Unlike most standup comedians starting out in my generation, Robin Williams wasn’t my comedic hero growing up. He certainly was an influence on me, that’s for sure. For me though, I was always aware that his brilliant comedic style and performances on stage was merely a stepping stone for his true calling.
Instead, the body of work I came to love and respect was his comedic and dramatic acting roles. For that, I consider Williams one of my all-time top favorite actors on the big screen.
Now, in light of his tragic and shocking death, I can say he has become one of my heroes and has forever changed any previous opinion I had of him.
Yesterday afternoon I attended a court hearing for my 14 year old boy, Braedon. I will attend another hearing next Monday.
There is a good chance you have read earlier posts of mine on Facebook in regards to this last year. While these posts were vague, they were all about my extraordinarily painful year with my son and our family.
The posts were vague because It was simply too difficult to come to terms with my struggles. (Which I am still healing from.) Outwardly processing them in an update was just easier. Especially since I saw so many others going through difficult times as well.
My personal pain stems from the fact my oldest son suffers from mental illness. Like every challenge in my life, it must become dialog, then material, and finally comedy I can embrace on stage. It is my personal comedic process, but it is also my healing and coping process. A process I can say with great confidence, most comedians use, including Robin Williams.
I was planning on writing this some time ago and put it off. I wanted to be in a place of strength to write it. Ironically, timing is everything; so there is no better time to address the last year than after hearing the sad news of Robin William’s death. More importantly, the news that he sadly took his own life.
Since my son first attended school and began interacting socially, he has been battling the demon of depression and mental illness. His mother and I, along with the people closest to me have dealt with his special needs throughout his young adult life.
As I look back, I honestly thought he was just socially awkward. We all did. As time went on, it became clear, this wasn’t the case. Braedon became more and more depressed and for a short period of time, even suicidal.
He has always struggled with school, authority, and anger. I thought it was a lack of discipline and structure. Last year as he became a teenager, it got to a point where it was too much for his mother to handle.
At the time, I was in a relationship with a wonderful and loving woman. We were in a position where we could help. Both of us made the decision together to have Braedon come live with us. We saw it as an opportunity to change his life. He could finally get the structure and discipline he needed. While it was the most challenging role I’ve ever taken on as a father, Rachel and I were making a difference. He was placed in a great school with an amazing I.E.P. team, he was receiving regular therapy and making great strides. Like I said though, we felt he just was troubled.
The biggest problem with mental illness, it is an invisible disability. It doesn’t present itself every minute of the day and it cannot be clearly detected. It isn’t like me, you see me pushing around my three-wheeled man purse walker and know right away, I have physical limitations.
With mental instability, it comes and goes. Some days it is apparent an episode is occurring. Yet at other times, it isn’t a factor at all. Most often, however, it hides somewhere in the middle. As a parent, I have to ask myself, is this my son’s illness or is he just being a typical teenage boy? I have to somehow miraculously make the right call and sometimes in the middle of a heated confrontation. Making the wrong call, it can easily escalate into a point of no return.
Diagnoses will also change over the years too. He’s been labeled with O.D.D. (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Those are just the expert opinions. The list of unofficial labels has been never ending. All of which were wrong, by the way. It takes sometimes years for a correct diagnoses. You must constantly reevaluate the one suffering and even the teams that closely work with them. Now throw into the mix, the extra complicated layer of puberty, and my son’s raging hormones and I can assure you, even the experts can get it wrong.
The other major problem with mental illness is the ignorance and lack of awareness and education on the subject. Family members often are in denial or worse, so ashamed they keep it a dirty family secret. No one wants to admit a member of their family has mental illness. I didn’t. I was in denial for a very long time. Actually, it wasn’t until it was too late and our family life fell to pieces that I became educated and came to terms with it.
Our community, our own family members, our spouses and partners all fall victim to the confusion and blurry lines of this illness. Relationships of all types are destroyed by a lack of understanding.
It is often disregarded as bad parenting, or an out of controlled kid, or even neglect. “Nothing a good ass kicking can’t solve, right?”
Wrong. I can assure you as a father going through it firsthand. When faced with the choice of harsh disciplinary action over compassion and understanding; handling it negatively leaves you with indescribable guilt. You can’t approach it as if they are purposely acting out. No one consciously chooses to act out in a way that will potentially harm themselves or others.
I became filled with rage and thoughts of pure hatred for my own child. It is truly the most heartbreaking and traumatic thing one can feel for their own flesh and blood. The pain I put on myself, my family and loved ones is something that changes everyone forever. Then to be seen by people on the outside as a bad parent when you already feel more guilt than anyone else can ever put on you. Well, that alone can cause a mental break.
I got high blood pressure. (Which I never have had issues with before) I lost patches of my hair. Not balding or thinning either, but actual patches of hair fell out because of the extreme stress, and the deepest sadness and remorse I ever felt in my life.
Oh, and yes, I gave up. I gave up because I couldn’t handle it any longer. I have no excuse here. I gave up because I was no longer making sound fatherly choices. All of my choices were reactionary and destructive to my two boys, my partner and our home life.
Our home was no longer a home of love and compassion, it was no longer a place where anyone felt safe. It was no longer filled with laughter and great memories. It was just filled with sadness.
I sent him back to his mother’s so I could heal. A decision that was not popular with my partner, and one I made on my own without ever considering the grief it might cause the ones I love most in my life. I decided this without realizing there were others who were going through this with me and who also deserved to have a voice in the decision.
I ultimately feel I was looking out what was best for my son and his wellbeing but to this day I still feel the guilt of the choice and still have no idea whether I made the right one.
All I knew was that I needed to heal so I could love him again, be compassionate and try to get him the help he truly needs. Sometimes a parent makes choices that look horrible to those on the outside looking in and unfortunately only time will tell if what I did was right.
My son has finally been correctly diagnosed and will be getting residential treatment along with the correct therapy and skills needed to have a future. This program is a long intensive two year program with no guarantee of success. The type of therapy he is going to get does have great results with those who have his condition. However, either way, it is the only real opportunity for success he has.
These types of resources are simply not available to people with mental illness over the age of eighteen. That is a sobering fact. When you become an adult, you either have the money to get professional help, become homeless from the lack of skills to survive on your own or you get locked up. One and four people in the United States have some form of mental illness, too. It is an epidemic without any long term strategic plan to deal with it.
So why is Robin Williams now all of a sudden a hero and an inspiration to me? I’ll be glad to explain. Robin William’s suicide will shine a much needed spotlight onto mental illness and depression. Unfortunately it takes events like this to bring it to the national stage.
Like everything, it will only last for a short time before people forget and go back to their lives, but I’m striking while the iron is hot. There needs to be a real honest discussion, education and reform.
It is a sad day to have lost such a brilliant and genius mind. Thank you Mr. Williams for bringing so much laughter into our lives.
As a comedian of 23 years, and one who has devoted my life to the same craft, I must thank you most of all as a father. Your last act, while tragic, will help more families find the courage they need to seek help. There are people in real pain who need a helping hand out of the darkness. I am one of those people, and so is my son.
If someone as profound and brilliant as Robin Williams who from our perspective, had everything he could possibly want out of life couldn’t climb out of the darkness; than it should be a wakeup call to us all. It takes more than just money, strength and humor to cure this illness, and Robin Williams just proved that. For that, he deserves a final standing ovation.
Fore more information and resources I recommend looking up your local chapter of N.A.M.I. (National Alliance on Mental Illness) at: http://www.nami.org/