If you’ve ever known someone who has taken his or her own life, you understand that suicide isn’t an isolated experience. It ripples out, washing over everyone in close proximity — and often reaching people far away.
According to Entertainment Weekly, that was why Mariangela Abeo started the Faces of Fortitude project, a social media campaign to draw attention to both survivors of suicide and people impacted by suicide.
Abeo’s brother died by suicide, and Abeo herself attempted to take her own life after a sexual assault. To cope, she posted a self-portrait with her thoughts online.
Her vulnerability found a welcoming audience, and soon Abeo found herself posting pictures of numerous people in similar situations. Recently, she shared images of her most famous guest yet: the 36-year-old son of late comedian Robin Williams.
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“The past 3 years have been healing for me. I started to feel bad for myself, I was seeking solace and healing through my grieving. Once I took out all the inputs and elements of self medications, it all became really raw. It was super painful. I had to stop thinking big and expansive to heal everyone and look inward. I found a lot in there. I realized I wasn't broken. There was a lot of strength I didn't know was in there.” . Zak shared a point in his journey that I felt like SO many of us can relate to. He spoke about how easy it was to find a balm for our pain and trauma. It’s so easy to numb the pain with external things. To take our agony and force it down with our own cocktail of medicine, be that the common routes (alcohol, drugs, pain pills, food) or the not-so-common (extreme exercise, over-working, denial, apathy, or even thinking you can save everyone). It’s a helpless feeling that is so far-reaching, it covers your life like a thick fog that feels like it will never clear. Hearing Zak talk about experiencing this gave me so much solace. I felt better about how I spiraled the first few years. It’s nice to know that no matter who you are, how you were raised, or where you live, that our reactions to trauma are parallel. And that is what we are all doing here: finding connections and common ground through our pain. I felt something SO visceral in that space when he was talking about his moment of clarity, because I knew it so well. If you’ve ever been there, you can immediately tap back into that place when someone else shares that level of transparency with you. When we strip away everything we have been using to numb ourselves, and we are left alone with our grief – we are confronted with this dark and exposed part of ourselves. But it is also a place where we can learn so much about our capacity and abilities as humans. When he said he realized he wasn’t broken, and found strength he didn’t know he had – I had to choke back tears. That moment is so vital in us all. Tomorrow, in closing I will share his words of wisdom about his journey and looking forward. But first, we will sit with him in this space of pain, in order to honor it.
According to the New York Daily News, Zachary Williams appeared as part of her Faces of Fortitude project. Through text accompanying three separate black-and-white portrait sets, he discussed the loss of his father.
Abeo found herself cowed by the thought of having such a high-profile contributor in Zachary Williams. “I prepared for days before,” she wrote on Instagram, “even venting to a dear friend moments before Zak arrived, ‘Would I make a fool of myself?'”
She needn’t have worried. After the shoot, she stated that “for 90 min, we were just two people who had lost someone and found a common ground in our pain.”
Indeed, calling it pain is the best way to describe the aftermath of death by suicide. Williams admitted that he struggled to find a way to process his father’s passing.
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“There’s no education in place to tell you how to deal with this. To balance how to grieve privately with your family and then also to have to grieve publicly. While it was nice to be heard, I was spending time on the outer layer instead of on the inside. It wasn't just the survivor network for me, it was the whole world.” . . Zak is the son of beloved comedian Robin Williams- a suicide loss survivor, entrepreneur, investor, and mental health advocate. He serves on the board for Bring Change To Mind, an org whose mission is to end the stigma and discrimination around mental illness by creating campaigns, storytelling movements, and youth programs to encourage diverse & cultural conversation around mental health. I prepared for days before, venting to a dear friend moments before Zak arrived. Would I make a fool of myself? Would I accidentally say ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’ and burst into tears? I was overwhelmed.Then my friend said something important -they said, “Be yourself, share your pain. His pain is the same.Remember who you are and why you’re there.” So that’s what I did. In front of me sat a man who lost a loved one to suicide. A man who understood the same level of devastation as I did, as so many of us do. I shared my story, of attempt and loss. Then I was honored that he shared with me his feelings of loss, devastation and growth. THAT is what I strive for:To create a safe space for ANYONE who’s been touched by suicide so they feel able to share. For 90 min, we were just 2 people who had lost someone, and found a common ground in our pain. After he left, I packed up, got in my car and started to drive.Then immediately I realized, OH YEAH, I’m not ok. I pulled over to the nearest park and I sobbed for 30 minutes. The tears were a culmination of what I’d accomplished in 18 months, they were hearing this man tell me my project was “extraordinary” and that he was happy to be part of it. That somehow, through the death of my sweet brother, I’ve been able to provide a safe space for Zak and so many other people. It was a defining moment for me and for my project. I’m so fortunate to share words & photos from Zak’s session with you all week.
“There’s no education in place to tell you how to deal with this,” he said. “To balance how to grieve privately with your family and then also to have to grieve publicly.”
Due to his father’s public profile, Williams said that he found himself “spending time on the outer layer instead of on the inside.” He ultimately discovered that external inputs didn’t help him.
He explained on Instagram, “When you’re grieving and going out into the public to seek validations, it’s very fleeting. I was seeking support outwardly and not from my family.”
Why did it prove so unsatisfying? Williams concluded that grieving for a public figure quickly fades because it’s linked to the news cycle, which flows and ebbs as new stories quickly spring up.
“Be able to differentiate what public versus private processing looks like,” he urged others who find themselves in a similar situation. “It’s something I wish I had realized for myself.”
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“When you’re grieving and going out into the public to seek validations, it’s very fleeting. I was seeking support outwardly and not from my family. It’s not where you will find sustained support. A lot of people wanted to be part of the process for so many reasons, especially if you are a people pleaser. Public grieving times out quickly, it’s on a public and press media cycle. You can't be there for others until you first have done the work and processed for yourself. Be able to differentiate what public versus private processing looks like. It’s something I wish I had realized for myself.” . Crisis hotlines across the US had wait times of up to three hours on the day Robin Williams died. So many of us were devastated, having let Robin into our hearts through TV and film over decades. How hard it must have been for Zak to see the sadness in the faces of total strangers. The looks of pity but also like you somehow are obligated to make them feel better. Like you have to let them know YOU are okay, even if you aren’t. It’s exhausting on a normal level, let alone on a grand scale. This sweet man, trusted me with his story, and opened his heart to remind us to look inward at our pain before we project it outward. My brother’s ultimate sacrifice has lead me to this very moment in time. It seems unreal. I feel more growth, clarity and self-love than I’ve ever felt. But it also gives me pause, making me wish for just a moment that I could’ve been THIS person I am today, for my brother when he needed it the most. Isn’t that what this journey is about? To become the Masters of our fate, to find our voices from life experiences, no matter how they unfold. To take the wins, losses, and stumbles and weave them into the most beautiful poem we call LIFE. I can’t help but hear Mr. Keatings’s voice reciting Whitman in my head (a poem originally about the death of Abraham Lincoln) – :“O Captain! my Captain!..the ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won.” Thank you, Zak, for sharing your pain, laughter, and the memory of your father. We are so grateful to have you as a Face of Fortitude.
Williams also discovered that it was incredibly easy to turn to external inputs to numb the pain. However, he learned that he couldn’t heal until he weaned himself off of them and truly began to feel once more.
“Once I took out all the inputs and elements of self medications, it all became really raw,” he confessed on Instagram. “I had to stop thinking big and expansive to heal everyone and look inward. …
“I realized I wasn’t broken. There was a lot of strength I didn’t know was in there.”
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