Robin Williams had one of those rare celebrity personalities that made you, the audience, feel as if you actually knew him, that you were acquainted with him on some personal level. Of course, most of us were not, but that doesn’t mean our lives were not affected in some meaningful way by his presence. Watching Williams’ films, even the darker and dramatic ones, always made me happy. I don’t know what aspect of his persona I most connected to – the tone of his voice, the way his eyes would squint and seem to dance when he smiled – but I’ve always found strange comfort in this man’s being. I imagine I’m not alone.
So, how is it that a human, who had such a natural gift at making others happy, could not seem to find contentment in his own life? We’ll probably never identify a satisfying answer to this question, but those of us who have known depression can certainly relate to the experience. For all I’ve written about the past two years, I’ve avoided a head-on conversation about depression. Like others, I am still somewhat intimidated by the stigma it carries (which explains why I was really no good about getting help myself during the time I needed it). But I’m hoping that the collective grief over this recent loss will help open the discussion.
For me, depression was liken to slowly going blind. It took months of losing my sight before I even realized it was gone, but indeed the light had been dimming for some time. At my saddest point, probably six months after TC’s injury, I stared into the future and I saw…. nothing. It was a very narrow tunnel I was looking through. Logically, I knew I had a lot to be thankful for – a healthy son, a huge support system – but all of this was out of sight, hidden in the periphery. At the moment it seemed there was no chance of things improving, I was becoming emotionally numb and there was not a shred of hope to which I could attach myself.
Instead, I attached myself to my son. I anchored my sad self to the promise of his future and I let that momentum carry me until I was ready to carry myself again. But I’ll be honest: it took a lot of willpower. Depression was a very natural state to land in given all the circumstances in my life at that time. I should have asked for more help. I should have been more honest with myself. But I think I was waiting – waiting to be rescued by someone who could see past my brave face and take charge of the situation.
That person never came.
The late, great (and also very funny) Nora Ephron said, “Above all, be the heroine of your life.” And I think in some cases it really is possible to save yourself, but it’s not easy. We must find things to tether ourselves to in this life – whether it’s our children, our parents, our spouses, or hell, even our pets. And we must let the love we feel for these beings scream louder than our personal misery. There’s no quick fix for depression, but you can ride it out. And when you do, you arrive at the realization that there is no permanent state of anything in life. Excitement and joy can fade, but so can sadness. Everything is temporary, especially the worst and most despairing moments.
We have a responsibility on this planet to look after each other and maybe Robin Williams’ death will inspire us to do a little better in this area. Being nosy and a little interfering can be heroic actions when we suspect a loved one is depressed. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that asking for help is a tremendous act of courage. And until we, as prideful humans, can find more comfort in doing so, let us step forward and offer that help to one another without being asked.