Thoughts on Souls and a Great Loss

**Note: I apologize for erratic postings. I still have a fantastic interview I need to post, but my job has me traveling internationally quite a bit so I am without my personal computer…as soon as I get a second to breathe, it will get posted!**

Monday’s tragic news of Robin Williams’s death has cast a pall over the week–and possibly longer. I have noticed that we have all felt the loss to be more personal than in other celebrity deaths, because Williams was someone we couldn’t help but adore–a great man, with great talent, but plagued by his demons.

I don’t want to get into an analysis of his suicide or what it means–the recent news of his Parkinson’s diagnosis might shed some light, but Williams was known to have fought a long battle with addiction, anxiety, and depression. As often happens with deeply thoughtful creative souls, the world might have been too much for him. But this post isn’t about that.

In 1998, Williams was in a film called “What Dreams May Come”. Some of you may have seen it. My parents are huge fans of his, so as soon as the film appeared at Blockbuster (on VHS, of course), we watched it. I was probably nine.

The film fundamentally altered my perception of souls.

Again, I was nine. I had not thought much about souls. I thought if we were good, we went to Heaven, which was where we walked on clouds and wore white gowns. A friend had told me about the devil and Hell when I was 6, but my mother had told me differently, so I didn’t concern myself too much with it–I just assumed murderers and the like ended up there.

In the film, Williams plays a doctor who first loses his two children in a car accident and then loses his own life in another accident. (Spoilers ensue from here). He ends up in Heaven, a place where you can construct your home and appear however you want. He reunites with his children. But when he checks in on his wife, he discovers she could not cope with all the loss, and has committed suicide–and thus is in Hell. (The film asserts that this Hell is created in the minds of those who commit suicide, and is not because of a judgment of the act itself.)

I had not been acquainted with the concept of suicide. My parents had to explain to me what happened, and I was perplexed, to say the least. How was it that this poor woman could endure so much loss and then be doomed to Hell when she tried to escape it?

I think this is when I first started to really think about the concept of souls. I know, I know, it’s a movie. It’s silly. But again, I was a child. I wanted to understand the universe and everything in it, so I accepted whatever answers were provided–fictional or not.

But the effect of this movie has stayed with me throughout my life.

This is where we are going to get a little personal. I admit I have some qualms about speaking this openly to the internet…but I also have always found it easier to speak to strangers about such things.

I don’t know how old I was when I first wanted to die, but I think I was ten or eleven. I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it, of course–but I knew I didn’t like where I was, or how it felt. Any of it.

I was always a voracious reader. When you read everything you get your hands on, you learn a lot about the world. I learned about war, crime, poverty…darkness. And I learned about suicide.

When I first found out how common it was, I was astonished–by the simplicity. I couldn’t handle life–so I could escape it!

At the time I labeled myself an atheist. I didn’t believe in Heaven or Hell. But the movie stuck with me. Would I be doomed to Hell if I committed suicide? What if I was wrong?

Middle school and high school were difficult. I had my happy times but I also had my moments of darkness. I suffered in silence. I looked at the pill bottles in the closet, I looked at the knives in the kitchen. I told myself I couldn’t be sure I would die by those methods–and that if I tried, I had to be sure I would die. But really, I think I was afraid of the Hell I had seen in the movie when I was nine.

College brought me to the darkest period in my life. I felt like I was drowning in the darkness. Despite having my friends and family nearby, I felt so alone. But my mother had told me (seemingly off-handedly, but probably not) that suicide was the most selfish thing a person could do. And there was that Hell, the idea that something could be worse.

This all came to a head my fourth year of college. Getting out of bed seemed like ripping out my heart–simple tasks seemed impossible. I researched the best methods to end my life. The most sure-fire way. Something that wouldn’t disfigure me. Somewhere my family wouldn’t have to be the ones to find my body.

That last thought was the one that brought me to a realization. The Hell I had been so worried about–it wasn’t my Hell. It was the image I couldn’t get out of my mind, of my parents sobbing over my body. It was the thought of my sister, walking into my empty room. My death wouldn’t necessarily put me in Hell–but it would put my loved ones there.

So I got help.

The struggle is there. The past months have been particularly hard. I still fly and briefly wish the plane would crash–and then immediately regret it. I went into anaphylactic shock a few months ago, and as I started to go into unconsciousness, I didn’t know if I wanted to live or die. But my mom was screaming, so I hung on.

I fight it. And I will keep fighting it. Not for my soul. But for my loved ones.

I do not judge Robin Williams for what happened. This post is not really about him, it was just triggered by him. He had much more to fight than I do, and he fought much longer than I have. I don’t believe his suicide was a selfish act, and I don’t believe that it was a choice for him either. I love him, and I hope he is in peace.

I write this to encourage those who need help to get it. If you feel alone, you aren’t. I am here. And I love you. Because I know the pain. I know the hopelessness. And I know that sometimes, what it takes to fight it is remembering that you are loved. And that the loss of you is too much for us.

So please, share your love. Remind people that you love them. Because we all need it. No matter what religion or philosophy. Love is universal.

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