Like all of you, I have gone through my own grieving process since learning of Robin Williams’ death. I’m not a huge movie guy but I have my share of favorite Robin Williams scenes, and I have watched them all this past week, marveling anew at his talent, genius, and warmth. As when I first saw them, they made me laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time and sometimes for no apparent reason. I have also been heartened to hear of so many people who knew him personally who vouched for his generosity and humanity. Truly he was one of the good people, and he is sorely missed by friends and fans alike.
That he had many struggles and that he committed suicide lends particular poignancy to his death and remembrance. One of the things I hope emerges from all of this is a realization that depression is an unthinkably difficult thing. We live in a society in which unhappiness is seen as a bad and abnormal thing to run from as quickly and forcefully as possible. We can apply this lens to depression, and assume (whether we are struggling with it or someone else is) that the obvious outcome that everyone wants is to get out of it as fast as we can.
Ah, but depression is harder than that. I have walked with people who struggle with depression, and the difficult and terrifying thing about going through it is that it saps your desire to want to get out of it. Again, we live in a society that abhors discomfort. We imagine an athlete who suffers a devastating injury but resolves himself to rehabilitate back to full strength. Or we imagine an unpleasant experience or a bad habit or a crippling relationship that we determine we need to be rid of in order to flourish.
And we think depression is like these things. But it is not. When you are depressed, you do not want to get well. When you are really depressed, you do not want anything except to die and cease to exist. That’s what it means to be depressed.
Let me hedge a little here by saying that people with depression can and do have a desire to get well. My point is not to say that’s not true. My point is to say that the nature of depression is that it messes with your desire for anything and everything. It truly is an awful (and, for friends and loved ones, a scary) experience.
Robin Williams was rich, famous, kind, well-loved, thoughtful, and humble. These characteristics did not stop him from bouts of depression, and they did not stop him from committing suicide. This should sober us to the frightening effects of depression, and humble us when we are faced with it in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones.