This won't be the normal silly Johnna blog, but you're about to get glimpse at a side of me that I don't often show yet right now feel needs to be seen. The anniversary of Robin Williams' death this past weekend made me start writing. I'm no professional writer but I find that sometimes it's the best form of therapy and even if it helps one person feel brave or strong or less lonley then it was worth it. I've typed and re-typed this blog for two days. It's not perfect, but it's real. I’m sure I misspelled something when I was eating cheezits and typing. It happens. So, here we go..
This weekend marked 4 years since we lost Robin Williams. It still hurts.
I remember the moment I heard he had been found dead. I lost it. People in my office thought I was bananas, but I didn't care. They didn't exist in that moment. I had just lost a friend. No, Robin was family.
Let's go back to the start. My dad and I are basically the same person. I couldn't be more like him if I tried. Since I was a little girl my dad and I have intensely bonded over 4 things: movies, music, sports and comedy. This most likely explains why I sang in the outfield during every softball game and fell down intentionally on the basketball court to make people laugh (I was horrible anyway so why not make people smile, ya know?). Also a major reason I work in radio. I get to dive into all of these topics with you daily!
Looking back, I'm not sure why I was allowed to watch so much of Robin Williams’ work as a child but I do know times were different then. What I mean is, "family" movies had a bit more edge and adult humor that kids didn't pick up on. I still watch movies today from that time and pick up on jokes I didn't get as a kid. It's like watching them for the first time! Today you would be parent-shamed if your kids watched the present-day version or heck even the original “Weekend at Bernies". The 80's and 90's were just a bit more relaxed. I grew up on John Candy, Richard Pryor, Tom Hanks, Billy Murray, Chevy Chase and Robin. They were like uncles to me. Teachers. I knew very early on that no matter what I did when I grew up, I wanted to make people feel the way I felt when I watched them. I genuinely love when people smile. I get a high from making it happen.
Fast forward to 4 years ago. I was newly divorced, figuring out this new world and not handling it well at all. For years, dating as far back as about 10 years old, I knew something was off, I had just never seen a doctor about it because like many people I had accepted what I’d experienced.. “you’re dramatic”, “quit making a big deal of things”, “get out of your funk”, “get over yourself” and my personal favorite, “here comes Johnna Drama”. I accepted that everyone was right and that everything was my fault but as hard as I tried I couldn’t change. I would just continue to mask it. "That's what grown ups do". For the record, I still get told these things from people who don’t really know me, but I let those moments roll off easier now because I understand. You can’t be mad at someone who only sees what they want to see and what we allow them to see.
As most of you know, Robin Williams suffered from severe depression. He was lonely. The man who seemed to have mastered the skill of making people happy couldn’t always make himself happy. Hard to imagine, right? I’m paraphrasing here but I always think about the quote where he said that he once thought the saddest thing in the world was ending up alone but really it was being with people who make you feel alone. As a child I had no idea how much I would relate to that Robin. The man behind the curtain.
Ah yes.. here we go. Thanks, Pinterest. I was close!
Sure, we love watching the classics. Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, and The Birdcage are instant good mood movies for me. However, I’ve always loved dramatic actor Robin just as much if not more than comedian Robin. Did you know he wasn't just some stand up comic that got noticed by the right people? He studied at Juliard! I dare you to watch Good Will Hunting, One Hour Photo or Dead Poets Society and try to argue that Robin was only good for comedy. You won’t win. He became our neighbor, our teacher, the creepy guy in the store, the fun Dad of a friend down the street and the boy who from Neverland in an instant and without effort. It's incredible to watch. If you haven't seen the documentary HBO recently released on his life, please do. It honors his memory but tells his truth. You will smile, I promise. There's also some exclusive content from his early days and interviews with friends and family that you've never seen. Here's the trailer.
It’s been 4 years since Robin Williams took his own life, something many do not agree with and none of us saw coming. We found out after that he had been suffering a serious illness, Lewy Body Dementia, that very few people had even heard of at the time. Basically, he was battling his own mind everyday on an even more intense level than before. Can you imagine knowing you were losing your mind, watching and feeling it happen, and not being able to do a thing about it? I cannot. I fully believe he didn’t want his family to suffer through what was imminent so he made a choice. An early retirement.
