So the news this week has been dominated with the tragic and sad passing of Robin Williams, apparently at his own hand. I’ve read more stories and heard more reports than I care to about the gripping depression he struggled with and when I first heard about this all I could think – which I think many people may have thought – is how someone so successful, so beloved, so talented could think that his life was not worth living any longer.
Depression is an insidious beast, creeping up on even the best of us at one time or another. But we never show it, or almost never show it, do we? We don’t want to be labeled as crazy or out of touch or nutty. We put on a happy face and go out into the world and nurse our pain and our aching hearts and our tired souls behind the facade of a smile, in the privacy of our homes.
We sit in our cars, waiting for the light to change and sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by what is going on. The smallest thing might bring on tears. Sleep eludes some of us while others are fatigued beyond reason. We get up. We soldier on. And then we go home after putting on that happy face all day long and perhaps we sigh in relief that we can, for just a few hours, stop pretending that we’re ok. Because we’re not. But no one knows that, except for us.
The death of Robin Williams has started a long overdue discussion on the topic of depression, of mental and emotional illness. People are using social media to encourage each other to reach out to others, to stop trying to shoulder their burden on their own. To say that there is no shame in admitting that you suffer with depression. Depression is not a four-letter word, despite what some people may think and despite how insurance companies treat people who suffer from it, who suffer from anxiety and emotional distress.
Insurance companies pay far less – and some pay nothing at all – for someone who needs help coping with an emotional illness or depression or anxiety. Because insurance companies are either too stupid or don’t care enough to realize that depression just doesn’t affect you emotionally, it affects you physically too so not helping you get assistance to deal with emotional issues means they’ll be paying more later when you suffer the physical consequences. And maybe if insurance companies treated emotional and mental illness the same way they do physical illnesses, we’d have fewer people turning to alcohol or pot or drugs or cigarettes or gambling or any other addictive behavior you can think of that helps them forget their problems for a little while, or enables them to put an emotional band-aid on their aching heart or tired brain.
I’ve talked before about a story my friend, Dolores, shared with me, a story she’d heard from her priest. He gave a sermon where he said our world is populated with too many people like Eleanor Rigby and how sad that was and how we all needed to reach out to people like that. (And if you’re of an age where you don’t know who Eleanor Rigby is, feel free to Google it and come back later and finish reading this). And that’s what has been resonating with me all this week as I thought about Robin Williams.
A man whose public persona was always on. Glib, funny, sharp, whip smart with a brain that never stopped. A man whose public face hid the agony his personal life had brought him. A man who didn’t – or couldn’t – reach out for help or let others in. A man who – despite having legions of fans, success beyond all measure, a loving wife, 3 children whom he adored and I’m sure adored him – decided he could not go on any longer because his inner demons were more than he could handle. All the lonely people. Where do they all come from? All the lonely people. Where do they all belong?
I am a lucky person, very lucky indeed. When I have been sad or struggling, I had people I could talk to, people who would listen without judging, who offered good advice and suggestions, who knew that there’s very little difference between a pat on the back and a kick in the ass but also know which one I needed at any given time. People who haven’t given up on me during times when I wanted to give up on myself. Powerful and strong women (and a powerful and strong great kid) who are such blessings. And don’t for one minute think I don’t know it and that I don’t say my prayers every day thanking God for allowing them to be in my life.
So maybe through this tragedy we can all learn something. We can be that voice of reason for someone. We can be the shoulder to cry on. We can be the person who makes someone laugh through their tears. We can assure them that yes, it will get better because nothing lasts forever, neither the good nor the bad, and the reason we can assure them of that is because we’ve walked that same path they’re now on. We can be present in their lives. We can let them know they’re valuable and that they matter and that the world is a better place because they’re in it.
And maybe that will be the legacy of Robin Williams. That his untimely death will remind us all that we’re not alone, that there is help, that we’re not meant to go through this life on our own. That asking for help does not make us weak. Quite the contrary; it shows how strong we are.
Thank you, Robin Williams, and Godspeed.