As a lifelong fan of Robin Williams, his suicide yesterday impacted me in the same ways that it did for you, Faithful Reader: disbelief, shock, sorrow, all mixed together with nostalgia, fond memories, favorite moments, best jokes and lessons learned. When you think of Robin Williams you may picture him standing on top of his desk or inspiring the poets within, standing in the doorway in drag, yelling into the microphone in Vietnam, striking a pose as Peter Pan, on horseback as Teddy Roosevelt, or maybe you just hear his voice as the Genie advising Aladdin in love and life. I have all those memories too, and they all fill my heart this morning with equal measures of joy and loss.
But for me, the scene that I will always remember because it had the deepest impact for me personally was the scene from “Good Will Hunting” when he meets with Matt Damon’s character for his second therapy session beside that gentle Boston pond. At the time I saw that movie I was several months into my first stint in therapy to help deal with my own depression. While far from as severe as Williams’ own battle, the daily struggles I faced to find purpose, meaning and identity in my own life mirrored the character of Will Hunting in many ways. So for Robin Williams’ character to come out at that moment and express an honest interest in Will and the life that he has was a powerful moment for me. I recognized for the first time that the agonizing, embarrassing, terrifying moments I felt in my own therapy evenings were vital and essential to figuring out my own life. I realized for the first time that my own therapist might actually be interested in my life and helping me, that my life might be worth fixing. As he left the scene, successfully wrenching control away from Will and forcing him to re-evaluate his current state and whether or not to continue with therapy, I felt as though Williams had spoken to me, given me permission to re-evaluate myself and my own goals. Through that scene and his performance, Robin Williams gave me permission to hurt and to get help for it.
I went back into therapy and months later my life was back on track and moving towards the positive again. I credit that movie, scene and Williams in particular for that little “breakthrough,” the first of many, that helped me back onto the road towards the wonderful life I lead today.
But Williams’ suicide highlights for the whole world the difficult and silent struggles that those of us with depression face every day. Depression is never completely cured. Even with my own successes in therapy, I still have what I call “down days.” On a down day, the world seems infinitely hopeless. It’s hard to find reasons to smile, to laugh, to see joy in anything even when it is right there in front of you in all its blazing awesomeness. On the worst days, it’s hard to come up with reasons to wake up, get out of bed or even keep breathing. Down days are completely unpredictable. Sometimes a simple thing will set them off. Other days I just wake up and my brain is wired to be miserable and I can’t do anything about it. It sucks, no question. But as I was remembering all those down days yesterday, I took a small measure of pride that I never once considered suicide or using alcohol/food/drugs/sleep to fill the void. I remembered this scene and Williams and reminded myself that there are many more out there worse than me. Robin was one of them, and he lost his battle.
Perhaps Robin Williams’ death will provide a new motivation for others, just like his performances did while he lived. Perhaps his death will shine a light on those who didn’t realize they were depressed and to get them to seek the help they need. Perhaps his suicide will remind those of us who battle depression what could happen and what we should steadfastly work to avoid, no matter how hard that may be. Because Robin has shown us that even the brightest, funniest, happiest of us all can still be struck down by the darkness and the fights we have inside of us. Robin likely had “dark days” far darker than even my worst. I only wish that the supports he had could have helped him as much as he helped me. I will always remember Robin Williams for the funny and amazing actor that he was. But he was also one of the brightest sources of support in my battle with depression, and for me personally, that was his greatest achievement.
Thank you, Robin, for helping to save me.