Robin Williams was a blessing in so many ways. First up, he made us laugh. Laughter truly is the best medicine. It temporary relieves us of whatever struggles or burdens we are facing. This was his gift, clearly a big part of his life’s purpose. But as we come to realize with anyone we put up on a pedestal, they are human beings just as we are, and challenged with their own set of issues behind what we perceived to be a glamorous lifestyle. Second, Robin was open about his struggles. He spoke openly about bouts with alcoholism, drugs and depression, a hazard of his type of career compounded by his depression. It is always so meaningful when those we respect drop the facade and share their own trials. It makes them real, as it did with Mr. Williams. Finally, even with his death by taking his own life, he helped to shed further light in a significant way, on the life-threatening challenges many face with severe depression.
I really admired Robin and his movies, comedy and humility. I was on a roller coaster of emotions upon hearing the details of his death. My loss was best characterized by the Kübler–Ross Grief and Loss model, beginning with shock and denial, then anger, depression, and now working on acceptance (The stages of mourning and grief are universal and are experienced by people from all walks of life. Credit to Elisabeth Kübler–Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying.”). I heard that there was a rash of “negative” posts against Robin, which to me represented the natural stage of anger. How could he take his own life? How could he not think of his wife and family whom he would leave behind? These are some of the questions many ponder and struggle with when someone takes their own life. I know, my brother committed suicide several years ago. Although these reactions could be in part explained by those in the anger stage, I also believe that this was compounded by the lack of understanding many have on the topic of depression, particularly severe depression.
Speaking from the perspective of someone who has dealt with clinical depression, along with being close to others who have/are dealing with serious depression, I have come to understand this form of depression as much more than the emotion of depression that we all experience at times in our life. Herein lies one of the challenges. As with most topics, we only know what we have experienced and form perceptions based on these experiences that tend to cloud our ability to see beyond these perceptions. This is one of the key elements of personal growth and self-discovery, that we begin to open our eyes and mind as we break our old perceptions and search for new meaning. Human nature is to quickly judge others based on our beliefs, often limiting beliefs. Compassion and understanding on the other hand, is the choice to be open to other’s situations or truths in order to consider why they acted in a certain way.
Specific to the discussion on depression, even I will admit that although I struggled with depression, I know there are others, and probably Robin was one of them, that experienced it at levels that I cannot even understand or relate to. I am not an advocate of taking one’s own life, and would wish that anyone considering this would reach out in any way possible to prevent this act. I believe in hope which is the tool I have used to help pull me out of times of great despair. But let’s face it, major depression compounded by other events or situations, can be lethal. Robin Williams had everything to live for; his stardom, fame, wealth, family, etc. But at that moment, the despair must have been overwhelming, and in a way that only those who have reached this abyss can relate to.
So while the topic of depression has come front and center, it is an opportunity for everyone to recognize the significant challenges associated with depression, and the many forms that depression can take. It can stall one’s life or even result in the taking of one’s own life. It is anger turned inwards. And for some it is a medical condition, that they must learn how to live with. What most impressed me about Robin Williams was that despite all of the challenges he faced, he found a way to get up and make other’s laugh. Now that is the mark of a great human being. It is an opportunity for any of us dealing with depression to dig deep and do what Robin did, to be tenacious as long as possible, and then some.
I meet amazingly courageous people every day who wake up and face another day despite their challenges. That I hope is the lesson we can learn from our brother Robin Williams, who found this strength for 63 years!
For those suffering from depression, I am sorry for the struggles you face. It is hard, difficult, scary, frustrating, and so much more. All that I humbly wish to share is to find ways to reach out to others. I found great strength in 12-step groups, support groups, group therapy, etc. It is often a matter of maintaining the focus, one day at a time. All that I can humbly ask, is that you consider people like Robin Williams, who could relate to what you are going through, and remind us that we can muster up the strength to go as long as we can.