Robin Williams is dead. It’s all anyone can talk about. He sought out preventative help for his alcohol addiction not too long ago, and while there’s no confirmation that alcohol was involved in his death, there’s no question that his depression was. Last year around this time, I was mourning the premature death of Cory Monteith. Three years ago, Amy Winehouse, a woman whose addiction defined her public image and clouded the tragedy that was the loss of her talent. These individuals were not the first to fall to the depression and addiction, and they won’t be the last.
I’ll never forget when I first learned of Amy Winehouse’s passing. A tragedy that hit me like a ton of bricks as voices and Facebook statuses exclaimed, “she got what she deserved, she wasted her life.” All of these people missing the point that she was sick, she was so sick with such a terrible disease that she lost her life.
These diseases, addiction and depression, have been on the forefront of my personal life for what’s going on four years. The demons come in slowly. First affecting the relationship with family, then changing friends, affecting schoolwork, affecting attitude, relationships and ultimately consuming one’s life. Nothing can prepare someone for the anger and hostility that comes with an addict’s recovery. Nothing can prepare someone for the anxiety and fear that follows a loved one surviving his suicidal intentions. Nothing can prepare someone for the effect these things have on the relationships of families and friends. It makes for an instant and horrific reality.
I learned a lot about the struggle that addicts go through. The darkest truth that comes with the disease is that it never goes away. The thing is, there’s “normies” and there’s addicts. “Normies” are the ones who can abuse alcohol, smoke a bowl now and then and never have it effect our personal, professional or academic lives. But an addict can’t. I have seen young men work to recover from their addictions to what some would call “just weed and alcohol,” but I’ve also seen even younger men work to recover from their addictions to heroin, crack, or “anything they can get their hands on.” No person is immune to impact of this disease nor are they immune to depression, the disease from which the former often stems. By that I mean, no person is immune to having it, no person is immune to a child having it, a cousin, a parent, a spouse.
“Wait, he’s sober at 20? So he doesn’t drink? Is he, like, never going to drink again?” Society sees him as an oddity. Yes, it does sometimes feel odd to say I know a 20-year-old with just over 3 years sober. No, he is not planning on consuming an alcoholic drink again in his life. (God willing) In the same way these things have gotten normal to hear, it has also gotten normal to hear the opinion that it’s a little “over the top,” after all it’s “just” (insert drug here). Similarly, young people suffering from depression are quickly labeled as “dramatic.” What could possibly be so difficult in their life after such a short time? Through my personal experiences I’ve learned that when you’re not viewing these individuals as oddities and you’re viewing them as humans who are sick and need help, you are more apt to give help.
These artists who society mourns, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cory Monteith and Robin Williams, to name a few, all suffered from addiction since young-adulthood. Philip Seymour Hoffman died after 23 years of sobriety and still didn’t survive to see 50. When these folks went to rehab and received help for their illness it wasn’t “dramatic” or “over-reacting,” it was newsworthy. Russell Brand, a man who provides eloquent and honest words after tragedies such as these makes a great point in saying, “We sort of accept that the price for that free-flowing, fast-paced, inexplicable comic genius is a counterweight of solitary misery. That there is an invisible inner economy that demands a high price for breathtaking talent.” But it should not be accepted this way. It’s something that humanizes these people. While not everyone knows someone with the talent and celebrity of Robin Williams, nearly everyone knows someone with that inexplicable misery that comes with depression and addiction.
After the death of Amy Winehouse, Russell Brand wrote, “All we can do is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation but as a disease that will kill. We need to review the way society treats addicts [and mentally ill], not as criminals but as sick people in need of care.”
I simply ask that you keep this in perspective the next time you meet a 21-year-old sober individual, or a young person suffering from depression. It doesn’t matter their age or what their drug of choice was, it simply matters that they care about having a future and being healthy. As we saw this week, the demons don’t go anywhere. They follow someone for the rest of their life. All I, or anyone, can do is to take their dark thoughts seriously, seek help when necessary, be supportive and proud and compassionate to the lifelong battle that person will face. It’s a kind of bravery I certainly can’t even fathom.
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