Why Robin Williams’ Passing is a Lesson for us all

As a new blogger, one of my biggest hurdles to face is my own personal demons as I write each post. I get to touch upon some aspect of what makes me happy, sad, angry, bitter, content, excited, and all sorts of other human emotions. It is an emotional outlet for me.

Some people turn to family, friends, sports… whatever makes them at ease. Sometimes, these vices are overtly self-destructive and hazardous; drug and alcohol abuse is an overt expression of unhealthy ways to deal with emotion. But, strangely enough, these vices are likely less destructive than what, according to a recent Cracked.com article states is behind the death of Robin Williams, and so many others who seem happy-go-lucky: being funny.

It seems really counter-intuitive. Happy, humorous, socially adept people have for time immemorial, suffered from strong, devastating bouts of depression. 

On the surface, we can understand the irony of the situation, and perhaps even be initially confused by the seemingly contradictory emotions being present in one and the same person. After all, if you spent much of your childhood in the late 80s and early 90s, like myself, you can recall movies like Mrs Doubtfire, Hook, and Dead Poets Society, where Robin Williams plays a relatively chipper character. 

His Inside the Actors Studio interview was simultaneously the most entertaining and the most frustrating one I have ever watched. One anticipates James Lipton just about to burst saying “Damn it, man! Why must you torture me thus!” 

And yet, considering what has transpired, it isn’t surprising to see that even on a television show where actors are required to bare themselves he was still “on”.

And this brings us to the issue at hand, which is such a convincing case brought to us by Cracked.com: he used humor, or legalized insanity, as Williams put it, to deflect personal issues from being raised. Comics, alongside many people who have been praised for their strong artistic or academic skills, have used their gift–in this case, humor–to push people away. 

The scariest thing about this article, and what raises alarm bells, is that many of the funniest people in our own lives, past or present, are using these very same techniques to keep us at bay. We may think that some have their life figured out when in fact they are just at the brink of their own breaking point. They hide it because they are afraid of others’ reactions to their condition.

However, if you are one of those people who using humor to deflect, please talk to someone. Do not shrug it off or laugh it off. You, just like any other human being on this crazy planet, are not alone in your anguish; many times we feel like the victims, or make ourselves the martyrs for a greater cause (in Williams’ case, his depression stemming from perhaps the Parkinson’s that was debilitating him… or some other deep-seeded reason). 

Williams was a beloved actor, writer and comedian; but he was human. He was prone to the same shortcomings that we all are. Let’s remember to good he did, but not forget why he passed away, nor lose sight of the lesson his passing can impart on us. 

I am not someone who believe that everything happens for a greater good; but I do feel that we can make good out of a poor situation depending on the narrative we tell ourselves. Make it a point to reach out and talk to someone who keeps themselves guarded: and damn well be prepared for them when they open themselves up! 

When asked about death
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3 thoughts on “Why Robin Williams’ Passing is a Lesson for us all”

  1. I found this to be a piercing post. I hesitated to comment out of fear of opening up my own can of worms, but I write anyway because I think I can provide a perspective from that other side to readers out there who may be unfamiliar with this topic. While I suspect that most may share parts of the following experience to some extent, that suspicion may be the result of my own skewed thinking. But then again, the shock with which people met with the news of Robin Williams’ death suggests that perhaps it is not that well-known after all.

    I go through ups and downs myself and, while I’m no Robin Williams, often feel like I have to be ‘on’ with friends and family, or have to try to put on ‘The Persona’ of someone who can be socially-engaging. I probably fail more often than not but how ‘on’ you feel you have to be negatively correlates with the level of comfort that you have with the person. At a workplace or school or party or with most family, you simply must be socially-engaging and pleasant, as if you’re playing a role. But it is an exhausting and weighty disguise, so it is with friends where you absolutely do let your guard down on occasion. At the same time, though—and perhaps this is irrational—you feel like a burden to them when you do so.

    And the idea of having to present such a façade to those closest to you can itself become repulsive, so you withdraw further—especially during darker periods. For instance, you stop going to any events unless absolutely necessary (read: weddings, births and funerals) because you don’t want to (A) have to pretend in any way amongst the people with whom you are supposed to be closest and who are the one group with whom you freely choose to spend your time (unlike, say, family or classmates or co-workers where the element of choice is, for all intents and purposes, removed), or (B) bring your friends down with your presence.

