Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Thoughts on Robin Williams and Depression

I, like millions of others, was unprepared for how profoundly Robin Williams' suicide affected me. Let's face it - I didn't know the man, nor did most of us. Yet we yearn to understand why he did it. He was talented, he was wealthy, he was famous, he was a fountain of mirth - and yet he couldn't bear to stay on the planet another day.

For myself, Williams' death reminds me of the delicate knife's edge I walk when dealing with my own anxiety and depression.

I have experienced times when I felt like I couldn't bear another day of intense internal suffering. Most often, I survived those days by remembering things I had to look forward to. I found relief by anticipating a holiday or trip, or a planned gathering of friends.

On occasions when I could think of little or nothing to prevision, I focused on simpler future moments: like the golden sunlight coming in early November, or the next cool night I will relax by the firepit and watch the sparks waft toward the stars.

When even those simple anticipations eluded me, I tried to remember that life still holds a few delights and surprises I couldn't yet foresee. On the few dire occasions when I could think of nothing else, I told myself that there were jokes I hadn't yet heard that would coax future guffaws from my belly.

So when melancholy gets the best of me and I'd like nothing better than to avoid another day of pain, I tell myself this: If I were to force my premature exit from this planet, I'd miss something good I have yet to experience - maybe something important I was meant to experience?

I'm grateful that even in my moments of deepest anguish, I have had the capacity to remind myself that of the many good reasons I have to stick around. It's frightening to consider what might happen if I were so consumed by darkness that I could no longer imagine those future highlights worth living for.

I have a Tarot deck that depicts The Devil card not as a goat-headed beelzebub, but as a man and woman trapped in a dark hallway, held back by chains and material possessions. At the far end of the hallway, a portal opens to a bucolic landscape, but the man and woman can't reach it. That's what I think Hell is: the feeling of being so disconnected from the splendors of life that we completely lose sight of them.

Maybe we were so fond of Robin Williams because he gifted us with so many of the belly laughs that helped us survive our own trying times? So now, we can't help but ask ourselves, "How could someone whose powerful genius brightened so many lives be incapable of brightening his own life when he needed to? How did someone like Williams end up so far down that dark hallway that he no longer believed there was light at the other end?

Again, none of us really knew Williams, so we'll never know the answer.

Rather than try to make sense of Williams' death, I think we can best honor Williams' memory by asking ourselves a more pertinent question: "How can we avoid ending up in that same terrible place, where darkness becomes so pervasive that we no longer believe in the existence of light?"


  1. I too have pondered leaving this planet in the past. It never goes further than a thought in my mind, but the desire for release comes to mind from time to time. Then I think of the people in my life that would be so hurt by this and what a waste of such a gift that is life. Not to mention that the "unknown" could even be more misrable. As my dad use to say, "If this is Hell, then give me more!".

  2. I believe that Williams ended his life due to growing Parkinson's disease. I watched an uncle die of that disease and it was a truly horrible 15 years. Most of that time he was too far gone to be able to choose to end it, so for those who don't wish that existence for themselves and those around them, the trick is to end it while you still can. Unfortunately, that also means ending it while there are still some things that you might otherwise enjoy. It's a terrible choice, but I think it's the one that he made. I'm impressed that he had the strength to do it and I wish that he didn't have to do it alone. I don't think it was depression that did him in, though I don't doubt that he suffered from it. Having to make a choice like that is almost guaranteed to make one depressed regardless of the decision.

  3. I personally know a few people who have Parkinsons. One was an amazing musician in the SF Bay Area. He chose to end his life because he couldn't play music any longer. The other is an equally amazing dancer. He can't dance anymore, but he sees this as another stage of his life and approaches it with amazing acceptance. He realizes there is more to know and learn, and that the void created by his inability to dance may open up other possibilities.


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