Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams: What We've Learned From a Life Lost

A smile does not always equate to happiness.

Robin Williams took his own life this week. One of the greatest comedians of our time, he appeared to a happy person to the viewers at home. From comedy to movies to improvisations that made us laugh until tears streamed down our faces, Robin Williams showed us what comedy truly is.

This is why it may have been a shock to many that Robin Williams chose to leave the world of the living. His outward comedic attitude hid inner pain that many people will never understand. And while what he did is a tragic loss for his family and the world, there are some things we can learn from it.

Suicide is not a selfish act. Todd Bridges, star of Diff'rent Strokes, said otherwise, in a careless and dangerous statement.

Per, linked above:
Shortly after word of Williams’ death was announced on Monday, Diff’rent Strokes actor Todd Bridges shared his thoughts on the tragedy, saying that suicide was an easy way out of life’s problems. Williams was said to be struggling with drug addiction and an often crippling depression.

“You don’t think that my life has been hell and I’ve had so many ups and downs now?” he told TMZ. “If I did that, what am I showing my children — that when it gets tough that’s the way out? No. You gotta buckle down, ask God to help you. That’s when prayer really comes into effect.”
 I ask how this is fair to Robin Williams and his family. Suicide is not an easy way out. It is not something that people take lightly. Does Mr. Bridges truly believe that Robin Williams just decided to take his own life on a whim? No. He's probably had suicidal thoughts his whole life and fought through them as hard as he could. He held on for many long years until he reached the point where life was too much to bear. I do not know Mr. Williams, but I can say that this was not a decision that Mr. Williams took lightly.

It's easy to say that someone should have thought about their family or turned to God or whatever else, but we're saying that as individual who is living and most likely did not face depression to the point that Robin Williams did. That being said, I personally suffer from very strong depression and can empathize with the feelings that Mr. Williams faced, but only to a point. There are times when the world feels like too much to handle, but most of us are able to pull ourselves back from reaching the breaking point. Mr. Williams probably did that many, many times, and at this time it became just a little too much.

I understand placing blame - Robin Williams should have gotten help. He should have talked to someone. He should have done something. I don't disagree - if Robin could have gotten the help he needed, maybe he'd be here today. But being such a brilliant mind comes with great responsibility. Much of comedy is rooted in pain. It may require being constantly stuck in an endless cycle of thought that you cannot escape. Outwardly, Robin had to portray an image of happiness, which probably made it even harder to deal with his depression. Everyone expects something of you; they want you to be on point all the time and be funny at the drop of a hat. It is just not that simple. And Robin may have gotten help, even recently, but sometimes too much is too much.

Robin Williams suffered from drug and alcohol dependency. While some may be quick to blame this for his suicide, I ask that you view it the other way around. Robin Williams' depression is likely what led him to lean so heavily on these substances. He was medicating in the way that he probably thought helped him best. Unfortunately, relying on substances actually increases depression, even though a person gets a quick break from it while utilizing such substances.

What should we learn from Robin Williams' suicide? We should learn that mental illness is a real occurrence that plagues people everywhere. From those living on the streets to those with lives of luxury, depression and mental illness do not discriminate. It doesn't matter how good you think someone's life is - depression doesn't care. In fact, it can be made worse by people telling someone that they don't have a right to be depressed because of the privileges they've been given in life. Words like "How can you be depressed? You have everything!" make things so much harder because depression is not something we can truly explain. All the money in the world cannot help someone shake feelings of worthlessness and pain. Depression runs deep, and unless you've experienced it, you can't truly understand it.

As for the message that suicide is an easy way out - it's not. I can't speak for anyone in particular, but I do think that most people think long and hard before committing such an act. They go through everything they can to survive and break the pitfall of depression, but sometimes you just can't. Sure, there are stories of people who are saved from jumping off bridges who go on to live wonderful, productive lives. But there are also those who suffer in silence because of the fear of not being accepted or understood, and there are those who are successful at ending their lives.

If anyone comes to you speaking about suicide, take it seriously. Help them. Do not assume it's a cry for attention (and it very well may be, but there's an underlying reason for that too) and do what you can to help. We've lost one great life, but by accepting that depression is real, we may be able to save another.

Robin Williams, you did wonderful things for people. You made us laugh. You shared joy with the world. And for that, you should be celebrated. For your passing, you should not be shamed by those who do not understand. I am not sure what happens after one leaves the earth, but I hope you are free from your burdens and able to feel true happiness.

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