    It often does seems like that stark of a choice. The repeated mantra you hear and read about of ‘fake it till you make it’ also doesn’t seem to work. You sometimes try opening up to others and even well-meaning friends’ undertone essentially suggests “well, I’m not a professional, sorry.” On an abstract level and when speaking in general principles, sure, people care—but deep down, you don’t really believe that they do.

    So what do you do when around others? You try to ‘suck it up’ and be funny. You ask questions. You try to appear interesting. You make jokes. You do whatever you need to do in that moment, to get through the next mini-conversation, to get through the car ride, to get through the dinner, to get through the party, to get through the night. You do build up this wall to prevent anyone from probing too deep and to create that distance that the article mentioned. Because you feel like they won’t like what they find otherwise. But you can only do that for so long before a down period becomes too heavy to cover up.

    It can be an immensely isolating cycle that progressively worsens, with you disappearing for large stretches of time and then re-appearing and seeming great and funny. And, at best, then you simply believe that friends now view you as superficially sociable and outgoing with long-bouts of apparent aloofness in-between for no particular reason. And during those down times, when the calls and messages and visits and invites slow to a crawl because of how standoffish you appear when you are at your rawest, you think that it’s because people think the real you is essentially a piece of shit. And why would you not think that way? Even you don’t like yourself, so it’s a natural idea that takes hold in your mind.

    All this feeds into other negative self-opinions and self-loathing and, even if you understand the interplay of these factors, stopping the cycle seems a herculean task. There doesn’t seem to be a solution for those in the throes of the problem.

    People like ‘The Persona’.

    1. Thank you very much for your comment. It’s meaningful messages like yours which make me believe that me doing this blog is worthwhile, because I know that I am striking at the heart of important topics which affect real lives. I can understand that there are some toxic friends who will not want to hear about your misfortunes, and then there are others who may genuinely want to help, but, like you said, they feel like they’re not experts may shy away because they feel like they may not be able to help you. Having said that, the latter still mean well when they want you to feel better, but you need to explain to them that what you really needs is someone who will listen. Having said all of that, some friends just plain will not be ready for the emotional conversation, and that’s fine, but you need to talk to people, whether they be experts or close confidants. Seeing as how I only received hits from Canada this evening, I will request that you do speak to a counsellor about this. There is also the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1800-273-8255. It’s free, and 24 hours. It’s based in the US but also accessible by Canadians. Please continue to post pertinent perspectives. I look forward to a long and rich dialogue.

  2. “so it is with friends where you absolutely do let your guard down on occasion. At the same time, though—and perhaps this is irrational—you feel like a burden to them when you do so”. John Doe, I believe you hit the nail on the head. Your reply felt raw and true, and, for me, an accurate relation of my emotions.

    There are many of us who do not like to “burden” our friends (and/or family if it is an open respected relationship) with the sadness that has engulfed us, or if they have heard us once, to bring it up again as a recurring conversation for the fear of bringing them down. Or perhaps the fear of hearing, “what do you have to be sad about?” because we don’t have a clear answer to it. It’s a question we have pondered ourselves, multiple times, with no luck. So we keep it all in; we learn to deal and cope with it in our own ways. Yet, the coping does not always work. The negative thoughts and self loathing you speak of, are constant, with positive days few and far between. But we put on a brave face every morning and force ourselves to be social at work or school and continue on displaying our “persona” that everyone is used to. If it is a really bad day, we recluse; we hide from the world, for no one else will understand.

    There are many of us who feel this way, but no one is willing to accept that it is a raw human emotion that should be discussed openly. There is a public stigma, and that stigma keeps us at bay. Depression and anxiety is felt be many, if not everyone, in one form or another at some point in their lives. But the thought that your current issues are not “big enough” for discussion and should be dealt with on your own is wrong. Issues that haunt us may be easy for others but hard for us to deal with, that does not mean we undermine our issues. Our personal demons are the scariest, and the one way I have learnt to deal with them is to talk about them. If not a close friend, a sibling, or someone you trust, reaching out to a counselor, an anonymous helpline, or online where you can vent to someone who is wiling to hear YOU is a first step. I have used all of the above to find what outlet works best for me, and I will admit it here, some do and some don’t. It may have started off with discussions with close friends, but then at some point it moved from just friends to a counselor. But it’s what works best for YOU. I will not say you will never have to put up the “persona” that people love, but at least you know that the true you is also being heard by someone.

    John Doe please do not feel alone! There are many of us, and even if it is one voice at a time, it will help us stay afloat. Thank you for describing me so eloquently, and at the same time, I hope you will find will solace in numbers.

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