Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Williams and the sadness within us

Robin Williams can't be dead, can he?

I just saw him last night, in a promo for his TV show with Sarah Michelle Gellar, The Crazy Ones. It was during a replay of one of the NFL preseason games, in the form of those cross-armed in-screen promos that Family Guy so savagely skewered in an episode. At the end of this promo, something weird happened: it shifted to a larger mug of Sarah, then to Robin, and then Robin sort of flickered out (all in about a half-second timespan). It seemed to me like a technical glitch.

The show was recently canceled, as I've since found out, making the promo even more out of place. Huh.

It's often said that only the good die young. Well, sometimes they're 63 and still far too young. R.I.P., Robin Williams. You will always be one of the greats. Many of your films are on my shelf, even some of the lesser-beloved ones. They're still great because you're in them. And by all accounts, you were a loving and inspirational man as well as a rich, famous, hilarious and talented one. 

Just goes to show that depression doesn't discriminate. Some people likely don't understand what compelled the star, like others before him, to end it (which still isn't 100 percent certain, but police are investigating it that way). "He had everything! Why would he do that?"

I've never been diagnosed with clinical depression, but I've felt a few times in my life that there's no hope. This was usually because of difficult times in my life, but it's occasionally sprung up during some happy times. But my gloomy periods, I would guess, are but a fraction of what truly depressed people experience. Mine are mostly environmental, and are quickly dashed by exercise, reading or by the thought that someone cares.

Still, I think I can offer a (limited) hypothesis as to why someone like Robin would do something like that.

Three years ago, I wrote about what I call my surgery analogy:

(The surgery analogy is) the idea that nothing is too repulsive when the alternative is worse. ... At 21, I found myself facing back surgery due to a severely blown spinal disc. The idea of full-on invasive surgery, with anesthesia and an overnight hospital stay (not to mention the resultant bill) abhorred me. That is, until the pain from my back and leg reached a level so intense that I couldn’t move or even stand up straight without excruciating agony. ...

Up to that point, the idea of getting myself cut open seemed like a nauseating notion. ... Suddenly, the idea of not eating or drinking after midnight, putting on a hospital gown, taking a combination of Valium and morphine prior to full-on anesthesia, then conking out to have someone cut into my lower back didn’t sound so bad. In fact, it seemed like the most logical thing to do. Something to look forward to, even. Would I have objected before? Yes. Would I want to do it again once the pain was gone? Of course not. But at the time? Hell yes!

I was talking about poverty then, but I think it applies to intense depression as well, as least as far as mindset.

When you're in so much pain that dying seems like the best option, you're in a pretty dark place. Probably one where you're not thinking of the loved ones in your life, or accomplishments, or accolades, or fortune. It might be only for a few moments, but in that fleeting span, that pain is the realest feeling in the universe. Sometimes people regain their bearings and sometimes they don't give themselves the chance.

If you can't identify with this wave of emotion, consider yourself lucky. If you can but still find a way to go on, consider yourself strong. 

If you suffer from severe depression, please get help any way that you can. You owe it to yourself. You're worthy of being alive. As Robin Williams himself said, it's not your fault.

He showed that it can happen to anyone, a sentiment already known among those who know and love, or are, someone with depression. I've seen some genuine dialogue and sharing of help resources in the wake of today's tragic news. Lives will be saved. Yet another reason to thank a legend who has left us in the saddest way, but who will never truly be gone.

1 comment:

Robin said...

Ian,

Thank you for writing such a heartfelt post in the wake of Robin Williams death.

People with depression become masters of hiding their pain. I've always tried to be open about my own depression, in spite of potential misunderstanding from others. But the only times I'm actually able to share my story are when I'm not actually down deep in that black hole. When you are in the throes of depression, it is hard to share anything and can be very hard to reach out for help.

Mental illness (and particularly depression) can be more hidden than cancer, and has so much more stigma attached. By talking about it, as you have, we can continue the work to demystify and destigmatize (not a word?) this disease.

Robin