Robin Williams and the Two Faces of Depression
Upon hearing the news that comedian Robin Williams lost his battle with depression and took his own life, my first reaction was one of shock. The shock was immediately followed by a moment of panic. I turned to Dawn and said, “If someone like Robin Williams can’t beat depression, what hope do the rest of us have?”
One of the things I struggle with the most, when it comes to depression, is the inability to trust my own mind. I remember what it was like when I was at my lowest. How logic and reason couldn’t overcome the lies my depression was whispering in my ear. And there is a constant fear, always gnawing at the back of my mind, that perhaps what I think is rational is actually the furthest thing from it. Fortunately, I’m getting better at trusting the reason of the people closest to me. Because really, if I can’t fully trust my own, what choice do I have?
Dawn’s reply to my question was simple and true. “Robin Williams also struggled with drug addiction. He was in the spotlight. All of his problems were magnified.”
She’s right, of course. But that also got me thinking. Was Williams’ drug addiction because of his depression? I know that for me, depression is like an emotional immune system. When I get to a point where I’m feeling everything too deeply, and it’s starting to take a toll, my depression slams the fire door closed in an attempt to keep the blaze from consuming me. It may be true that ignorance is bliss, but so is numbness. It’s more difficult to be destroyed when you aren’t capable of caring about anything.
Perhaps Williams struggled with addiction because his emotional immune system just couldn’t keep up with the added pressures of fame. I don’t know. What I do know is that some of the funniest people I’ve ever known have also been the most tortured. I suspect this is because the same insight that allows comedians to find the humor in every situation also forces them to see the tragedy in them, and it’s not a gift/curse that can be turned off.
And that might be the scariest thing of all about depression. No matter how well things are going, no matter how successful you are, or how much people love you, depression is always lurking, just waiting for an opportunity to swallow you whole. There is no cure, there is no willing yourself to “just stay positive.” All we can do is recognize the beast for what it is, and do our best to live in harmony with it. Because the alternative is to not live at all, and then the beast wins.
Rest in peace, Mr. Williams.
“I laughed the loudest. Who’d have known?”
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