Robin Williams, And Why We Need To Talk About Depression

When I started writing this, I was going to focus on the death of Robin Williams. But looking over all the coverage in the last 48 hours, I’ve realized that such an article would just be repeating the same stories already out there. I could talk about watching Mork & Mindy reruns on Nick at Nite as a kid, or how I saw Aladdin, Jumanji, and Mrs. Doubtfire enough times to memorize every line. I could talk about how legitimately creepy I found him in One Hour Photo and Law and Order SVU. I could talk about how the phrase, “It’s not your fault” still makes me tear up. But you’ve read – and likely experienced – all of that already. It’s amazing how one man can bring together millions of strangers with a common experience of laughter. I wish I had a better story to tell you, that I was trapped in an elevator with him for an hour, or that he held a door open for me one time. But I don’t. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for 30 years, but I never met him.

And now I never will.

If there’s anything positive that can come out of this tragedy, it’s that more people are talking about depression and suicide. It needs to be discussed. Our culture has many proverbial elephants in the room, but depression is one of the biggest and deadliest. Psychology has developed leaps and bounds over the last century, but there’s still so much we don’t know. Lobotomies aren’t a form of treatment anymore, though all the medications and their innumerable side effects aren’t much better. Most folks haven’t bothered to learn anything about depression; if something’s uncomfortable, it’s much easier to sweep it under the rug. There’s an unspoken stigma – especially for men – about mental health. Oh sure, we all know it’s there, but who wants to think about that? It’s so much easier going about your daily life, catching a movie, playing a video game…whatever it takes to keep you distracted from the darker, lesser-known aspects of our existence. Because there’s no way anything like that could happen to you, right?

I know better.

I know what it’s like having that little twinge of doubt consuming your every action and decision. It builds with each passing day, filling and weighing your down like molten lead. I know the burn of stigma and shame, that sense of worthlessness and isolation. That no one could possibly understand. That you’re different, broken, maybe a lost cause. That you shouldn’t bother asking for help, because it’s nothing, it’s all your fault, and no one would want to help you anyway. That you have to pretend and put on a smile, and how exhausting it is. That you can’t fall asleep sometimes, because your brain is spinning like a tire stuck in mud. That you occasionally dread getting up in the morning because it’s yet another day bereft of meaning. That every aspect of your life is conspiring to make you more miserable. That things are so bad now, and the future is a terrifying prospect.

Look, I know you’re out there. You’re sitting in front a screen somewhere, and you’re feeling trapped and alone. I don’t know you, your background, age, sex, gender, ethnicity, circumstances, none of the above. I’m not going to pretend that I get everything about what you’re going through, but I know enough. Depression isn’t just a habit you can kick; it’s there, and it’s a serious, potentially deadly problem. It doesn’t make you a bad or weak person. But leaving it untreated is like putting a rock in your shoe and running a marathon. So, let me ask (and you don’t have to answer, but just think about it): What’s stopping you from getting help? Is it fear of rejection? Insurance coverage costs? Guilt? Whatever it is, are there ways around it? Also, let’s make one thing clear:

There is nothing, nothing wrong with asking for help.

I’m not going to romanticize therapy, either; it’s difficult in ways you’d never expect. It makes you take a long, hard look at yourself, and there’s no instant cure. For some, a couple of pills a day isn’t going to solve your problems. But if you’re going to do anything, then at least talk about it. If you can get therapy, go for it. If not, talk to your trusted family and friends. If not them, support groups and hotlines. Possibly all of the above. If you need to call someone, there are plenty waiting to listen. People can and will help you, but they’re never going to know unless you tell them. And for those of you who know someone in need, be there for them. It’s not about politics, taboos, or whatever else; someone you care about needs your help. I don’t think you’re going to leave them hanging. If you want to learn more about depression and suicide, there are several resources online. Try starting with the entries on WebMD, Wikipedia, and TV Tropes.

I don’t know if this post is going to make any difference. If it helps someone struggling out there, then I’d consider it a success. I’m typically reserved and quiet, so all of this preaching about seeking help from others and whatnot might sound hypocritical. Despite that, I am living proof of my argument; I wouldn’t be here otherwise. I’m not an optimist, but I’d rather fill an empty life than throw it away. Look, I’m not idealistic enough to think that we can change everything about depression overnight; despite all our advancements, we’re barely scratching the surface. But the first step is talking about it. Too many people have lost their lives in the silence already.

I’ve been on the soapbox long enough. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be on a Robin Williams movie binge.

Party Of One

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about birthday parties. Specifically, how you celebrate yours. Some people like to have huge, extensive spectacles involving hundreds of people. Others like to go out drinking, or having a barbecue. Others like to travel, or at least do something out of the ordinary. As for how I celebrate mine…

I don’t. No, seriously.

I’ve never been the type to enjoy huge parties. There’s just too many people, noise, and chaos to handle. I never know what to say, and trying to be on for hours is exhausting. I’m the type to slowly back away from the crowds, find a quiet place, and start reading. Other tired party-goers (or their kids) will inevitably drift towards me, chat for a bit, and head back into the fray. I’ll just sit back, sip on a beverage, and wait for the next person to approach me. Or not. It doesn’t matter either way. The problem with this strategy is that it only works when I’m a guest at someone else’s party; I can’t do the aloof thing if I’m hosting. I don’t drink, so barhopping it out. Also, I don’t have a good track record when it comes to throwing parties; no-shows, last-minute cancels, and forgotten dates were common. I’ve never had many friends, and people usually have their own stuff going on. After years of disappointments, I just gave up. I’d usually just end up with some ice cream and a movie, and call it a night.

