Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Good-Bye, Mr. Williams: Gone but Never Forgotten...

Like millions of others, I was shocked to awaken yesterday morning to the news that Robin Williams had succumbed to an illness that so many of us struggle with daily. Why shocked?? I'm not sure..... Maybe because he just seemed so jolly, happy, gregarious, carefree, comfortable, confident, secure, financially stable, loved and admired by millions, in control of his illness because he was so damn successful. I realize now, it was a mask some of the time, I can fake a smile or laugh on my worst days too. Maybe, even though I suffer from depression as well, the stigma of the illness still lingers within and even I find it difficult to believe he's no longer with us.... when he had so much to live for. Ironically, on the evening he decided the pain was too much to bear, I watched him in the movie, "The Grumpiest Man in Brooklyn". Not one of his finer films, but ironically his character attempts to commit suicide because he is dying. It never occurred to me how much art was imitating life that evening.

Robin Williams has been on my blog page since I began writing it over two years ago. I chose his image for the exact reasons I'm now shocked that he's gone, because he is all these things while also being open about his struggles with depression and addiction which is also a mental illness. I was also struck by the quote  "I used to think the worse thing was ending up all alone. Now I think the worse thing is ending up with people who make you feel alone." Loneliness and alienation are very familiar to those with depression. I remember when he first confessed to the public his mental health struggles many years ago. I believe he was one of the first of a long line of celebrities to admit their struggles with their mental health. I hadn't been diagnosed as having concurrent illnesses at the time, but I remember being in awe of his courage. Mental illness was far more stigmatized at that time then it is now. Some progress has been made thankfully. In fact, I'm certain many found his admission clear evidence explaining his "wackiness". It wouldn't be the first time a creative genius was revealed to have mental illness. There does seem to be a correlation somehow. 

Another irony, Mork was an alien who was banished from Ork because humour was forbidden. He was sent to Earth to study human emotions and at the end of each episode, Mork would report back to his leader revealing his latest revelations regarding human behaviour. Robin Williams seemed like a wise and gentle man even in those "pretend" reports to his superior.  I wonder what Mork and Robin would have done without humour in their lives.... what would any of us do without it?? Laughter is said to be healing, and sadly even in the throws of his own illness, Robin Williams healed us time and time again. 

I'm angry that he gave up! I'm certain there were other times when he considered ending his pain, but he got through them, we all do, why not this time??!! Why didn't he just ask for help? Why didn't he wait till someone came home?? If he, with all his wealth, success, and admirers cannot find a reason to stay alive, what hope is there for those of us who don't have a fraction of what he had?? What does Joe Blow have to live for if Robin Williams has nothing?? ... This is the nature of depression, he had everything to live for, but his mind told him otherwise. I'm not truly angry, but I know it's how many feel who are left behind to grapple with trying to understand that which is not understandable, that which is completely illogical.... except to those like myself who have had a brief glimpse of that moment, but survived. It's a terrifying question to ask, but what hope is there with a disease that seems to possess the minds of its victims rendering them their own worst enemy possibly even their own executioner?? How do I protect myself from myself??  In that moment, when our brains process a decision that is without logic, a decision that defies our very instinct to survive, when the pain of the illness is so severe that nothing is what it seems, and we compulsively seek to end the pain, at that moment there is no hope, unfortunately.

Hope lies in the days, weeks, and years before that moment. In the treatments and care that need to be accessible to everyone. Hope is in educating families on how to recognize and care for those with mental illnesses just as we educate on how to avoid the flu. Hope is found in a society that doesn't look at Robin Williams and others who have been lost to depression as cowards, or as weak. People who suffer from depression are strong and resilient, they have to be. The decision to end their own lives is not their decision, they are not in their right minds, it is the disease that takes the lives of so many just as cancer does. Hope lies in the radical acceptance that if a loved one suffers from depression there is a possibility that that person might one day arrive at the same moment he did. In that radical acceptance of the illness and all the possible outcomes you can say to that loved one "if that moment arrives when you don't see a future, before you do anything, call me." How do I protect myself from myself?? I don't know if I can except by working hard trying to remain healthy. Don't ever let your loved one feel alone in this struggle. No one should ever leave this world without a loved one holding his/her hand. Yes, we have loved ones tragically ripped from our lives abruptly and violently sometimes which in itself can create a mental health issue, but where ever possible, no one should ever leave this world in absolute solitude, and that requires a profound paradigm shift in regards to how we look at death, life, and love.  


I am profoundly saddened that Robin Williams lost his battle with depression, but I also know that part of what made him someone I admired, someone whose quirkiness was extremely entertaining, someone who was able to make me laugh at the not so pretty people and aspects of life, was probably partly to do with his illness. Exedor was the "crazy" character on "Mork and Mindy" and studio audiences would explode with applause and laughter as soon as his made his entrance in his robes and flourishes. Many of us, myself included, like people who are little wacky when no harm is being done, some of us even admire them for having the courage to be themselves. Personally, because of my depression, I revel in the moments when I don't feel numb or sad. The simplest things give me joy, and I can find humour in almost anything... why not?? Sure as hell beats being depressed!! I believe too I have a lot of compassion for the pain of others, I'm easily moved by an act of kindness or someone else's vulnerability. I'm not saying I'm glad I have depression, I'm just saying that paradox strikes again and perhaps what we loved most about Robin Williams, his authenticity, his humour, his compassion, were the result of the very same thing that took his life. Good and bad exist in everything simultaneously.
Good-bye Mr. Williams. Since my childhood, you've been making me laugh. Thank you for the laughter, for the healing, and thank you for reminding us that there is still much work to be done. I'm grateful your suffering has ended, I'm sorry you couldn't find another way. May you rest in peace, sweet man. 


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