O Captain My Captain: RIP Robin Williams


It is not often that the death of a celebrity really touches me since I really don’t follow their lives that closely. I don’t buy entertainment magazines, I don’t watch reality shows or watch E! channel. I enjoy their music and movies but don’t bother myself with the minutiae of their personal lives. But there have been a few in the past few years who simply made me feel their loss much more deeply on a personal level. When I learned that Steve Jobs had passed, I am not afraid to say I shed tears. Although I haven’t yet cried about the loss of Robin Williams I feel that same deep loss. His death almost feels like I lost a good friend even though I never met him. In addition to my sadness I suppose I just feel confused because I have seen him on TV recently and he appeared to be the same old vivacious Robin I grew up watching. It came so suddenly and out of the blue that we were all caught off guard even though he has likely been waging this war a very long time.

127135a I was extremely fortunate to see his stand-up show once in person and it was probably the best I have ever seen. Already many wonderful tributes have been written or posted on youtube and twitter  about Robin Williams and many more are sure to come in the days and weeks ahead. He was simply one of those larger than life personalities with that rare gift of making you laugh and cry multiple times in one movie. He was by all accounts a very loving and charitable person especially to those in uniform. He performed in front of around 90,000 soldiers in around 13 countries which makes him a bit like the Bob Hope of this generation of soldiers.

To see him in interviews you would have thought he was the happiest person alive. How else could you explain a man with a smile that could light up the room and was always so full of energy. He was just one of those people you couldn’t help but like even if you tried not to. He was able to pierce the armor of the most diehard cynics and the grumpiest of couch curmudgeons. You simply wanted to be his friend.

Sure we all heard about his battles with drug and alcohol addiction over the years but most people thought he had long since grappled with and had overcome those demons. What few knew is he faced a far more formidable enemy which was depression and perhaps bipolar disorder as well.

Mental illness is something few people not afflicted can understand. When you have a broken leg, the flu, cancer, or any other physical ailment people can immediately grasp this because it is tangible. You can often see the effects of a physical malady with your eyes or perhaps were afflicted yourself and can relate. But with mental illness people that look perfectly healthy on the outside, and can even bring people to their knees with laughter like Robin Williams did so many times, can be just as troubled and in pain as those with cancer.

I can only hope that the suicide of Robin Williams can spark a renewed interest in not only a better understanding of mental illness awareness but also a better understanding at what signs you need to look for in those close to you. There was a wonderful article I just read on CNN that was the impetus for my own article. It was written from the perspective of someone that has been suffering from severe depression for decades. Here is a short quote from her article. I hope anyone that sufferers from depression or knows someone that suffers will take the time to read this article and also the comments below the story.

Now, 25 years later, I’ve lost too much time and too many people to feel any shame about the way my psyche is built. How from time to time, for no good reason, it drops a thick, dark jar over me to block out air and love and light, and keeps me at arm’s length from the people I love most.

The pain and ferocity of the bouts have never eased, but I’ve lived in my body long enough to know that while I’ll never “snap out of it,” at some point the glass will crack and I’ll be free to walk about in the world again. It happens every time, and I have developed a few tricks to remind myself of that as best I can when I’m buried deepest.

It’s a cliché, of course that the clown who laughs on the outside while crying — or dying — on the inside. It’s Pavarotti’s Pagliacci and unfortunately for the world it was also Robin Williams. We seem to lose a good comedian to suicide nearly every year.  I Like to think something good can come from any tragedy. This country needs to understand that diseases of the mind can be just as debilitating and deadly as those effecting the heart, lungs, colon, or liver. We need more education about depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, and yes sociopathy and so many other mental disorders which far too often can lead to suicide or mass murders. It is certainly an uncomfortable conversation to have, but one that is needed nonetheless. I don’t pretend to have all the answers but the one thing I am sure of is we can do far better as a country than we are doing now.

The biggest obstacles we face with mental illness is the stigma attached to this disease. Those that suffer often feel unworthy of love or help so are unable to seek out help. They can also feel shame from feeling this way which is why people in their inner circles must look for signs of trouble. With a mortality rate of 15% depression cannot be ignored. If a friend, family member, or just someone you know casually shows signs of depression don’t simply shrug it off as a bad day and tell them to cheer up. This could be signs of a more serious underlying problem. Be aware of the symptoms and offer your shoulder. Often just being there for them might just save their life until you can get them professional help and counseling. Like with so many other problems,  simple education and awareness is often the key.

RIP Robin and may death bring you the peace and calm you were never able to find in life. Thank you for the laughs, the tears, and just for being there for us. You were one of the great ones and you will be missed.