I’m going to start this by mentioning Robin Williams’s death last year. Not because I plan on talking about his legacy as an actor or how he was a famous person we loved who committed suicide. But rather, I bring it up as a frame of reference for the rest of this piece. You see, the last mental breakdown I went through happened some time after his death. While I believe that this news did kick-start it, it was not what that kept it going.
When I first heard that Robin Williams had died, I denied it almost immediately. There was no way he could be dead. How could a beloved icon from my younger years, someone who had given me so much joy, be gone, just like that? The fact that he committed suicide made it all the more unsettling. Naturally, I mourned for him, but did not dwell too much on it. I had no idea then just how much his death, and other events that would follow, would affect me.
I was part of this big sci-fi and fantasy club that sometimes hosted a media night, where people could come in and talk about movies and TV. We would also be assigned certain movies to watch, which we would then discuss at the next meeting. With the news of his death, the club decided that we would watch some of Williams’ movies in his memory. That night, I sat down to watch Bicentennial Man for the first time ever. After the movie was over, I couldn’t go to sleep until three a.m. It was late, and I had to let out my tears in silence so that my roommate across the hall couldn’t hear me. While the movie itself was emotional, and my grief over Robin’s death was coming to the surface, there was one other thing that would only fuel my intensifying depression and anxiety.
Over the winter break, my parents made plans to move out of the house they lived in for over four years, as my father was moving abroad, and my mother had to find a new place to live since she was staying back for work. It was a large and lovely house, to be sure. But I was always fonder of the city we lived in, with its sights, food, people and all the positive experiences I’ve had there. My parents’ jobs have them moving around to different countries, so I was used to being uprooted. I knew for some time that we would have to leave this house, and subsequently, the city I had come to love. During the winter break, I thought I had made my peace with not coming back to that particular house if I ever decided to visit this city again. But that wasn’t the end. A few days after Robin’s death, I got a phone call from my mother, informing me that they had finally moved out of the house and had gone to stay in her new apartment. I told her I was glad that the transition from the old house to the new apartment had gone smoothly, and wished her and my father good luck for the upcoming days.
I don’t remember exactly what happened after that call, or what it was about that call that triggered something. But over the next few days, I was upset. Like, inexplicably-crying-on-the-bus-to-campus upset. And trying-to-hurt-yourself-with-a-belt-because-good-god-this-is-terrifying-and-somehow-this-seemed-like-a-good-idea upset. And calling-the-crisis-hotline-in-tears upset. But I didn’t tell anyone that I was hurting. Not at first anyway. It just seemed like a silly thing to be so upset about, and I thought I would be over it soon. Finally, I made an appointment with a counsellor, but they cancelled on me at the last minute, and my uncle happened to be there when it happened. He asked me what was going on. I finally told him that I was depressed to the point that I had called a crisis hotline, which I had never done before. He had me stay with him and his family for a few days until I was better.
According to introspection, hindsight, and the counsellor I finally saw, Robin Williams’ death affected me (and many others) so much because it can be easy to think that celebrities do not suffer like we do. They could probably have everything they want. If a beloved celebrity could act on suicide, who’s to say that I can hold out? When someone you know commits suicide, knowing that they are depressed, it forces you think about your own depression that you try to hold in and not share with anyone. As for the incident with the house, I was mourning the loss of some form of stability in my life. I was also mourning over this city I used to live in, where after that day, I would just be another visitor. Who knew when I would be able to visit it again, let alone live there again? There might have been other things going on at the time that led to my breakdown, but those were the major events that I can remember.
What strikes me about this episode is the intensity of my emotions and how they manifested in self-harm or bouts of crying. It seemed like most of the negativity I would feel throughout the semester had been condensed and imploded into one week. For the rest of the year, I would certainly have those moments of hopelessness so commonly associated with depression, but they were almost nothing compared to that big breakdown that everyone noticed. It was one of those times that terrifies me now just to think about it, because it wasn’t like the other times where I’ve been depressed. It made me wonder if I was clinically depressed. It wasn’t the first time I had breakdowns like this. But as time passed, it honestly didn’t feel that way. I continued to live an otherwise normal life, and like I said before, I hadn’t had another breakdown that severe since then. I am content. I do have those days when I can’t see any good in the world or in my own life. But is that not a part of life? To have good days and bad days?
Depression, or any other mental ailment, is odd. It’s always there, bubbling and stewing under the surface, until one day it just overflows at an unstoppable rate and you can’t do anything but ride the waves and wait for it to be over. But even when that’s over, something still remains; it doesn’t go away. Whether or not your loved ones know that it’s there, or whether you’d guard its dark secrets over everything else, it takes on a lot of forms. It can be many small things or one big thing that can set it off, to the point where it seems unmanageable and unpredictable. It terrifies the people around you, and even you yourself. So when it has passed, you think it’s over and it won’t happen again. But that’s not the case. It just starts over.