Like most people (from what I can tell), finding out about the death of Robin Williams was incredibly jarring. My entire newsfeed was full of people who were stunned, shocked, sad. I don't want to say that some deaths are more significant than others… but some are, perhaps, more significantly felt. Death happens every day – nobody lives forever, we all know that. Celebrity death seems to be different, and it's interesting to observe the reaction that follows, because it’s shocking that someone we collectively "knew" is gone. We felt like we knew them, even if we only knew their work. Usually it’s a quick memorial tweet, or a "did you hear?" and a few moments of reflection, before moving on with our lives. But when it's such a larger-than-life cultural icon, someone who defined a genre for multiple generations… it was a hard-hitting punch to the gut.
This was different. This was heavier. The world felt heavier. I have not seen so many people so impacted by a single loss in quite some time. It's a hallmark to what a profound role Robin Williams had in each of our lives; few of us knew him personally, but he inspired us, he entertained us, he made us laugh. He paved the way for other comedians, other actors, other talents. The man was a true genius, on so many levels.
I mentioned this on facebook yesterday when sharing this link (Patton Oswalt had made the reference on Twitter), but here's the full context. It's from Watchmen, but when you apply it here, it's unfortunately ironic and very haunting:
“Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, ‘Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.’ Man bursts into tears. Says ‘But Doctor... I AM Pagliacci.’"
I think the fact that it was an apparent suicide makes it even more heartbreaking. Depression is an ugly creature. It's one of the few diseases that we tend to dismiss or blame the person suffering for (can you imagine telling someone with cancer or diabetes to "just snap out of it" or that "it's all in their head"? I think not.) This is unhelpful, and this is why people hide it, stuff it away, until its often too late. Depression is a harsh reality for me. Nowadays, it doesn't come around as often as it used to, but when it does hit, it hits hard. There's really not much to do other than hang on for dear life until the light breaks through again. My heart hurts for Robin Williams, not simply because he was famous or talented, but because he wasn't able to find his way out of the darkness. He broke under the weight of living, when it became too much to bear.
It seems like we only talk about depression and mental health after a news-making tragedy. So, okay. Let's talk about it. Let's have a productive discussion on a widespread level. Let's try to understand it. Let's reach out to people that are suffering prevent things like this from happening. Even though it seems like this big intangible thing, it's not. People you know, perhaps people you are sitting in a room with right now, are suffering from this, most likely in silence. It affects more people than you can possibly imagine. What can we do? I don't know. But acknowledging it for what it is and working to erase the stigma so people aren't afraid to reach out for help... that seems like a good start.
Hugs to all of you.
Hugs to all of you.