Like many people, I am deeply saddened by the death of Robin Williams. In retrospect, his unimaginable act of courage that led to his death says more about our culture of blindness than it does anything else. We prefer to remember “the funny man” who gave so much to others than the human being suffering from depression and addiction. We will talk about it for awhile at parties but nothing will change in the end – people who are hiding in places of extreme darkness will continue to end their lives and we will say later what a shame it is.
You see, Robin Williams’ death has struck a personal chord with me. I, too, suffer from major depressive disorder and addiction. I will take antidepressants the rest of my life but there is no guarantee I won’t experience lapses into frightening voids where nobody can reach me. Mental illness does trick our minds into believing ridiculous lies about ourselves and reality. I watched my own Dad suffer and struggle with depression and addiction my whole life. He was so brave to have weathered what must have felt like insurmountable pain and conflict to protect his wife and 7 children. Of course, there were happy times. Like Robin Williams, my Dad was extremely intelligent and most often the funniest person in the room when he chose to socialize, which was not often.
Like Robin Williams, people sought my reclusive Dad out – they were uplifted by his company when, all the while, he believed himself to be a weak and unworthy person. It was the trap of depression and addiction. He did not talk about it, we just knew, as kids, when Dad was not feeling well. We hugged him and he hugged us back even harder. But it was only a temporary fix for his pain. Ultimately, he felt alone.
My Dad was the first person to admit he had made a mistake. Among other traits, this was one of his most endearing. He was humble and honest and kind even though, most of the time, he just plain wanted out – out of pain, out of suffering, out of this life. He visited me once when I was single and dating a hot-shot young lawyer and I was embarrassed during a conversation in which my “super lawyer” boyfriend corrected my use of language at the breakfast table in front of my Dad, the DICTIONARY NAZI!!!! I was shocked when my Dad took “super lawyer’s” side but, as expected, the minute he got back home Dad pulled out his dictionary to see if he had been correct – and discovered he was wrong. I received a beautiful note of apology from the MAN WITH THE DICTIONARY himself. And he even took a moment away from his own pain to comment on the pain of a colleague whose daughter was dying from cancer – wishing her well.
Instead of burying his greatness, somehow the struggle with depression and addiction made my Dad even more brilliant and beautiful to me. He felt broken, for sure, but that is what we all saw and loved and admired about him. On the morning he passed away, our Mother had a look of absolute serenity and relief on her face. She said, “I’m glad – your Dad is free and happy for the first time in his life.” And so is Robin Williams.
I don’t know why some of us are dealt the shitty hand of depression and addiction in this life. But I do know we are all capable of comforting one another and touching each other’s wounded souls even from the unreachable depths of darkness. I am proud of my Dad and Robin Williams and everyone else who admits, in this culture of shame, silence and blindness, that things are NOT okay with us most of the time. Maybe, little by little, the world will come to recognize that people who have been marginalized by the pain of depression and addiction aren’t weak or pitiful at all – but really “special angels” sent to us so we can practice compassion and empathy. That’s how I choose to view it, anyway.