When I learned of Robin Williams’s death a week ago, I was more affected by it than I expected to be. I love his movies – among my favorite are Mrs. Doubtfire, Old Dogs and of course, Dead Poets’ Society. But I didn’t know him personally. It’s odd, but knowing that he was gone, knowing that this wasn’t just some internet hoax weighed heavily on my mind.
The news report came in shortly before I left for work. While at work, I heard one of my fellow employees say of it, “And he had everything, too…”
“Having everything” is an interesting, and wholly inaccurate way to put it. Because if you don’t have happiness, you really don’t have anything at all. Williams’s death, as you’ve probably already observed, has brought about good conversation concerning how to reach out to individuals suffering from depression BEFORE they do something detrimental to themselves or others.
It haunts me that someone who brought so much laughter into this world left it so unhappily. And it also haunts me that Williams had kept much of his unhappiness from the public eye, as it would likely distract from the happy-go-lucky image of the comedian.
Before I go on…*DISCLAIMER* In no way am I trying to compare my experiences with those of Mr. Williams, because they are very different. Moving on. I hesitate to say it now, but I’ve been depressed before. I’m doing alright now like most average folk are, but I know I probably will be again at some point in the future. Probably most of us will be depressed at one time or another. Anyone who’s been in this place knows how much of a taboo it can be when you try – as all the PSAs advise – to talk about it with someone.
People are so quick to talk about almost anything else, though; the people they hate, their sexual endeavors, work-related stresses and whatever political issue irks them the most, but when it comes to the “d-word,” it becomes awkward. Suddenly, both parties find themselves walking on eggshells. Because who wants to be stuck with someone who is inexplicably sad? God forbid we talk openly and honestly about our feelings.
Depression is more than just an outcome of stress, mere boredom with life, or a few bouts of loneliness. Maybe it’s a result of a chemical imbalance. Maybe it comes during the aftermath of a death of someone close. Maybe it’s connected to a mental illness, or maybe there doesn’t have to be a textbook reason at all. Everyone’s story is different, and I think trying to pinpoint one single, underlying reason won’t make the shadows disappear.
The ones who say “Just be happy!” or “Snap out of it!” as “helpful” responses are the worst. If you ever have said one of these two things, shame on you. Educate yourself. In my own experiences, I’ve been told that “Christians don’t get depressed” or something similar, implying that if I am indeed depressed, I must be more susceptible to the devil’s handiwork. Something like that. Whether or not you believe in God, I’m sure you’ll agree that being told that you’re not spiritually good or strong enough to ward off the depression only adds to the pain.
So sometimes we hide. We hide behind a grin, a pithy one-liner, our work, or a façade that says everything is fine. What kills me is that Williams too hid, behind thousands of jokes and lines that brought smiles to the rest of us. It’s as if depression is something to be ashamed of. I should add that depression does not make anyone weak. I also subscribe to the belief that the toughest battles are reserved for the strongest warriors.
There are of course little things one can do to help alleviate the depression; sometimes they work, and sometimes they only help for a moment. When discussing his various addictions with the media, Williams said, “My battles with addiction definitely shaped how I am now. They really made me deeply appreciate human contact. And the value of friends and family, how precious that is.” This is so important. More than baked good goods, depression pamphlets, and offers to accompany the depressed to therapy sessions, your time and consideration are the most meaningful gifts. If you know someone going through a dark time, don’t be that person who tries to diagnose the problem to a science. There are specialists for that, and unless you are that specialist, your job is providing love and companionship; two things that medical treatment and therapy can’t always compensate for. In short – don’t treat the ones with depression as psychology experiments.
Yet somehow in coming to terms with Williams’s death, I think I got a bit closer to the meaning of life. When depressed, we often question our significance in the cosmic universe. We also question whether or not we think the sun is going to shine again, and if we’ll even care if it does. While watching a local news outlet honor Williams in a 2-minute bit, someone who had had the pleasure of meeting the man remembered something that Williams said to him; that his real job was making people smile, whereas acting was simply his “day job.”
The meaning of life isn’t to be happy, like I’d previously thought. Its meaning doesn’t even have to do with us, but rather what we can contribute to it. For Robin Williams/Genie/Mork/Mrs. Doubtfire/Peter Pan/Dr. Patch Adams/Theodore Roosevelt/etc., he did far more than his fair share of contribution. He provided us laughter, making the world a little bit brighter. I only wish the world had been able to do the same for him.