant about one’s mental health. His death also serves as an important warning not to let someone’s smile beguile you.

Indeed, it is often the brightest and most convincing smiles that have a darkness roiling just beneath the surface.

Some people might consider what I’m about to say an overshare. I figure – if these same people blast photos of the unripened contents of their uterus to 400+ pseudo-friends on social media the moment they’ve been handed the DVD from the sonographer – then it’s fine for me to address how this hits home.

When it comes to tact, I’ve contemplated at length whether it’s possible to say what I want to say about depression and suicide without offending someone out there in the world. As far as I can determine – this likely can’t be avoided.

But if I can’t merge this recent tragedy with my own personal experience to talk about mental health awareness on this platform, then what is the point of any of this anyway?

People need to talk about depression and suicide; we need to talk about all psychological illnesses – and not in muted tones, or cringing as though the mere utterance of the nomenclature for these very real ailments can cause a person to contract a bad case of the crazies. The fact that we are so averse to and evasive in talking about mental health is a serious problem.

In our society, the importance of visiting our family physician for a physical each year is heavily impressed upon us from the time we are very small. We go to the dentist to get our teeth cleaned and x-rayed every six months or so, and on to the optometrist for our annual eye exam – oftentimes just so we’re cleared to buy our next box of contact lenses.

But what about our mental health? Isn’t its maintenance just as important as all of these things, perhaps even more so? Our psychology is what steers us in life, it’s our inner experience. It not only determines in large part how we act, but also how we react; it’s our perception and perspective.

Folks will go on at lengths about their arthritis or migraines or irritable bowel syndrome, but when it comes to our psyches we clam up, shy away. Our mental state is an integral part of who we are – and yet, who among us actually talks about our difficulties in this regard openly?

Well, here I go.

People experience emotional and psychological strife for different reasons – whether it’s something they inherited genetically; it’s due to a significant personal trauma; or because of chemical dependence or substance abuse. True, stressors in our physical environment can antagonize mental health issues as well.

It could be any or all of these things, and although I wouldn’t claim to know the exact nature of Robin Williams’ inner turmoil, I do know about struggling with mental strife. I know more about it than I probably care to.

I know about depression in its many forms – mild, moderate, severe. I know about depressed mood, depressed affect, and post-partum depression; about anti-depressant medications and the endless plethora of alternative treatments.

I’m cognizant about anxiety too, and body dysmorphic disorder; about suicidal ideation and the many forms self-harm can take. I know about self-loathing and not feeling able to face the world. I know about these things from over four years of schooling – but also from real life. It’s heavy shit, I know.

I also know how these things can creep up on you if you’re not careful, about denial and how it gets you nowhere. Sometimes different people and situations that might seem perfectly innocuous can exacerbate a hurt that you didn’t know you had, haven’t yet dealt with, or maybe thought that you had mended but somehow didn’t quite.

And the thing about inner turmoil is that it will inevitably fester and grow; it will affect your life and relationships if not adequately salved. It can affect your health and happiness, and has the power to keep you from living the life you want if you don’t confront it face on.

For me there were cogs set in motion long before I even existed, a pattern that I was folded into unwillingly and unwittingly. I had no say in the matter. It’s definitely not fair – but it’s what happened. And lately the resultant darkness is rearing its ugly countenance, spilling over and through, blocking me from becoming who I want to be.

Society says that I should be embarrassed; I shouldn’t say these things on a public forum. How many times have I heard, “What do you even have to be unhappy about?” or that I should just snap out of it? Sometimes a healthy diet, regular exercise, and a good support network aren’t enough. Ironically, sometimes genuine happiness compounds pain that has not been fully treated.

The fact that, like countless others, I did nothing to deserve this; that I didn’t ask for it – doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter that I’ve been to counseling more times in my life than I can even recall. It does not matter that I’m tired of struggling or that I’m worried that future interventions won’t help. These are all moot considerations.

My options are to either take control of my life and seek professional help, or say good-bye to my well-being and the relationships I hold dear. If I fail to take control, I will slide down the slippery slope until the darkness is too much. I know how this works. How many times have I climbed out of it before?

And I’m not ashamed, dammit. If you’re in a tough spot or are dealing with something psychologically troublesome, I encourage you not to be ashamed either. Seek help – it’s all around you. You don’t have to wait until you’re at your lowest point to try to get back up.

Pick up the phone. Talk to someone. Hell, message me if you like. If it seems like no one understands, find someone who does. Get on the interweb and do your due diligence – there are endless resources at your disposal.

People shouldn’t have to suffer alone, and we need to change the way we react to those who do ask for help. So often people just want someone to listen. Why not use the vast and various means of communication at our fingertips?

Even the most convincingly jovial personalities, those with an apparent zest for life, shouldn’t be made to feel as though they need to struggle in the dark. The shame, stigma or embarrassment surrounding mental health issues needs to stop.

If you’re in the dark, don’t let it hold you hostage – find the light. Keep going. This great and talented funnyman’s death is enough of a reminder for me to go for a mental health checkup. We’d all be well served to go every now and then.

Smiles beguile, but I’m still going to go.

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