Depression is all-consuming. It’s so much more than just sadness, so much more even than despair. The best way I can describe it is like this: you wake up in the morning an empty shell, a home without an occupant. You are blank and, in your mind’s eye, you just know without a shadow of a doubt that you mean very, very little. You feel like a displaced spirit, unable to attach to anything or anyone. It’s as though you don’t have any presence, any effect on the world around you or your own life. It’s like being a supporting character in your own life because you feel as though you’re watching the great workings of a dramatist who keeps rewriting the stage directions.
You just feel like you aren’t really there, that you are just a white space that other people occasionally interact with and that occasionally must turn in homework assignments or fill out paperwork.
However, the most interesting and least often mentioned part of depression and its effect on you is this: the people around you, in contrast, are bright and shining beings. In the deepest moments of my own depression, it was like being surrounded by angels. No matter their faults, no matter their shortcomings and personal feelings toward me, other people were just so, so much better than me. They were so much more worthy of life and joy and happiness. Equally important, they were worth protecting. I have been told I have a great sense of humor when I’m around my friends. It’s a defining part of my personality and, when I could muster it, that was what kept a lot of friends from asking questions when I was so depressed I could hardly see the point of sticking around.
And that is exactly how someone like Robin Williams could be dead today as a result of what looks like suicide.
Since the news broke, I’ve heard a lot of folks asking the same question: how could someone so funny, so successful do something like that? What do they have to be sad about?
Depression is a disease that caters to people like Robin Williams. It’s a disease that can easily slot into a sense of humor. Because the prerogative of many of us depressed individuals is to make sure that no one else has to suffer like we do, that no one has to know sadness. When you’ve seen the depth of sadness that depression can produce, that a human mind can muster when it’s not feeling well, you don’t wish it on anyone else. That’s why someone like Robin Williams might have killed himself.
And it raises an important point. If you’re depressed, don’t hide it. I know that there’s a massive stigma surrounding mental illness in American society in particular. I’m angry about it. I have always been angry about it and I have hid my own mental state because of it. We fear our employers discovering that we have been or are depressed and lashing out. We fear our friends and family shunning us. We fear retribution and labels. Those are legitimate fears and it’s time that they are destroyed, crushed beneath angry feet.
If you’re suffering, talk about it with a trusted friend or family member. Tell a complete stranger by calling any of these hotlines. Check out IMAlive chat if you don’t like talking on the phone. Walk into a hospital and let them help you if you’re thinking of suicide. They will help, I promise. Avoid toxic people. Avoid stress as much as possible. Do what makes you happy. Do what makes your heart sing. Remember that, while this world often frankly sucks, it can be beautiful too.
Celebrity deaths usually don’t affect me much, as callous as that sounds. I don’t know these people, regardless of how many of their films I’ve seen. However, this one hurts me and seems to be hurting a lot of people my age deeper than other celebrity deaths.
We grew up fearing drums because of Jumanji. We grew up singing the songs from Aladdin and craving a genie buddy of our own. We grew up laughing at Mrs. Doubtfire and trying to make Flubber. Robin Williams had a huge impact on my generation.
I watched all these movies as a kid and watched Good Morning Vietnam and Awakenings as a teenager. There has always been something deeply, deeply comforting about watching Robin Williams act. It was like being welcomed home by a very old friend.
And so, that’s all I can think to say right now. Goodbye, old friend. Goodbye Mrs. Doubtfire. Goodbye Peter Pan. Goodbye Genie. Goodbye Alan Parrish. Goodbye Popeye. Most importantly, goodbye Robin.
Thank you for everything.