Robin Williams’ son Zak taught financial literacy in prison to cope after his dad’s death

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I was really happy to read a few weeks ago that Zak Williams, the oldest of Robin Williams’ 3 children, and his fiancee, Olivia June, welcomed their first child at the end of May. McLaurin Clement Williams was born May 22. “McLaurin” is Robin’s middle name. Zak and Olivia are calling him “Mickey.” While new dad Zak has the birth of Mickey to celebrate, he’s also speaking honestly about how the death of his father in 2014 “traumatized” him:

In a recent online Q & A with the mental health chat community 18percent, 36-year-old Zak said he struggled with mental health issues after the death of his dad, and shared how doing service work has been helpful to him.

“Well, I was very traumatized after my dad’s death and found that teaching financial literacy in prison helped me heal and cope with the trauma,” he said. “After that I found that being vulnerable and open about my struggles seemed to actually help others. So, I just kind of kept on doing it. I love it as I find it healing personally.”

Zak is CEO and co-founder of the mental health support company PYM HealthZak, and is a board member of mental health awareness non-profit Bring Change 2 Mind and the Yerba Buena Center of the Arts. He said he became an advocate for others struggling after the loss of a loved ones due to his own experience, and shared how he now honors his late father.

“Well, I decided to become an advocate because I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression personally,” he said. “Found myself self-medicating and generally unhappy so when it came to speaking about my and my family struggles personally it just sort of clicked. In terms of honoring him personally, I have an 11-week-old son so at this point it mainly involves being a present father.”

He later shared some advice on healthier ways to cope with loss.

“I found that the first fix for me was to learn how to not self-medicate,” he said. “I was masking the pain with alcohol often and that just made things worse. Eating well and getting outdoors around nature is also really helpful for me. If self-medication isn’t an issue then finding opportunities to connect with people is helpful. Also, exercise!”

“What I neglected to do after my dad’s passing was take care of myself,” he added. “You can’t be there for others if you are not paying attention to your needs and struggles. Take the time to do what you need to do to get through the day first. Then you’ll have a fuller cup to be there for others. Also, support groups were really helpful for me.”

[From ET Online]

You can read the chat on 18percent’s website. (The site is so-named because 18% of Americans live with mental health issues.) I really love and respect everything that Zak has said here. I’m glad that he’s found fulfilling, healthy ways to take care of himself that also let him honor his dad. Helping others is wonderful, too. He’s so right that you need to take care of yourself so that you can be there for others, too. That can be a hard lesson to internalize. I’ve burned out so many times over the years in part because I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was also trying to be present for other people in spite of that, and eventually began to fail at that too, because I had no energy. I’ve also found that choosing to work on a new project or purpose after I’ve experienced a tremendous loss is one of the things that helps me slowly start to regain some sense of equilibrium in my “New Normal.” It sounds like that’s the case for Zak, too, and I hope that he continues to thrive.

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32 Responses to “Robin Williams’ son Zak taught financial literacy in prison to cope after his dad’s death”

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  1. astrid says:

    Congrats to the new family and I’m glad to hear that Zach has found some peace.

  2. FHMom says:

    Finally something sweet and heartwarming. His dad would be proud. Congrats to him and his new family.

    • Birdix says:

      It’s been a happy summer for that family—the youngest kid got married too. We live around the corner from his SF house and it was a great celebration, into the wee hours.

  3. Arizona says:

    His kids really seem like a well-adjusted, thoughtful, tight bunch. It’s a testament to both Robin and his ex-wives. I’ll always be sad to have lost him, especially in such a traumatic way. I could never imagine how they feel.

  4. Kittycat says:

    Personally I love to hear these types of stories.

  5. Mia4s says:

    I really wish them all the health and happiness in the world. They’ve had a very rough ride.

    “New normal” is a real journey. It’s been years for me since I first had to face that, but while I’m successful and happy overall…there are days. Just be compassionate with yourself, you’re worth it.

    • Esmom says:

      I hear you on the “new normal.” One of my best friends has been struggling so much, for almost three years now, in the aftermath of a divorce. Therapy and meds just aren’t enough — and he’s now moved to a super isolated area. I have been trying to tell him that getting involved in something, anything, from a volunteer work to a gym, will help him. Just to have a routine and be around people a bit (he works from home so doesn’t have even that every day workplace contact.) Having purpose can make such a big difference but for some reason he keeps floundering. It’s really hard to witness, I feel so helpless.

      • Mia4s says:

        That’s so tough @Esmom, I wish I had something to suggest. If they’ve already received are receiving professional help I think all someone on the outside can do is be a consistent presence. Check in, keep up invites, even if they are rejected. The sad truth is that eventually a person has to save themselves. Hugs to you for caring!

  6. Ronaldinhio says:

    Why are we using ‘traumatized’ In this way?
    Lovely story of giving and receiving and hope he remains well

    • Tonya says:

      He could have experienced psychological trauma after his fathers death. Different than regular grief.

