I mention Mork because that’s how I was introduced to Robin Williams. I was 7 when Mork & Mindy came out and was immediately entranced with this character. I loved the way he talked, I loved the way he dressed, I loved the way he sat (on his head, for those unlucky enough to have never seen this show), and there was always a lesson to be learned with his reports to Orson, if you hadn’t already picked up on it from the show. I loved it when he and Mindy finally hooked up (I always thought Pam Dawber was pretty) and when they gave birth to their beloved giant egg, which hatched into Mearth (played magnificently by Jonathan Winters). This was easily one of my favorite shows at the time, and he has gone on to impress me further with his performances in Good Morning, Vietnam!, Good Will Hunting, The Fisher King, his standup specials and just his outlook on life. I often like to think I can find the humor in just about anything, but he was a master. Whether or not you cared for his material, there was an exuberance about him that was hard to dislike. It was obvious to all that he enjoyed what he was doing. So imagine my surprise to find he’d committed suicide.
Let’s jump back to over a year ago. I had been fired from my job of just over 12 years. Due to that job, I didn’t have a lot of savings, but I did have security (so I thought) and the benefits weren’t bad. I was living on money borrowed from my family, a fact of which I am still ashamed. It’s not easy for me to depend on anyone or ask anyone for help. So, having to depend monetarily on my family for everything was too much for me to bear. I had finally reached a point where the sympathy I had for my family’s imminent grief no longer outweighed the crushing burden I felt to them. So….let’s just put it this way: the main difference between me and Robin Williams is that I failed. Now, don’t get me wrong; I am glad I failed. I am ecstatic today that, despite my shitty metabolism, I was able to swallow an entire bottle of sleeping pills and not even fall asleep (although I did have some vivid hallucinations and going to the bathroom was an adventure). I now know that was my depression talking. And, I have experience identifying that behavior in myself. You know those Chantix ads they used to run where they listed one potential side effect to be “suicidal thoughts”? They were right about that in my case. Luckily, I remembered those commercials and stopped taking it. This time, I’ll know to ask for help.
Fast forward to today: I’d just gotten home, logged into Facebook, and the first thing I see is a post about how Robin Williams was found dead at 63 of an apparent suicide. My heart sank. To be honest, I didn’t know Robin suffered from depression for a long time; it never came out in his live performances. But when I read that, my heart sank again. While I don’t pretend to know his personal circumstances, I know exactly how he felt. I know that, despite his loving wife and millions of fans (plus, he’s loaded, right?), he was feeling crushed. It’s likely nothing he could properly articulate, nor would it be easy to identify – if there’s one thing those of us who suffer from depression are good at, it’s masking our feelings to others. In fact, I remember a therapist who was floored when I told her I was a shy person. I tell you, if it wasn’t for the fact that I AM a shy person, I could be a hell of an actor.
Depression..doesn’t..care. A good friend of mine was asked “What do you have to be depressed about?” Now, to the uninformed, it seems like a reasonable question. This person was very happily married, had two kids she loved very much and has no financial woes to speak of. Simply put: she didn’t have to worry about much. But, depression doesn’t work that way. It’s not a “mood” you can get over with some Ben & Jerry’s and a rom-com. Depression doesn’t care how rich or poor you are, how many friends you have or to whom you pray (or don’t): it is going to crush you. Basically, in my laymen’s opinion, depression is a physiological condition which tricks you into believing you are a burden to everyone around you. It tells you that, because you are already a burden, you do not wish to further burden anyone around you by telling them your problems. And it does this by fucking with your brain.
Everything about you is from your brain. When you react to an event, your brain is reacting to the information sent to it from your senses by way of electrical impulses, which then causes increased electrical activity in a certain area of the brain, and/or by releasing certain chemicals, such as dopamine. Well, some people are wired differently, so to speak. For instance, the difference between introversion and extroversion is largely the production of the “feel-good drug” dopamine. Extroverts don’t naturally generate a sufficient amount of this stuff, so they need lots of sensory input, such as wild adventures and social gatherings. This is something you are born with and cannot change. Paraphrasing one of my favorite lines from The Watchmen: “It rains on introverts and extroverts alike.” We just learn different ways of coping with the same things. Depression, however, represents an abnormality in the brain. I use introversion/extroversion as an example of how the brain affects who you are, but those traits are completely natural. Depression affects people of different social standing much the same way as a concussion. It doesn’t matter how popular or rich you are, if you get hit hard enough in the head, you’re going to need to see a doctor.
So, rest in peace, Robin Williams. You have touched my life and the lives of millions. And thanks to the digital age, you will enrich the lives of people for as long as there are people. While I know you can’t hear me, I just want to say, “Thank you.”