I, like most of you, was completely shocked not only by the news that Robin Williams had not only died, but that he did so by his own hand. I’ve never cried over a celebrity passing before, but for some reason this was different. I grew up on his movies, from Hook to Dead Poet’s, Mrs. Doubtfire to Good Will Hunting. And there was something paternal in his persona that seemed warm, caring and loving. Yesterday morning I was reading tributes and watching clips and couldn’t stop crying. It’s unbelievably sad for his family, his children in particular, and sadder yet that someone so loved by so many felt that depressed. That alone. That hopeless.
If anything can be taken away from this loss it’s that mental illness is real, unrelenting and incredibly hard to manage. Even those with access to the best care struggle to find ways to cope and those with the biggest, happiest, most perfect personalities may be dealing with demons inside. I know nothing about Robin Williams’ personal life, but I know he had success, kids who loved him and an adoring public. He could see the best doctors and seek help at rehabilitation centers. But even with all that he could not find the light, the reason to wake up and keep fighting. Perhaps the medications that helped him also dampened the manic persona that made him so famous. Maybe he was trying to find the right dose, the right pill, the right therapist, the right confidante. I don’t know, but what I do know, as someone who has struggled with depression, is that the scariest feeling in the world is hopelessness. For some, a brief moment of it- akin to touching a hot stove- is enough to cause them to pull back and get help. For others, they can’t pull themselves away from that darkness and stay in pain and dispair on a daily basis. It’s horrible to think that Robin Williams felt this way, it makes my heart hurt. And it makes me mad to hear people calling his decision to die selfish and cowardly. He was ill, and we should not blame those who struggle with with mental illness for their affliction, just as we would never blame someone for getting cancer. He did not make this choice with sound mind and body, he made it in desperation. To free himself of his pain and those he loved of the burden of watching him suffer.
If anyone reading this is, or ever has, felt any form of depression know that you are not alone. Not even close. There are people who can help all around you. Ask for help, call a hotline, see your doctor. There is no shame in seeking treatment for mental distress and illness. I only hope that from all this sadness comes some awareness regarding this difficult, brutal, hard to understand disease.
Rest in peace, Robin.