    • Borgqueen says:

      Robin died by suicide bc of depression from his parkinson disease. If Robin was my dad, I would have been traumatized too. Suicide affects those that are left behind is devastating ways. I have a friend who son killed himself 5 yrs ago and she struggles greatly. She is taking of herself, working out, eating right, but its a daily struggle without her son. Some people were telling my friend to let her son rest and stop posting about him. So terrible and callous. We grieve in different ways for different lengths of time.

    • fleur says:

      Suicide is a traumatic event for the survivors and witnesses. Death itself is traumatic, especially when sudden, but even when it’s not. It’s traumatic to watch some one you’ve loved your whole life die…

    • olive says:

      because suicide is traumatic for loved ones.

      • ArtHistorian says:

        It is! Even suicide attempts can be traumatic. When I was 16 my mother attempted suicide while I was in the house – and to this day I have a big hole in my memory of that day because of how traumatic is was.

    • Ronaldinhio says:

      I mean the Celebitchy article says ‘traumatized’ not traumatized
      Why are we using inverted commas??

      • TQB says:

        HA! I think we all misinterpreted your question. The OP was “traumatized” in quotation marks. I assume that was because it was a direct quote.

  7. kgeo says:

    This is so great. My dad committed suicide last year. Then my mom died of a very aggressive cancer about 5 months later. Something clicked for me after mom died. I just said screw it, I’m taking care of myself. I quit drinking and just started living each day. It’s not like I was even drinking a lot, but it was getting in the way of feeling. I wish I had time to help people like he’s doing, but I find that, at the very least, I can have more compassion for people, and quite frankly, that helps me.

    • Renee says:

      I’m sorry for your losses kgeo. *Hugs* to you

    • Pineapple says:

      Hey Kgeo, that is amazing. That something clicked and you would want to care for you. XO You love yourself. That is the whole point of this life. It throws crap at us … we try to keep living. Share your story when you get chances to. It is really inspiring, “living each day.” That would be a great tattoo. “Living each day.” XO I wish you tons of sunrises, great cups of tea or coffee and a lot of wonderful songs. Hugs from me also. XO

      • kgeo says:

        Thanks. Tearing up a little. I just don’t want to waste any time. That would make a great tattoo. It’s so funny, because those sunrises and cups of tea and a great song really do feel like so much more now. It’s just easier than it used to be.

    • TQB says:

      So much love and power to you. It is inspiring that out of so much darkness you’ve found a way to be stronger and better for it. May your days be bright and full of joy!

  8. Annaloo. says:

    Zak sounds well rounded, and grounded. And apropos of pretty much nothing, it’s kind of nice to see a celebs kid do something more productive than follow (usually badly) the same career of their famous parent(s).

  9. Pineapple says:

    I found the death of Robin Williams so sad. I can’t imagine being one of his children and having to come to terms with that. Zak sounds incredibly resiliant and intelligent. This story is lovely. Stories about hope and strength after heartache. Wonderful, human stories.

  10. serena says:

    I swear reading and seeing Robin Williams, who has always been my favourite actor, still breaks my heart and makes me cry.. I can’t even imagine what going throught it was as his family, friends and such.. I wish his family happiness and yeah, I’m going to cry a little now.

  11. Deering24 says:

    Robin Williams’ death was one I’ve still not gotten over–it seems so weird he’s gone. 🙁 Glad his family is thriving and finding healthy ways to break the depression cycle.

  12. TQB says:

    Williams’ death really hurt me. I still struggle to watch him in anything, which is so heartbreaking because he was so brilliant and I loved him so much. The idea that he was in so much pain and no one could help him – *I* feel helpless. I cannot fathom how his children have coped with it. And yet they have, and at every opportunity they have not only coped with it, but used it as inspiration to help others. I will never stop being sad for the loss of Robin Williams but what an amazing legacy his children have become.

  13. Tonya says:

    As a trauma survivor myself, I really love this article. So many of us are living with trauma (whether we are aware of this fact or not), more than you would think.

    I really like how he humbly shares what works for him without sounding preachy or righteous. He sounds like a compassionate human. Trauma is humbling in general. Surviving trauma can be a deeply personal journey and there isn’t one size fits all for treatment. I do second his suggestions in regards to exercise (the endorphins really help) and nature as healing.

    I threw myself into exercise post-trauma, sometimes I exercise twice a day. I also spend time in nature as much as possible. I find it incredibly healing in ways I cannot put into words.

    He is so right, you have to take care of yourself and put yourself first. I have to live in alignment with my values and needs. Gone are the days when I drink to escape from my feelings or allow myself to be around people, places or things that make me feel like shit. You’ve got to put yourself first. You matter!! I really love the strength he shows in coming forward with this. It really honors his fathers memory. Suffering is a like a visitor – its a part of life but it doesn’t have to stick around forever. Props to everyone working through their trauma. Takes a brave soul to face the monster head on.