Have you ever seen someone on the street, homeless or not, and thought to yourself, “I wonder what they’re thinking”? Or perhaps, wonder what their day to day lives entail. The struggles they face. The struggles they don’t have to face.
Maybe you haven’t.
Maybe you’re like I was years ago, walking along and not giving others a second thought. No concern for anyone’s well being, but your own. Never thinking twice about the girl in class with ratty clothes and a shitty attitude. Never wondering why that other girl leads a promiscuous lifestyle. Never realizing that maybe, just maybe, that lawyer who has it ALL…Is slowly dying on the inside; fighting a battle he showed up to with no weapons at all.
It’s something that I now think about often. When I walk by people on the street and make eye contact, I smile. If I see a homeless person on the street, I try not to make assumptions about how they got there or their lifestyles. If there’s someone that I interact with day to day and they’re always upset, I try not to reciprocate their attitudes.
Honestly, I know people have been talking about this and it’s a bit ridiculous to be so passionate about someone that I never met…However, Robin Williams comes to mind in these situations. A man who laughed constantly and who’s only joy in life was to make others happy, to make them laugh. A man so gracious and selfless, yet we were never reminded until he actually passed. Through countless stories, including him visiting children in hospitals to cheer them up, we’re able to really realize how amazing he was.
When I was about twelve I met someone while in the Azores, someone who was actually related to me. He quickly became my savior when my father would become upset and scream at me. I would run to his house crying and he would hold me and tell me that everything would be okay. He would tell me that I was going to grow up, and live my own life, and never have to answer to anyone but myself. He would remind me to never let anyone make me feel small and to never lose myself in all of the chaos happening around us. His smile was contagious and he never faltered on his word during the three months that I was there. He was always there for me and never judged me, even though I was 12 and absolutely impossible to be around. His name was Paulinho, and he was my cousin. We didn’t know each other very well until that summer, he was years older than I. He led a different lifestyle than the people of the Azores were accustomed to at the time, but he was always himself no matter what. It’ll be a year in November since he killed himself. It’ll be a year in November since the last time he sent me a Facebook message, telling me how mature I’ve become and how much I’ve grown into my personality. It’ll be a year since he’d post sad statuses on his Facebook that everyone just passed off as being dramatic. A year. I dream about him still and I wonder how it could’ve all been different. What could we have done to help. Was it the substance abuse? Was it his mind that tricked him into doing what he did? It was tragic, the way he did it. It wasn’t your everyday ABCNews suicide story, but I guess I wouldn’t have expected it to be less theatrical from our Paulo, always so over the top.
My point is, we would have never guessed Robin Williams suffered from severe depression. We would have never guessed that this man was battling demons stronger than himself and all of the money he had; or even the smiles he took hostage. We would have never guessed that happy, smiley, Paulinho had been having these thoughts over and over again. We missed the cues. We missed them. I wake up crying sometimes, after dreaming about Paulinho, because I wonder what was going through his mind and how it could’ve been prevented. We never know what people are going through around us. I think about his parents and what they went through. I think about my daughter, I fear for her future because this can happen to anyone. I imagine how I would feel if this happened to me, to my child, and I cry because I don’t know if I’ll be too blind to see the clues. The big issue is that depression has always been stigmatized in the Azores up until recently. It wasn’t something that was ever acknowledged or treated. Peers always brushed it off as if the person in question was being “over dramatic” or a “baby” about things. They need to “man up” and “grow up” because feeling this way can and should be controlled. The number of suicides in the Azores were ridiculous year to year in comparison to the very small population between all nine islands. In our country, no one wants to talk about it. It is frowned upon and families are embarrassed to acknowledge that a loved one suffers from this disease. Individuals are afraid to admit there’s a problem because they’re not sure how society and their own families will react to it.
Depression is real and it is all around us. It’s important to always be open and supportive. A simple smile could save someone, or a kind gesture.
Never take what you have for granted, or abuse the sanity you have been gifted.