Here were are, 2018 and for me, it’s still fresh. A wound that hasn’t and may never heal. When you get a wound, a cut for instance, you learn things. You learn what caused it, what makes it worse, and even though it may not always be possible, how to prevent it from happening again once healed. Once healed, you don't think about the wound every day. Less and less as the days pass, but you never forget the pain it caused and sometimes it leaves a permanent scar. Robin Williams' death left a scar on my heart and although I don't see it everyday, I know it's there and feel the phantom pain from the original wound from time to time. But I learned..boy did I learn.
About 3 months after Robin’s death I did something that I now consider both scary and brave and definitely necessary. I saw a professional. While I wasn’t suicidal, I wasn’t in a good place. Every single day I masked hopelessness, self-loathing and loneliness with anything that kept me from looking like the drama queen. Sometimes that was self-deprecating humor, sometimes it was booze. It was always unhealthy.
Taking that first step to get help was hard but it changed me. For the first time I was able to stand up for myself and say, “look. I’m not like you. I deal with things differently but that doesn’t make me someone you can talk down to.” In the years since we lost the funniest man, I have had very high highs and very low lows. I have been diagnosed with mental health conditions that I now refuse to call disorders. Different-Not Less. I still make doctor appointments and still rely on medicine and THAT’S OK. I finally opened up and trusted my family and few close friends with this information and found they wish they would’ve known sooner because knowledge is power. They understand me better and can help me in my spirals. God, I’m lucky...no, blessed. I don’t want sympathy or special treatment. I just want humans to care about each other. If Betty Sue isn’t her normal self ask if she’s ok or needs to talk. If Billy Bob has been working with his door closed maybe consider that he isn’t being a jerk but maybe doesn’t want you to see him dealing with something. However, if you are Betty Sue or Billy Bob, remember that not everyone sees beyond the face value of what you give them. It’s very much “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck”. Two-fold. Both sides play a hand. We become better people by being compassionate instead of jumping to our own conclusions. And WE’VE ALL done it. You’re thinking about the girl you assumed was being “witchy” at work, aren’t you?
I want to stress that not every moment or every day is bad. Most days I laugh and smile far more than I cry or panic. I have learned to love the little things. Focus on the moments that make me happy and take mental pictures. Life is short and time is fleeting. Get a hobby. Make a child laugh. Give a stranger a compliment. Those are a few little things that have made days better for me and I try to enact them regularly. Making others smile usually makes you smile. One day I want my daughter to know that her mom not only lived life but enjoyed the hell out of it. However, for every 30 great days there will be two where I cant get out of bed. I can't formulate a sentence. The world is ending and I caused it. I am not me. I battle these conditions every single day but it’s only because of the help and understanding of others and my faith in God (who gets an earful all day and a lot of “Jesus take the wheel”s), that I can continue to fight these monsters in my head. You must find your army that will stand by your side in battle, whomever or whatever that may be.
Depression, Anxiety, Manic and Bipolar. Words that have a negative connotation but little understanding or compassion attached. I’m going to change that if it's the last thing I do. For the rest of my life I will work to break the stigmas of mental health conditions and help people seek treatment or even just be the ear they need when they feel alone. If you’re reading this and you need help, I’m here. I’m serious.
We will never get Robin back. He will live on in our hearts, but there’s hope for those of us he left behind. So today and every day I will fight for all of us.
“When you’re feeling scared hold someone’s hand and look into their eyes and when’s you’re feeling brave do the same thing.” - Amy Poehler ♥️
On a lighter note, I polled co-workers today on their favorite Robin Williams movies and it was a whole lot of movie quoting fun:
Walter - Mrs. Doubtfire
Anna - The World According to Garp
Mark - RV
Steve - Good Will Hunting
Molly - Good Morning Vietnam
Uncle Henry - Mrs. Doubtfire
Glenn - Good Will Hunting
Sir James - The Fisher King
Ronnie - Dead Poets Society
Taylor - Jumanji