Early reports seem to indicate that Mr. Williams took his life after battling severe depression. If you’ve ever watched him, he was an explosion of comic energy. He was always on. Watching him in interviews was exhausting, but thrilling, because he was funny and summoned energy to make improvisational connections that left you a little breathless. But he wasn’t just a comic, he was a very accomplished actor. Nominated for three Academy Awards, he won one for his work in Good Will Hunting.
But forget the actor angle; he was a human being. Never met the guy and I’m not starstruck by him, but his apparent suicide disturbs me. There was a darker side, apparently, to his talent. He battled with drug and alcohol addiction for years and fought off relapse. What is it about actors and comics regarding the “source” of their material? As with some, Mr. Williams seemed to have vast reservoirs of pain that fueled his genius and tormented him.
Over three weeks ago, Williams posted a photo of himself with a monkey perched on his shoulder. In light of yesterday’s revelations about his suicide, the photo is absolutely chilling.
Now the monkey is just a monkey. I get that. But why does this photo seem so symbolic to me? Robin Williams wistfully smiles into a horizon while a creature with a mischievous grin sits near his ear. You think I’m reading into things a bit, perhaps? Check out this link to a list of comics that illustrate a person’s harrowing ordeal with Depression. The monkey friend takes on a sinister feel in light of what Mr. Williams suffered. Is the monkey pic symbolic of what Robin Williams lived with every day? Is Depression like that monkey — sitting on a person’s shoulder whispering lies and summoning thoughts of failure and regret to harass a tortured soul? Do Depression and Suicide smile as they pursue their victims?
I think yes.
The reason this story captures my attention is that there are untold numbers of people who are shuffling through life right now battling Depression and Suicide every single day. No one will know their names or even that they suffer. They work with us. They are our neighbors, lovers, and friends. Some of us are the ones who fight it every day.
Troubles of mind and torments of soul are tough to comprehend and truly understand. The mind is a world of mist and fog where Depression and Suicide hunt their victims. We are much more sympathetic to the person diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, or other physical malady, though. Why? We can see the issue. Obviously, colostomy bags, breathing machines, blood transfusions, and the like are stark pictures of something wrong with a person. We can trace the suffering to a source, or what we would be comfortable with as a source. There is pain and its origins are something physically wrong with the body.
The mind or soul? Not so. Arguably, the maladies that trouble the mind may far exceed the broken conditions of the physical body, but for someone who doesn’t suffer in that way, true understanding and sympathy is difficult. When someone we love can’t shake thoughts of loneliness and isolation, many of us see our friend’s expression of despair as an attack instead of expression of mental injury. Those of us who see our friend as a “complainer” or someone “who needs to grow up and get over it” are missing something. Why do humans do what they do and say what they say? The ambiguity of intention, thought, and expression prompts us to pause before opening our heart to those who are suffering all around us. We choose to wait it out.
“Is she serious or is she trying to hurt me?”
“Why can’t he just move past it?”
Robin Williams and his ordeal expose the murderous pair of Depression and Suicide. For the rest of us, the duo operate in secret and with the help of the ignorant. How many times have I given my lips over to be used by Depression, Suicide, Despair, and the Rest of the Murderous Lot to do their bidding? How many times have I “encouraged” my friend only to have Depression advance on his mind by filling him with thoughts that no one understands him? I shudder to think of the times I have led my friend to feel that something is irreparably wrong with him.
“Snap out of it.”
“How long are you going to keep this up?”
I’m not trying to insinuate that Mr. Williams’s family could have done something differently or compound their grief (as if they would read this anyway). What I’m getting at is a general dismissive attitude that myself and many others have toward people fighting depression. Instead of just having a listening ear, many times I try to fix other people’s problems. Maybe there’s a better way.