I’m not going to pretend I ever shared a special moment with the man. I’m not going to go on and on about how his films and television series made such a huge impact on my life. I’m not even going to state unnecessary statements about how I longed to meet the man someday and get to know that he was truly as brilliant in person as he appeared on the screen.
Sure, I may have used the word shazbot for a period of time as my go-to expletive, I may have listened to the Genie’s songs from Aladdin on repeat for weeks on end, I may have shouted GOOOOOOOD MOOOOORNING VIETNAAAAAM! on more than one occasion, begged my parents to let me watch Dead Poet’s Society, waited eagerly to see The Fisher King after I heard he was cast in it, and even got excited about RV, knowing that Mr. Williams was taking a step back into his more purely silly and family friendly-esque roles that I first knew him from. I even remember first learning about Yiddish from the man off a video magazine subscription I had in the 90’s. Heck, even a few months ago, I couldn’t help but smile at the rather dumb idea that they were planning a Mrs. Doubtfire 2. But who didn’t do these things? A quick look at his 104 acting credits on IMDB hardly do the man’s career justice. He was, simply, everywhere. A man that involved in entertainment is bound to inspire many.
And he will definitely be missed.
When I first heard about his departure from this life, and my wife continued the announcement by stating that it was believed to be suicide, I didn’t respond. Not like I shut down completely, but more that I ignored the comment. This wasn’t a situation of not wanting to believe what I had heard. I’ve seen the sadness in the man’s eyes for years. The tears of a clown are a very real thing…comedy is one of the best ways to deal with depression.
The problem is, Robin Williams, as well as many other folks who are successful as entertainers, is someone I look up to when I’m at my lowest. I fight depression regularly. I’ve never been much for suicidal thoughts, but depression and I are pretty closely knit.
Being creative has always been one of the best weapons in my arsenal to fight that depression. Taking my mind into fantasy locations or allowing it to work through the best manner in which to express an emotion, whether through word, song, or acting, has been something that has helped me (as well as many others who suffer from depression) immensely over the years. And people like Robin help push me forward. Knowing how many people he’s been able to make happy through his creative expression is almost a vicarious moment for me, and causes me to want to make the world less like it is in my head through similar means.
But depression is a dark cloud that doesn’t go away. Sure, there are things like therapy and medication, and a whole host of alternative methods that exist to try to make that cloud lighter, but ultimately, if you suffer from depression it’s always there.
And this is what I thought of when I heard the news about Robin Williams, what I’ve continued to think about as I’ve seen the many tributes over the past few days. A man who, from all outward appearances, has been able to make all his dreams come true, was friends with Superman even, still could not live with the idea that his life would continue any longer. He didn’t kill himself when he was a struggling comedian trying to get paid. He did so when the world knew his name, when you couldn’t flip through the cable channels without coming across something with him in it.
Robin Williams’ death meant one thing to me: It doesn’t get better.
The man was 63 when he died. This year, according to IMDB, he has 4 movies scheduled to be released, as well as a television series of 22 episodes. Taking a look back over the past few years, it seems like this isn’t the only year he’s been working overtime like that. This is a man who’s been running from something for a long time, a man who’s dark cloud was obviously too large for him to find a way out from under. For a man who was so completely beloved and not, in any way, searching for work, to take his life…
You see…those who suffer from depression, don’t typically want to talk to you about it. They don’t want you to know they are depressed. They don’t want you to see their dark cloud. Many of them, in fact, put on the happiest face in the room, hoping that by appearing happy, they can shrug off the cloud that haunts them. In fact, they might be the person who brings the most joy to this world, simply because they can’t see it in their own lives.
This is what I’ve spent the last two days pondering. This is the knowledge I’ve lived with for too long that becam all-too-apparent at Robin’s passing. Depression isn’t curable. It’s managed. At some point, even those of us who have managed it the best find themselves incapable of doing so any longer. It doesn’t get better. You don’t get better. And that knowledge is what brings so many to the final terrible decision that Mr. Williams came to. If you’ve ever lived under that dark cloud, you will try every single thing you can think of to try and get out from under it. Ultimately, for many, there’s one final method that comes to mind. It’s not a first resort. It’s one that stays with you, gnaws at you, and pleads with you as the only possible way to get free of that damned cloud. And no matter how hard you try, no amount of sitting upside down on a chair to pretend that’s how aliens sleep will get that idea out of your head.
If there’s one piece of inspiration I hope the world can take from Mr. Williams’ death, it’s that depression is serious. I’m not saying this for those who don’t have their own cloud. This is not a message for those who want to claim that suicide is selfish or whatever other stupid things folks say when they misunderstand what causes a person to take their own life. This is for those who have their own clouds, those who might see Mr. Williams’ death as yet another nail in the coffin as they realize what his act means for their clouds.
Too easily do those of us in the dark tell ourselves that this is just a temporary thing, that this is something we can work ourselves out of. Robin Williams’ death, I believe, is a perfect example that this is not the case.
His choice could be considered selfish, I suppose. He spent 63 years on this earth battling his demons before finally choosing the only way he knew how to get away from them. I can’t imagine he did so without thinking of how the world would respond, or, more importantly, how his daughter would react. But whether or not it was selfish, it was not one that came easily. It was not one that came quickly. And it was definitely not one that came because of being able to think clearly. It was one that came because of a man who was very sick and was unable to find the help he needed in this life.
Depression is a serious matter. It does not go away, and it will not be quiet. But there are those out there who are willing and able to make it better. I just hope that Robin’s death inspires people to seek out those helping people, instead of choosing the same path as my favorite clown.
And when you are at your lowest, if you do find yourself contemplating this terrible path…please take the time to talk to someone first. You may find that’s all you need to get off that metaphorical (or…you know, possibly not metaphorical) ledge. And if you feel as though you don’t have anyone to talk to, there is always the suicide hotline. You may not ever become free from depression, but I can speak from personal experience that just talking to someone about it, letting them know how you feel, can sometimes be the best way to get just a little crack in that cloud, just long enough to get yourself through to the next day.
Have fun out there