My Name Is Tonja. And I Think About Committing Suicide » VSB

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My Name Is Tonja. And I Think About Committing Suicide

(Tonja Stidhum/VSB)


“Ain’t too much sadder than…”

I was a Robin Williams stan growing up. And, yes, most of that had to do with his voice work as “Genie” in Aladdin. But, when I saw that, I had to see it all. Mrs. DoubtfireHook. Good Will Hunting. Ferngully. Jumanji. The Birdcage. Even a little ‘Mork & Mindy.’ He was a consummate character, both on film and in my life.

I can’t quite fully describe what I felt when I heard of his death, which, reportedly, was a suicide. The best way I can describe it is the way I describe it when anyone dear to me passes: I felt everything and nothing.

But, this isn’t really about how enraptured I am by his cartoon-impersonation genius, it’s about the man, himself. The man behind the cartoon. And it’s about me.

As a background, I’ve been holding back on writing about this in depth for a while because I never felt I had all the right words. I still don’t know if I have them. But, I do know one thing. To use another Disney reference, “it is time.”

You know how someone can have a bright smile, but sad eyes? I always felt that way about Robin. And according to his publicist, Robin had been suffering from a severe case of depression. I believe his depression had been reported prior to that, as well. That part hit me the hardest. Because I can relate. From social media to reality, people know me as the “funny one.” Yet, like many comedians, there’s something dark lurking beneath. There’s a reason why comedians are oft-colored with the image of the showman onstage and the depressed alcoholic off.

It started with my childhood. Muddled with failed attempts to gain the affection of my aloof and alcoholic father, followed by his subsequent lung cancer diagnosis, and then his death. And with his death, crept the man who groomed the vulnerability of a freshly fatherless me and snatched me into molestation as he drove me to school every morning. I was 12. And abandoned. And tainted. And unwanted. My only escape came with creating worlds that lead me to my screenwriting aspirations. My only shield came with belly-laughs, both forged and felt.

The 12 year old girl followed me into high school and into a suicide attempt. And with that attempt, I didn’t necessarily want to die (or to leave), I just felt dying would be the only way to stop the pain. That 12 year old girl followed me into college and found the strength to tell my mama about the molestation for the first time, after telling my class via a piece I wrote in a writer workshop (which was the first time I had ever spoken it outloud). That 12 year old girl is me today. I suffer from depression. I have a therapist that I see, weekly. I cry myself to sleep so hard some nights, my eyes hurt. I think of ending it often. I’ve gotten close a few times. I’ve gotten close last week.

For me, depression is quite the bitch, equipped with my very own sultry voice. She tells me I’m unworthy, unwanted, weird, an outcast, untalented, abnormal, forever alone, unloved, unattractive, a burden to others, and that everyone would be better without me. Some days, I believe the hell out of her. Other days, I don’t. Other days, I (rationally) know she’s full of shit, but I let her voice prevail. I think that’s the most frustrating part of it all. The rollercoaster. One day I’m legit super-confident and ready to take over the world and the next day I’m crawling into bed wanting to forever sleep away the hollow ache of my empty heart. Sometimes, it doesn’t even take a day for the switch to happen. It’s an ongoing battle and not unlike a drug addiction, there doesn’t seem to be a real “cure.” Just a better method of making it to the next day.

Laughter has always been and will always be the tupperware to my depression’s leftover meatloaf. It has a funny (ha!) way of sealing it up to be put away, but at the same time, keeping it fresh. Because, to be honest, the harder I try to laugh to keep from crying, the more acute the inevitable cry that follows.

It is my favorite thing to do. I love providing it as much as I love doing it. And of course, there’s nothing better than laughing until you cry. The tears I’ll cry today and tomorrow are from a much sadder place as I mourn Robin, but I don’t doubt he’ll continue to keep me laughing for years to come.

Rest in peace, Robin Williams. Never had a friend (in my head) like you.

(If you are suffering from depression or know someone who is, both the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the National Alliance on Mental Illness have resources to aid you in your battle.)

Tonja Stidhum

Tonja Renée Stidhum is a screenwriter/director with cheeks you want to pinch... but don't (unless she wants you to). She is made of sugar and spice and everything rice... with the uncanny ability to make a Disney/Pixar reference in the same sentence as a double entendre.

  • *hugs* that’s all I can say. is just hugs and that i love you. beautifully written.

  • Sage1018

    Thanks for sharing this Tonja. You do have the words.

  • *hugs* Thanks for sharing, Cheekie!

    Edit- I don’t what it is about that gal that keeps telling us this bad sh*t and you’re on your own but that’s how it goes down every time. Keep fighting Cheeks.

    • miss t-lee

      She’s a dirty skank. Gotta throw her in the sack with the cobra and chunk it off a bridge.

      • I’d prefer a pit with two hungry komodo dragons and an overly caffeinated Nancy Grace.

        • miss t-lee

          I like this plan.

          • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

            LMAO @ this entire exchange. And this is why laughter is super saiyan against depression. ;)

    • LMFAO. you two are ridiculous. but i love it.

      • miss t-lee


    • Adrienne

      Thank you Tonja for sharing with such eloquence and transparency. I speak God’s peace and grace over your life. I bind the voices and depression, discouragement, and insecurity, and I cancel the horrible memories of the abuse you suffered. I loose God’s love and the power of His deliverance over your mind, body, soul, and spirit. God loves you and I pray you feel His presence in a fresh and personal way. Love you.

  • miss t-lee

    You kick so much azz Cheekie!!! I have a feeling you’re touching way more folks than you can even imagine.
    Hang in.

  • Stephane

    Tonja- thank you for sharing your plight. I too see a therapist often ( as we have discussed before) and I think it’s so brave of you to share that. Not enough people of color dare talk about the demons that are consuming them. You are strong, worthy and amazing. Thanks for being you! xoxo

  • Shonnerz

    Tonja, I am so damn proud of you my heart feels like it is about to burst. The more you talk, the less of a hold depression will have over you. It thrives in silence so never stop speaking out. I love you and I’m here for you always. *hugs*

  • Tonja, thank you for this post. So much of life happens behind the scenes, and the more we feel we can share of ourselves, the greater our impact in the world and people around us. I too am no stranger to the cries unseen despite our paths to that place being different. Strength and truth are born from tears- Continue to utilize yours and be great.

  • Shay-d-Lady

    wow. just wow. this was beautifully written. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. My prayers of light and peace are with you always.

  • N Harris

    Thank you for sharing <3

  • JM2C

    Tonja, thank you so much for sharing this. There is still a huge stigma associated with mental illness, especially depression, in the Black community and I truly admire the individuals that step forth to share their struggle.

    • Val

      “There is still a huge stigma associated with mental illness, especially depression, in the Black community…”

      That is unfortunately true. Hopefully conversations like these can begin to change that. So many of us are suffering in silence.

    • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

      This was a huge part of me sharing. Because I’m the face of that stigma. Robin Williams and many like him was the fact for it on the gender front (being that so many men have a stigma against seeking help). My main hope is that this fosters a convo that continues.

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