RIP Robin Williams: Depression isn’t Funny

The news of Robin Williams’ suicide today hit me like a brick. I didn’t know him personally and I certainly haven’t seen all of his films. But something always transfixed me about his spirit. His brilliant improv comedy. His ability to entertain and make others laugh while inside were these dark shadows hidden only by his light.

Also, as a resident of San Francisco, I often would imagine his comedic inspirations walking down the hilly streets. Once, my boyfriend informed me that Robin Williams was on his flight back to SFO. I wished I had been on that plane. Not that I would have said anything to him, but I just wanted the opportunity to meet him in person. I think a lot of people felt that way about Mr. Williams. And now we’re all in mourning on news of his passing.

At 63, the successful entertainer Williams choose to end his life. I imagine at 63 it’s quite hard to look back on your life and see only old age ahead of you – the entertainment industry is not so kind to aging and many prefer to go out while they can be known only for their relative youth. Yet it is likely the sharp, lurid tentacles of sadness that finally sucked him down into the depths of his own despair.  I haven’t the foggiest idea what he was thinking at the time, but I do understand depression. I’m finally at the point in my life where I’m willing to admit depression isn’t just some silly “woe is me” predicament but instead is something much deeper that claws at you day in and day out.

While I remain somewhat optimistic about my job prospects, it is my depression that has me, in every other sentence of internal monologue, contemplating ending my life. It’s not that I’m serious about that at the moment, but it’s just a thought, a dark, irrational thought that clouds my mind on a clear summer’s day to the point where it suddenly seems rational. I look at myself – my inability to maintain a job – my inability to focus and get work done – my privileged mindset where I want so badly to do something meaningful and different in this world yet the reality that I can’t even succeed in any basic sort of position while my lack of social skills and organization has made it impossible to obtain roles overflowing with meaning, I just feel absolutely overwhelmed, overwhelmed to the point where my mind naturally toys with the idea of death. It’s never the option I choose, but it always lurks as an option. The worst case option when there is no other option.

They say suicide is a long-term fix to a short-term problem, but the people who say this do not understand what it’s like to live with such a cloudy mind year after year. At 20, I thought my 30 surely I’d be happy, stable, sane. But time only makes such matters worse as at least in one’s youth there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. As you age you find that the tunnel is in fact the only destination you’ll ever see and that light funneling into your adolescence was just a mirage, the folly of innocence and dreams. Life isn’t great or terrible. It just is. It’s terrible if you have no food and are being hunted down to be tortured and murdered and it’s great if you’re drinking fine wine watching the sunset with someone you love and no work to return to the next day — but ultimately most life is somewhere squarely between the two extremes and it’s just this crazy obstacle course where meaning is only found in pausing and appreciating all the things that seem quite mundane while not letting the little things that irk you irk you at the same time.

I wonder what was going through Williams’ head at the time of his death. Was he feeling alone? Was he bipolar and experiencing a terrible depression? Why could no one reach out to help? Surely they had. If you are ready to die and depressed you will find a way. I hope I never get to that state. I’m not there now at all, but I’ve felt myself slipping into the dark clouds in the past. Perhaps after another 30 years of living inside my own mind I too would be ready to give up.

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One comment

  1. GB says:

    Your 4th paragraph really stood out to me. As someone who’s struggled with depression, anxiety, and inattention, I know how difficult each day is to just function and “try” to be normal. Even if it’s just suicidal ideation, it’s a battle that’s never over and, while there are good days here and there, that ideation is always ready to peak out its head as soon as life takes a wrong turn.

    As individuals that struggle with this, we’re often at risk of having more depressive episodes and having depression become more severe. It doesn’t get easier, but we can get better at dealing with these issues.

    I know you’re dealing with a lot right now, but don’t view this as a set back. This is just life changing you to a better course.

    Stay strong.

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