Friday, August 22, 2014

An Open Letter to Henry Rollins about Robin Williams' Suicide

UPDATE: Henry Rollins apologized.

One of these days I might actually finish the last five entries of my 50 Days 50 Films Countdown. But not today.

Today I want to talk to you, Henry Rollins, about the article you wrote for LA Weekly.

First, let me start by saying I'm a fan. I fell in love with Rollins Band when I was a high school student in the mid-90s and your video for "Liar" was in constant rotation on MTV. I dove into the spoken word albums and Black Flag immediately after, and I've been with you ever since.

So I'm willing, at least for the sake of argument, to give you the benefit of the doubt that you mean well and that you're not simply engaging in some narcissistic exploration of your own mind. I don't know why the focus of your article had to be about what YOU feel about suicide, but I think that's maybe your problem here.

You think that this is about you.

As someone who came very near to the place Robin Williams ended up, I'm here to tell you that it's not about you. At all. Not even a little bit. What you feel is completely irrelevant here.

You say you've known people who've suffered from depression and who have committed suicide, and yet you think it should mean something to the rest of us that you feel "disdain" for the "choice" these people have made. It stuns me that someone as thoughtful as you can be possesses such a glaring empathy blind-spot.

But, again, I want to give you the benefit of the doubt. I really do think you mean well. I just think you have no goddamned idea what you're talking about.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you've probably never experienced clinical depression yourself. So I imagine you don't actually know what it's like to live inside that experience. You're trying to apply logic and rationality where logic simply doesn't exist.

You don't understand how Mr. Williams could have made the choice to do this to his family. I can tell you that there is a strong likelihood that Mr. Williams had convinced himself he was doing what he did FOR his family.

When I nearly flung myself off a building, it wasn't because I was sad. Or weak. Or selfish. It was because I had lost touch with reality. Were there things going on in my life that were causing me stress? Sure. I had just graduated from film school and was interning at a major Hollywood studio with no earthly idea of how I was going to repay my student loans. My grandmother had just died. I had just gotten my heart broken by a girl.

Basically, life.

None of these things were what caused me to try to kill myself. What was going on in my head was a conviction -- a CERTAINTY -- that there was something wrong with me. Not wrong in a self-esteem sense. Wrong in a physical, mental, and spiritual sense.

I felt like I was a monster. I felt like the people around me felt like I was a monster. I felt like I was dangerous to be around.

I felt like my grandmother had died because she had been close to me.

I felt like the people who I loved were either lying to me or were somehow being shredded by my very presence in their lives and didn't even know it.

I felt like the end of the world was coming. Not in a figurative sense. In a literal, we're-all-gonna-die-in-a-ball-of-fire sense.

I felt like one of my roommates was trying to poison me.

Mostly, I felt like everyone around me -- friends, family, coworkers -- would be much better off without me. That I was a cancer and I needed to be cut out.

Now, keep in mind there were NO rational reasons for me to be feeling these things. Something simply went haywire in the chemistry of my brain. Now, with a lot of hard work, I've come through the other side and I can look back and see how off the reservation I was. But in the moment, I simply couldn't see around it.

Depression isn't about feeling sad or sorry for yourself. Depression is about drowning. It's about a complete and total loss of perspective.

I didn't know Mr. Williams any more than you did, so I don't know what was going on in his brain. Unlike you, I wouldn't ever presume that I do.

You think I'm weak, and that Mr. Williams was weak. I know, you didn't use that word. But I can read between the lines.

Mr. Rollins, you're the weak one. The "disdain" you feel is evidence of that. You're afraid of us and what we represent.

Let me ask you, Mr. Rollins, what good you think this article you wrote did beyond servicing your own ego and interjecting yourself into a family's grief? Let me present a hypothetical: What if one of your fans is feeling even a few of the things that I was feeling when I tried to kill myself? What if that fan read your piece? Do you think your tough-talk stance is going to snap this person out of it?

Or do you think that maybe...just maybe...finding out their hero looks upon them with contempt on top of everything else might only add fuel to the fire?

Mr. Rollins, I'm still a fan.

But, please, for the love of God, get it the fuck together.