I’ve done better activities over the past few birthdays, though. I visited the California Academy of Sciences one year, then crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on foot the next. I hiked all around San Francisco last year, stopping by Coit Tower, Lombard Street, and the Exploratorium along the way. Not sure what I’m doing this year, though. A trip to Rome is still in the works, but it depends on how things play out with the job hunt and everything else. If things go well, I’ll be celebrating on a train going through the European countryside. That’s what I’d call a happy birthday!

Overnight In LAX

Hey, folks. Yesterday’s Daily Prompt was all about passing time. Specifically, passing time when you’re stuck in an airport for more than six hours, and you’ve got no electronics to fall back on. This exact scenario actually happened to me on the way back from Aruba in 2013. Due to how the connecting flights played out, I was stuck at LAX from midnight to about 8:30 AM. And I’ve posted pictures to prove it. As you can probably imagine, being alone in an airport all night isn’t fun. Actually, it’s kinda creepy. All the stores were locked up, and I was the only human being in that area for quite a while. I’m the type that loves solitude, but I was getting some serious Langoliers vibes after a couple of hours.

I’ve never been the type to depend so much on electronics for boredom. My iPod gets some time, but I tend to leave it off to spare the battery, or if I’m exploring someplace new. Though I work primarily from a laptop, I never take it with me while I travel. I didn’t even get a smart phone until about a month ago, and I’ve made maybe ten calls on it since. When I was in LAX, I still had a flip phone from 2003. I also had my 3DS, but I was saving its remaining power for the rest of the flight home. Instead, I did something far more engrossing: I read. I read for hours. I’m used to doing so on cramped, loud subways and buses, so reading in a silent airport gate was a godsend. A janitor crew came by at some point, but ignored me. I burned through American Gods and most of Norwegian Wood, then eventually fell asleep. You’d be surprised how comfortable those chairs can be. I woke up to the sound of someone opening the security gate at the Starbucks down the hall. Half an hour later, and my once-peaceful world was overrun with weary tourists and screaming kids.

It was good while it lasted.

Six Months In San Francisco

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about–Oh cool, they chose one of the prompts I submitted! Anyway, it’s about doing something new. It’s actually hard for me sometimes. I’m really shy and uncomfortable around people, but I’ve got an adventurous streak a mile wide. I don’t just step out of my comfort zone; I have to shove myself. It’s usually awkward and potentially dangerous, but it ends up being a worthwhile experience.

The last half of 2013 was one long foray into new territory. I hate being out in my neighborhood – it isn’t safe even in broad daylight – but there’s something alluring about traveling and exploring. It doesn’t matter if it’s the city, mountains, beaches, etc. Just as long as it’s someplace different and memorable, even if it is just a temporary escape. This time, circumstances required me to regularly visit San Francisco a couple of times a week. A short meeting downtown, with hours of daylight left and no plans whatsoever. I couldn’t just let the time (and the commuting costs) go to waste; I was in one of the greatest cities on Earth.┬áSo, I tackled it like I would any other trip: I began exploring.

You might have seen some of the results.

The walks started small, but I branched out with each passing trip. I visited the Metreon for the first time since 1999. I wandered around AT&T Park and beyond, crossing over to the China Basin and checking out the preparations for Oktoberfest. I got a membership at the San Francisco Public Library and checked out their historical and art exhibits. I drifted over the specialty stores on Market and kindled an appreciation for gothic lolita fashion via Angelic Pretty. I spent far too long in the Alexander Book Company. I stunned crowds of shoppers at the Microsoft store with my Killer Instinct demo skills. I attended Litquake, even though timing forced me to choose only one event. I stumbled across the BMX Dew Tour completely by accident. I infiltrated the Salesforce Expo on a whim. I walked all the way down to Japantown, discovering an arcade, awesome figurines, and tons of anime. I visited museums galleries (the Cartoon Art Museum was particularly great) whenever they had free fares. I hiked the Nob and Russian Hills, and climbed Lombard Street and Coit Tower three times. I drifted through Chinatown even more, visiting Ying’s Hobbies and Toys, Jack Kerouac Alley, and City Lights Bookstore whenever I could. I saw sea lions at Pier 39 and piles of candy at Ghirardelli Square, and did a complete run-through of the Exploratorium. If I was in the neighborhood, I’d end the journey at the Ferry Building and get a loaf of freshly-baked sourdough from the Acme Bread Company.

Yeah, it was all amazing…But now it’s over.

My meetings there are done; I don’t have to go to San Francisco anymore. And I want to, so badly. But I need to find work first. It costs nearly 20 bucks of commuting, and I refuse to spend that kind of money unless I have a good reason. Now that I’m back at home, I have to constantly remind myself that I need to get out and explore. It’s safe and warm in here, but it’ll only get me so far. My six months in San Francisco doesn’t have to be an isolated journey. I may be shy and quiet, but I still have the heart of an adventurer.