When Robin Williams died, I, like many of you, felt a great loss. He was a part of our lives. He was a constant. Mork, the alien from Ork, was like a buddy I hung out with when I was at my father's house on weekends. My step-father impersonated Mrs. Doubtfire and later, we watched The Birdcage together.
In the news of Robin Williams' death, I saw a word I love: son.
I have two of them. The youngest, two years old, is quite a comedian, as if placed on the earth to make me smile. In my oldest boy, almost five, I see a piece of myself that I've grown to accept, love even -- that piece people have always identified as over-sensitive.
My kids love to play dress up, donning police costumes and driving their rescue vehicles through the house. What I see in the news and what I see in my sons makes me think of their future and, sometimes, of my past.
I was 17. It was fall.
I had been driving my black Chevy Cavalier down Winn Street when he pulled me over. After I apologized for driving too fast, the officer asked, as I expected him to, Why are your eyes so red? What are those spots on your face?
He was actually being kind. My eyes weren't just red, they were bloody. My face was bruised.
I had food poisoning. I was really, really sick, and my blood vessels broke.
He sent me on my way with a warning.
The police officer wasn't the first person I had lied to that day. I had also told my friends and teachers I had had food poisoning, that I had been sick for three days.
I don't know why I tried to kill myself when I was 17. I know I had migraines and the world seemed like a very sad place. The carpet in my little girl room was hot pink. That's where I had been sitting when I swallowed the three bottles of pills. About an hour later, I came out of my room and told my mother I didn't want to die. She called an ambulance.
Three days later, a nurse at Winchester Hospital told me, You have to take the shit that life throws at you.
I went back to school with a story about food poisoning. In Robin Williams' death, I saw a word I rarely ever use: suicide.
Less than two weeks after very sad people left deep wounds on our planet, crushing families and buildings at once, marking a day that brings a chill across our country every year at this time, my family experienced a different kind of loss. We watched the news as we watched my grandfather's body learn what we already knew. He died of Leukemia, days after I turned 25. On my birthday, he called me young lady for the last time, and asked me not to cry.
Days after my 35th birthday, ten years after my grandfather died, I terminated a wanted pregnancy due to a devastating diagnosis. I couldn't bring a dying baby into the world, and I made a choice to save a life from suffering, and to protect my own mental health.
There are just some things we don't talk about, do we?
September is a tough month for me.
In the news of Robin Williams' death, I saw a word I use to describe myself: bipolar. But only in certain settings.
I was 27 when the tall, skinny psychiatrist with waist-length brown hair and a last name that was the same as a nearby town told me, saying: "I think there are lots of signs in your past experiences. You have described many of the symptoms of bipolar and you have had what I would describe as manic episodes. Above all, you are not responding to treatment for depression."
See, I had been virtually living in the corner of my couch for months, debilitated by depression and anxiety. My primary care doctor had exhausted all of her "front-line options" for my mental health, though she continued to prescribe pain-killers that I had been taking since the day I fell down some shiny wooden steps, right before my grandfather died, when I was still 24. My jaw was slightly dislocated when I hit my head, and my migraines were worse than ever.
In the news of Robin Williams' death I saw a word I once used, but only in a whisper, with no one around: addict.
It was only a whisper for quite some time and I continued to resist treatment. It took a long while for doctors to see the connection between my mental health, my physical health, and my prescription addiction. It took me longer for me to accept it and finally, to deal with it. But when I did shed that word, I could finally accept the challenge of dealing with my mental health, and I realized a whole world awaited me.
In the news of Robin Williams' death, I saw a word I now use to describe myself: parent.
His daughter, Zelda, in a moment of grace and strength in the face of ridiculous negativity after her father's death, wrote this, as part of a longer statement, on her Tumblr: He was always warm, even in his darkest moments.
Lord, if you're reading, please may my children feel as loved as Robin Williams made his children feel.
Can I be sure I won't have dark moments? No. Will September be difficult for me in years to come? Perhaps.
But, it also holds my first son's birthday, and right now, we're planning his fifth birthday party. This may never be the easiest month on my calendar and it is not lost on me that as my children grow, this month will feel even more hectic, with a longer to-do list. I know that can rock my emotional boat, but I promise to stay steady, and to shield the cupcakes from my tears.
There are some things that are harder to talk about with new mom friends and pediatricians. We all have to-do lists. We don't all have mental heath issues, or we don't talk about them if we do.
We certainly don't talk about the babies we didn't have.
We don't talk about the grief our calendars hold. We don't talk about fearing a long, cold winter with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old, hurling blocks at each other by 6 p.m.
Because I'm strong. You're stronger. We're not wired to admit weakness.
Mental health. Seasonal depression. Loss. Past experiences. Physical ailments.
I think what I'm saying is all of these things are connected. For me, at age 37, this is maternal health. If I don't talk about these things, reflect on them, consider them as parts of me as a whole person, and as a whole parent, who will?
Imagine, dear one, if we could get past the tripping over our words. Do we have to declare ourselves as seasonally depressed, bipolar, struggling with addiction, or fearful of anxiety? Must we reserve these words for what are considered appropriate settings?
Imagine, dear human, if we all just cared a little more? What if we were all to take a look at our calendars and say to someone: What months are toughest for you? How are you doing? I have your back.
Say this to someone who you think might really need to hear it. Will this eliminate hate and violence? We could only dream. And it's true, this world can be that sad for one person. We saw a reminder of this in Robin Williams' death. There are reminders of this all the time.
But we have the ability together, to evolve, to save more of our people. And maybe, when we think of Robin Williams, we can remind each other to see the word I think he would want us to see: laugh.