When the Laughter Stops.

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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.

55 Responses to “When the Laughter Stops.”

  1. Lindsey says:

    Gray – I am so sorry for your loss. My father took his own life and my grandparents were still living. It was a tragedy for all of us. Before that time (I was a naive teenager), I thought suicide was left for those that laid in bed all day without people around them that loved and cared for them. People without dreams or goals. Just deadbeats. Come to find out, that’s not the case. My father was the life of the party, Top o’the day, gentle, generous and incredibly loving and supportive. He suffered from depression. Depression is a terrible disease. And I hope that Leigh and others that have never experienced it or seen it first hand never have to walk that path. Because I can assure you that choosing to take your own life and leave children, parents and spouses behind to recover is not on anyone’s to-do list. And no amount of jogging, blog surfing or gallons of coffee can fix it. Erin, beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Liz says:

    For an article written with such compassion, I’m surprised to see how mean-spirited the comments are. None of you know what this woman who has offended you so is dealing with in her own life. She may not have experienced the depths of mental illness, but she has struggles the same as all of us. I can also guarantee you that trashing her name on a style blog isn’t going to help her plight, or yours. Perhaps the point should be to educate in a way that is not judgmental or harmful. I’m sure the last thing any of us need, depressed or not, is to be publicly shamed for simply not knowing any better. I feel worse that she’s now been ostracized from something that used to bring her joy. You should all think twice about casting stones, particularly at a struggling single mother with addiction in her family.

  3. Andrea says:

    Liz, I don’t feel that anyone here was casting stones as you say, rather asking someone who feels she has the (very uneducated) answers to a terrible disease from which she has apparently never suffered, to not make such statements before knowing more.

  4. Kristin says:

    You’re right–this was different. Robin Williams brought joy, laughter, and light-heartedness to so many. And I think this rare ability was why so many felt such a profound connection to him, as well as a profound loss at his passing. Thank you for covering this tragic news delicately and compassionately. I hope that he has found peace and contentment, and that his family and loved ones will also find it as time goes on. He was an unforgettable gift to the world.

  5. Maria says:

    Dear Erin,

    This was a thoughtful reflection on both the impact of Robin William’s life on us and the reality of depression. I am so thankful to you for sharing this entry with us. I couldn’t have said it better. – Maria